Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review Asus Chromebox

Last up for the Chrome OS devices is probably my favorite device, a Chromebox.  A Chromebox is considered a desktop.  It is a small box it is about 5 inches across, 5 inches deep, and about 2 inches high.  It has 4 usb ports, sd card reader, headphone jack, and hdmi port. It also has built in wifi & ethernet port. The Chromebox I am looking at is the first Chromebox made by Asus.  Looking back on it now, I find it funny how I bought the first Chromebase & first Chromebox. This model, like the LG Chromebase, has a 4th generation Intel Celeron processor, only 2 GB of RAM & a 16 GB SSD.  Newer Chromeboxes have updated processors, storage, & ram.

So I have made it no secret, especially since I did the Chromebook Challenge, that a Chromebox is probably the best computer for a teacher today.  I did a post on it HERE, so I won't rehash everything I listed there, but there are some things that I didn't mention in that post.  With a Chromebox, you can hook up any size monitor you want to it. If the school gets you a 17-19 inch monitor and you want to go bigger, you can.  If something breaks (monitor, keyboard, mouse), you can just swap it out.  Even if the Chromebox itself goes down, you can swap it out.  Plus, unlike the Chromebase, there is 2 video out ports.  You can have one hook up to your monitor and another hooked up to your projector.  You can buy a Chromebox with mouse & keyboard and a 17-19 inch monitor for under $350.  Similar to a Chromebase, but the "swapability" of components makes it more appealing in my opinion, plus the video out missing from the LG Chromebase.

So what about the Asus Chromebox?  I actually had the Chromebox before I ordered the Chromebase for my parents.  And honestly, there isn't much difference between the two.  The specs are identical and the performance is basically the same as well.  Octane scores are similar with the Asus Chromebox running in the mid 10,000s.  There really isn't much to add to the review.  I like a Chromebox because of the customization that the user has.  I would like to note that this Chromebox is very easy to upgrade.  Obviously, teachers wouldn't be doing it (I would though :-)) but you can easily add in more Ram and a bigger SSD.  Other Chromeboxes are more difficult to open up and get to the Ram and SSD.  That's why more than a year later since its debut, the Asus Chromebox is still the number one desktop on Amazon.  That's impressive considering that HP, Acer, Dell, & Lenovo have all released Chromeboxes too.

The only downside I could see is the amount of cables that could come out of this tiny box.  If you have a wired keyboard/mouse (although you could get a blue tooth mouse/keyboard to eliminate this), there are two wires. You would then have the HDMI cable and the ethernet cable.  But the Chromebox does have built in wifi.  So you could have a minimum of 4 cables coming out of it or just one, depending on how you set it up.  Once again, that's the beauty of a Chromebox, customization.

The other thing to note when buying a Chromebox is that if you don't buy a Chromebox that is bundled with a Chrome OS keyboard, you won't have the top row of Chrome OS shortcut keys.  You can now buy a Chrome OS keyboard made by Dell that you can buy online for $20.  It has the full keyboard including the Chrome OS shortcuts and a numeric keypad. Most retailers do offer a bundled deal with keyboard & mouse included.  However, the keyboard is similar to the LG Chromebase keyboard.

A Chromebox is a great device and it seems like a simple choice for educators.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Review LG Chromebase

So onto my next review of a Chrome OS device.  The Chromebase came out last summer and until this summer, it has been the only option for an all in one device running Chrome OS. Now how did I get my hands on a Chromebase? My parents Windows Vista, that's right VISTA, computer started to die on them so I went ahead and bought them an all in one Chromebase.  I figured they don't do anything besides browse the internet and the occasional email, so it was perfect for them.

So what is a Chromebase as opposed to a Chromebook or Chromebox?  A Chromebase is an all in one computer. So you get the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and the guts of the machine are in the monitor, not unlike the iMac.

On the surface, this sounds like a good educational solution.  You make one purchase and simply plug it in and you are good to go.  But I feel like a Chromebase is no different than a Chromebook when you look at it from a different point of view. The main difference is that if something happens to the keyboard or mouse you can just swap them out. But if something happens to the monitor you are kind of screwed.

