Now with Android & Linux support
A number of years ago, I bought one of the very first Chromebooks out of curiosity. It was pretty lame. About the only thing I found myself doing with it was periodically booting it up to update ChromeOS.
Chromebooks run Google's Chrome Web browser as the operating system. This means that the only thing a Chromebook can do is run Google's Chrome Web browser, and any extensions supported by ChromeOS. Very limiting.
I was limited to using apps like Google Docs and lame photo editors, which held no interest to me. Further, the Chromebook was designed to be cheap, like netbooks, and so the specs were low-end: slow CPUs, low-res screens, no touch screen or backlit keyboards, small amounts of RAM and tiny amounts of storage space, like 32GB (extendable by an SD card). I liked netbooks, because at least they ran Windows; Chomebooks, not so much.
After a few years of trying to like the Chromebook concept and failing miserably at it, I finally sent it to the local electronics recycling plant -- partly also because Google expires support on old Chrome systems.
Software Is the Killer App
I realized it was the papacy of software that killed my interest in the Chromebook concept, not so much the lame hardware. So I watched with interest the reports that Google was adding Android support to ChromeOS. I wondered if this would be Yet Another Failed Experiment is merging systems.
At the same time, Google took Chromebooks upscale. Too upscale, of course. Who wants to spend close to $2,000 on a system I consider still experimental. But now the hardware was getting serious and, better yet, more future proof.
Last week, Google announced it would provide longer support for Chrome systems, and that was sufficient for me to pull the trigger. I liked what I saw:
- Long-term ChromeOS support (until 2025)
- Runs Android apps
- Support for Linux
- High-end hardware
I wanted a reasonably-priced high-end Chromebook for under $1,000. I found what I wanted in the Acer Spin 13 model # CP713-1WN-53NF:
- i5 CPU 1.6GHz, peak 3.4GHz
- 8GB operating RAM
- 128GB storage RAM
- 13" touch screen that rotates 360 degrees, 2256 x 1504 resolution
- Backlit keyboard
- Includes static stylus (and slot)
- ChromeOS updates to June 2025
- Handsome looking; the color is called "steel gray," but it looks dark brown to me
Regularly $1,344 in Canada (incl. taxes), I found it for $910 (after GST rebate). Curiously, it was $80 cheaper than the lower-spec'ed model (4GB RAM, i3 CPU).
Running Android, Stumbling Linux
The first thing I did was to install Android apps, like Opera Web browser, OfficeSuite word processor, and Netflix. They all worked, worked well, and worked in full screen mode. The only one to insist on running in a narrow, vertical phone-like mode was a game, Monument Valley.
TIP: To find the Android apps you've installed, press the Search key on the keyboard, then swipe up.
I enabled Linux, but wasn't able to get much further than seeing the terminal prompt with its four commands. Installing a Linux OS hasn't worked for me yet, so I need to research that further. Having a Linux like Ubuntu would allow me to run CAD programs, like BricsCAD and ARES, and office software like Libre Office -- presumably.
About the Hardware
The keyboard was an unexpected pleasure. The one on my primary laptop, the top-end HP Spectre X360, is pretty good for having so little key travel, but I find myself mistyping on it -- a frustration when typing at high-speed during conferences. The keyboard on this Acer is better.
Since the era of Palm ended, I've never used a stylus any more. While I appreciate this computer including one, I still don't use it. There's a keyboard, I am a touch typist, and I am a terrible free-hand sketcher.
Having 2256 x 1504 resolution on a 13" screen is overkill, and so ChromeOS (by default) scales it down to nearly half that. I do wish it were brighter, but otherwise it is good to look at.
The charger plugs into one of the USB-C ports; as there is one such port on each side, you can plug it in on the left or the right, whichever is more convenient. All the ports are
- 2x USB-C (powered)
- 1x USB v3 Type A (powered)
- MicroSD slot
- Headphone/microphone plug
- Power and volume buttons
- Stylus slot
I am disappointed at the weight. I was hoping for a lighter travel computer, but it feels as heavy as the HP Spectre. With my next overseas business trip coming up next week, I am weighing whether to take only the new Chromebook, and leave Windows behind.
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
Being able to run Android apps well makes the Chromebook experiment a success. Android allows us to escape the Google prison, ironically enough.