Wednesday, April 22, 2020

I want to buy my seven year old a computer...

Here's my response to a colleague who wants to secure a device for her seven year old to help her succeed in the current distance learning environment.

  • Full disclosure. I am biased. As an ed tech integrator, I don't like wrestling with balky devices, supporting devices that have more features than required, or maintaining devices using add on management kludges. I don't even like having to press an upgrade now button. For the overwhelming majority of ed tech needs, a Chromebook will do everything your child will be required to do, and more.
  • If you have an older desktop or laptop that still runs but is no longer used because it is sluggish or no longer supported by the OS vendor, consider turning it into a Chromebook/Chromebox using Neverware's Cloudready. I've performed the Cloudready upgrade to dozens of obsolete machines, turning them into reliable, responsive machines while delaying their inevitable shipment to a landfill another five plus years. The upgrade turns a slow piece of junk into a speedy Chrome device.
  • If you want to purchase a new device, 
    • don't spend a lot on any device for a young child. Spills, falls, bubble gum and maple syrup happen. Don't spend a lot!
    • Chromebooks are hot right now. Distance learning and the clamor for devices has eliminated all deals on Chromebooks. Good luck finding a sale.
    • Pay attention to automatic update expiration (AUE) dates for any device you're considering. Use this page to make sure the device you are considering offers at least five years of updates. Beware of old devices being sold as new stock.
    • A touch screen is important now, and will be more so in the future. Don't buy a new device without a touch screen.

    Wednesday, September 11, 2019

    Chromebook vs. Macbook, one year in

    Our Acer Chromebook R13s are just over a year old. It's time for an evaluation and some comparisons to the MacBook Airs they replaced. The prompt for this post comes on the heels of helping a colleague with a MacBook Air that is still running Mavericks, a version of OSX, vintage 2013. So, here goes.

    Things I really like about the Acer R13 Chromebook.

    Beyond an occasional restart to update notice, I have never been nagged to update. In fact, the Chromebook on which I am writing this has the latest OS. It's already up to date with no intervention by me. Updates happen during a restart, and restarts take ten seconds or so. Compared to the MacBook, with its incessant update notices and nearly hour long update reboot, this thing is a refreshing pleasure. Updates just happen, and I don't need to know or care.

    Industry standard ports!
    Real USB A and C ports, a real micro SD card reader, along with a real HDMI port mean that I don't have to shell out for proprietary adapters and dongles to connect to a projector or charge the unit. The unit can, in fact, be charged with nearly any USB C connection and even an old phone charger. Compared to the expensive, fragile, frequently broken mini display port adapters, and expensive, proprietary chargers, the R13's ports are refreshingly standard.

    Touch screen!
    The touch screen works and works well. It's handy for pinching in or out on text, images, or entire pages. The touch screen allows an increasing number of Android apps to function well on the device. And, the touch screen lets me quickly and easily add my signature to documents and PDFs.

    The device is responsive and starts quickly.

    Working in a cloud centric environment!
    There are still word, powerpoint, and excel fans in the district, and they are saving their work - often years of intellectual sweat and capital - to their local desktops, document folders, or in a number of cases, download folders with thousands of unorganized, frequently duplicated files. That's a major problem since the majority of those users are relying on a single device to preserve that intellectual property. They are one coffee spill, one static shock, one virus, one drive failure, or one theft away from losing *all* that content. Sure, they could use Backup and Sync, Dropbox, or another cloud provider to automatically sync content to off-site storage. But in practice, few EWG users do. And of the few who do, sync is not active because their account got logged out for some reason like a password change or inactivity - and they are completely unaware that sync has stopped. Can you say disasters waiting to happen? That doesn't happen with a Chromebook or the R13, because files you save are (or can easily be) saved directly to your Google Drive (where they are available to any connected, authenticated device). So if your R13 suffered the indignity of Frisbee Golf, crumpled misshapen and askew, you can login using the next available Chromebook and, without data loss or tech help, keep working.

    Tablet Mode!
    Collecting data for an experiment? Find it more convenient to use a tablet? Don't need a full keyboard or want to use an on-screen keyboard? Open the screen all the way, and your R13 becomes a tablet whose capabilities are rapidly increasing as Chrome OS evolves.

    Here are some areas where the R13 falls short and where the outgoing and ongoing MacBooks have a distinct advantage.