But let's not let that get in the way of our review.  I believe the Chromebase does have a place in education, but let's get on with the review.

When I review the Acer c910, I felt the selling point was the 15.6 hd screen.
It gave the user a lot of room to multitask.  Well, the LG Chromebase comes with a 21.5 full hd screen.  So if you thought the c910 was big, this blows it away.  As you can see, multitasking is once again easy.  You can place 2 windows side by side and have a 9 inch wide window to work on & 11 inches diagonally.  Plenty of space. In fact opening up 3 separate windows isn't too far stretched as you could manage to get 6 inch wide windows to work in.  There is plenty of screen to work with.

Obviously, the monitor is the selling point here. But what about the other specs?  It comes loaded with the 4th generation Intel Celeron, like the c720. And surprisingly it only comes with 2GB of Ram, instead of 4. Now I can't say I have noticed a difference in working on it.  I usually open about 4-5 tabs only when working, so the 2GB is good enough to run that, but it would have been nice to see it come with 4 GB or an option to buy a 4 GB model.  It also comes with only a 16 GB SSD, instead of 32.  It could be that LG was "testing the waters" with the Chromebase because it was the first of its kind.

The Octane scores usually run in the upper 11,000s to mid 12,000s.
This is a very good score considering it has only 2 GB of Ram and running last year's processor.  I was expecting up 10,000s so I was pleasantly surprised. These kind of scores actually put it very close to the c910 that has 4 GB of Ram and the 5th generation Celeron processor.

As for the keyboard & mouse, it is the best of both worlds.  The keyboard has the top row of Chrome OS function keys, which are very useful, but it also has a dedicated numeric keypad.  It also has a separate DELETE key, which isn't on a typical Chromebook keyboard, it is a keyboard shortcut.

So it is nice to have more functionality than a typical Chromebook.  The bad part is that they both don't feel very well built. The keyboard is disappointing. The keys don't go down as much as they do on any other keyboard. Now I have written a lot of things on this keyboard, so it does the job fine.  It is just my preference that I like keys that go down more, you might not even notice the difference. The mouse just feels cheap.  Now the mouse isn't a big deal to me because it can easily be replaced with another mouse for cheap that probably feels better.

Another thing that is more disappointing than the keyboard is the lack of a video out.  This is probably the number one deal breaker for most teachers.  At some time during the course of a year, a teacher is going to want to show the students something from their computer.  Being able to connect to a projector is a must. Now it does have an HDMI port, but that is an HDMI in.  Meaning, you could hook up another device to the Chromebase and just use the Chromebase as a 21.5 inch monitor.

Is it worth buying?  Yeah.  I have zero regrets getting this for my parents.  For their uses, it works great. Earlier, I said it does have a place in education, but if not in a teacher's room, then where? Well, at our school our counselors have beaten down Windows computers.  This would make for an excellent replacement.  They don't need to worry about projecting their screen anywhere, so the lack of a video out means nothing to them.  They would be getting a fast machine with a gorgeous 21.5 inch monitor, bigger than what they have now.

We used to have a computer lab filled with desktops.  They became so old that half wouldn't boot up and the other half took about 10 minutes to load up.  So we dumped it and went the mobile cart route.  If you were looking for a way to put a lab together quickly, then how could you go wrong with a Chromebase? Everything comes in the box, hook it up and you are good to go.  Once again the downside is that if anything happens to the monitor, you are screwed.  I have talked to various IT people from different schools that have replaced their old computer labs with Chromebases with no problems at all.  So for a quick swap out of devices, a Chromebase would be a great way to go.

Now, this summer Acer is releasing the second Chromebase.  It will also have a 21.5 inch hd monitor, but it will come with 4 GB of RAM and a 32 GB SSD and the monitor with be touchscreen. So on the surface it looks like a huge upgrade over the LG Chromebase, but the difference in the Acer Chromebase will be the processor.  It will come with the NVIDIA Tegra processor, which is a processor that is usually made for phones.  A few Chromebooks have the chip and the results vary, so that might make it less appealing for some.  I am curious to see how it stacks up to the LG Chromebase.