    Overall build quality!
    There is no denying that Apple's hardware is top tier. The MacBook Air is my favorite computer of all time; it is easily the best laptop I ever used. It's smooth, responsive, sleek, and solid. It feels great to the touch. The keyboard and track pad are customizable, and unmatched by the majority of hardware on the market.  The R13 is no Apple, though. While parts of the device are aluminum, there's plenty of plastic and a floppiness that reeks of, "Almost, but not quite, low price hardware." The screen hinge struggles to prevent the screen from wobbling when touching the screen unless you are in tablet mode. The track pad is not as smooth as the Apple's, and if you actually click using the track pad, the click sound is decidedly crunchy feeling and cheap sounding. It does not inspire confidence in long term, trouble free operation. The trackpad is lacking to the point where an old Dell USB mouse is a handy usability improvement.

    The R13's processor works well. Mostly. But some of the emerging tools being released for Chrome, like Linux containers, work with Intel processors, but not the quad core MediaTek powering the R13. That's a major bummer for those who want to experiment with and learn about the future of Chrome OS.

    Do I miss the MacBook Air? No, because I got a great deal on the buyout and now own it. Do I still use the MacBook Air? Occasionally, but it is no longer the first device I reach for. Would I recommend this route for users with similar requirements? Absolutely.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2018

    Chromebook Tip Of The Week: Mirroring vs. Extending

    When you connect a Chromebook to a projector, the default behavior is to 'extend' your Chromebook's screen onto the projector. Extending joins the projector to the right hand portion of your screen, effectively extending your screen's total width. If you move the cursor all the way over to the right hand side of your laptop's screen, then keep moving it to the right, you'll see the cursor show up on the projector's display. Think of the extended display as a super landscape image, or a super wide screen. While there are many reasons why you might want to extend your Chromebook's display, like viewing presenter's notes during a presentation, many users simply want to have what's on their laptop's screen 'mirrored' or displayed on the projector, too. Happily, switching between extended and mirrored views is done by simultaneously pressing control and full screen. Try it. Happy projecting!
    Press Control - Full Screen to toggle between extended display and mirrored display.

    Thursday, October 4, 2018

    Chromebook Tip Of The Week: Do Not Disturb

    Notifications are everywhere, but sometimes, you want them to be nowhere; anywhere else but on your screen. For example, when using your Chromebook to present student projects or when you otherwise have your Chromebook connected to a projector, you don't want a "Bloop - Your significant other has checked into the Oyster Bar" taking over any screen real estate or audience mind share. You need to shut notifications off. Here's how.

    Near the right hand side of the shelf (the bar at the bottom of the screen) just to the left of the Status Area is the Notification Panel. Sometimes it looks like a bell. It's shape will often morph to the latest things used. There may also be a number indicating how many notifications are waiting. Click or Tap it.

    Tap or Click the Notification Panel
    Next, Tap or Click the settings gear.

    Tap or Click the settings icon

    Finally, Tap or Click the do not disturb option.

    Make the do not disturb button blue.
    Enjoy the quiet.

    Depending on the resources installed on your Chromebook, your notifications and the notifications area may look different than the images show here, but the process to silence the notifications should be identical to that outlined here. Enjoy your now quiet Chromebook.

    Wednesday, September 26, 2018

    Chromebook Tip Of The Week: Hassle Free Updates

    An up arrow in a Chromebook's status area
    (lower right) means restart to update.
    Chromebooks have the simplest, most effective computer updating mechanism I've ever seen. Updates happen silently and without hassle. Occasionally, you will have restart your Chromebook to apply an update. When you see the up arrow in the status area of a Chromebook's tray, simply restart your device to update it. The device will restart and be fully functional in about fifteen seconds. You'll enjoy security updates, bug fixes, and occasionally, cool new features.

    Thursday, September 13, 2018

    Chromebook Tip of the Week: Change Screen Resolution

    Change screen resolution on the fly!

    Pressing Control, Shift, = makes screen items bigger (decreases resolution), and Control, Shift, - makes screen items smaller (increases resolution).

    The teacher Chromebooks can go all the way from 1182 x 665 to  2194 x 1234. The default resolution is a comfortable 1536 x 864. You may find the ability to quickly change resolution handy when connecting to a projector or external monitor.

    Thursday, September 6, 2018

    Chromebook Tip of The Week: Charging

    USB C Cable
    Forgot your Chromebook charger? District issued Chromebooks charge using a standard USB C port. In a pinch, you could get by using a simple iPad charger, and automobile charger, or even an older phone charger and a USB C cable. If you're using a newer Android phone, you already have a USB C charger and cable. While the iPad or old phone charger won't charge as quickly as the supplied charger - and may not even keep up with the drain on the battery -  it could be enough to get you through a low battery situation.