The price on the LG Chromebase is listed at $350, although Amazon has it going for $320 most of the time. The Acer Chromebase is going to be priced at $330.  So very comparable in terms of pricing.  For educators, that is a sweet price point.  Everything for less than $400, that is part of the reason Chrome OS is taking the education world by storm.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Review Acer c910

Well school might be over, but I will still be updating this site with reviews of apps, extensions, and in today's case a new Chromebook, the Acer c910.  Now my wife has a Surface Pro 2 and loves it, but she would always complain that the screen was too small.  She told me she wanted a real laptop with a built in keyboard, unlike the Surface's detachable keyboard.  So the first thing that jumped into my head was the Acer c910.  Why?  Well it has a giant 15.6 inch screen and to top it off the screen is full hd. Plus, she is a principal and her school is getting carts of Chromebooks, like every other school. And I always felt that you should run the same OS as the students have or teachers. That way you know what problems they could run into and help them through them.

When the c910 was announced, I thought they would make for a great teacher laptop, but then I realized a Chromebox would probably be a better option because if something did break you could replace parts and not the whole thing.  Plus with Google, once you log into any machine everything you have shows up, so a laptop is no longer a necessity to carry all your documents. But she asked for a laptop, so I got her the biggest Chromebook possible. She is on the move a lot so a Chromebook made sense.

So onto the review.  The build quality is very nice for a Chromebook.  The outside has a textured pattern making it easy to hold onto and makes it feel different from the usual smooth shell on most Chromebooks.

How does it run?  Fantastic, just like most Chromebooks do.  It boots up in about 8 seconds and once you log in you are good to go.  Even though it has the latest Celeron (5th generation) chip in it, I can't feel much difference between it and the Acer Chromebooks we use at school, c720 with the 4th generation Celeron.  The standard benchmark test for Chromebooks is the Octane Benchmark.  Basically, it gives you a score based upon how quickly pages are rendered.  When I ran it on the c720 it scored in the low to mid 12,000s, which is a very good score.  When I ran it on the c910, it was in the mid to upper 12,000s.  So not much of a difference in the scores and in using both, you really can't tell the difference.  Keep in mind, if you run the benchmark scores will vary depending on what you have open and running, so try to do it with no extra tabs open.

The keyboard is massive.  The keys are all responsive and nothing feels out of the ordinary using it. The one complaint I read was the lack of a dedicated numeric keypad.  And it is a valid compliant, you have this huge footprint (by Chromebook standards) and you didn't put in a keypad.
This could be a deal breaker for some educators because they like the ability to quickly input scores into their grade book.  Our current laptops don't have a numeric keypad either, but our dean bought us one for that very reason.

As you can see by the picture, the extra space is taken up by two massive speakers. They are great compared to most laptop speakers. Music sounds excellent out of the speakers. They have some bass in them and can get really loud.

The trackpad is nice and big too.  All of the clicks seem responsive, two finger scroll, and right clicking all work just as expected.  Having a bigger trackpad is nice and after awhile the smaller trackpad of the c720 is noticable.

So onto the star of the show, the screen.  As I said before, it is a massive 15.6 hd resolution screen. multitasking before on a Chromebook on my tutorial page and this screen makes multitasking that much easier.  As you can see in the screenshot, I have two documents open and everything is large enough to read and not have to worry about squinting. Most Chromebook screens measure 11.6, some have gone up to 13.3 and one has hit the 14 inch range, but none have gone up to this size. Everything looks crisp and clear.  If the font or screen looks too small you can always increase the percentage of the page.  I usually keep it at 110% or 125%.  When you place two tabs side by side like the photo you still have roughly 9 inches of screen to watch and work with.

Overall this is a great Chromebook.  The screen size alone makes it a solid purchase.  I still think most teachers would be happier with a Chromebox, which would have a numeric keypad and a bigger screen for the same price as the c910.  But if you are someone who likes laptops better than desktops, then this is a no brainer.