The Acer Cloudbook 11 CB3-111-C670 Windows 10 laptop is available at a price of just $169. If you want the more sensible 32 GB version you’re still only looking at $189. For a laptop that runs a new Braswell processor and weighs just 2.54 pounds you can’t ignore it. So I didn’t, as I passed through the Acer booth at IFA 2015. I was particularly interested in testing the keyboard.
If you liked the idea of the ASUS X205TA, the compact fanless 11.6-inch low-cost laptop launched last year you might also be interested in the £149 Medion Akoya S2218 (MD 99599) laptop that’s at Aldi on Thursday in the UK. It will be available in mainland Europe one week later and I expect there’ll be queues at opening.
Update: It’s launched in the UK. Live updates on specs and customer opinion in this post. (Detailed.)
Please, if you are looking at low-cost laptops and reading articles today that say the new Acer Aspire One Cloudbook is a Chromebook competitor, or worse, uses the K word, think again. It’s not. A stream of articles published after the launch of the Acer Cloudbook today will have you believe that price is the way to compare between the two laptop segments but they are wrong because even at the same price, the Cloudbook is nothing like a Chromebook. Even if you ignore he Chromebook comparisons there’s another issue. The 16 GB Cloudbook is not exactly going to be barrier-free with Windows.
I’ve just completed a Windows 10 install on the low-cost Acer ES1-111M (AKA E11) laptop, my favorite fanless, lightweight, $200 laptop. Everything is working but you’ll need to grab some drivers from Acer to make sure it all works.
Update: Oct 2015. Yes, there are touchpad issues but BIOS V1.13 and the latest Windows 10 drivers from Acer will help. Acer driver set is available on the Acer support page here.
Update Oct 2015. Final fix. After chasing a software problem all this time it turns out there was a hardware problem. Many thanks to Zachpoff.com. (Click through for details.) Note: I still have a jumpy cursor.
I installed from a USB stick as I did with the Acer Iconia W4 but accidentally booted from the USB stick and wiped everything out with a fresh install thinking it was an upgrade. Thank goodness that everything is now working, including camera and the Synaptics touchpad which appears to have been an issue for others.
Update: My ES1-111M is now running the post-release Insider Build 10525
This is my first laptop-based Windows 10 install (Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Intel NUC and Acer Iconia Tab W4 are the other devices I’m testing) so it will give me my first insight into how the desktop mode works on a small-screen laptop. The Aspire ES1-111M doesn’t have a touchscreen, comes with 32GB eMMC (soldered) and 2GB RAM (in a slot.) I’ve installed an Intel 7260 WiFi-N card which is more compatible than the stock WiFi card (Marvell or Broadcom depending on the model variant you buy.) This little laptop comes with a full size SD card slot, full-size USB 3.0 + USB 2.0 port, a full-size HDMI port and a Gigabit Ethernet port so if you’re hacking around building Linux-based routers or HTPCs, the ES1-111M is a great choice. It’s silent too!
16.2 GB of the 32 GB (29 GB formatted) eMMC is available after the Windows 10 (10130 ISO) install and a first round of updates. There’s no recovery partition so save a recovery image as soon as you have a stable build, especially if you wiped the Windows 8 recovery partition like I did.
Windows 10 install was problem-free (build 10130) but the touchpad wasn’t working. You’ll need to connect a mouse to complete the install. The Synaptics touchpad driver on Acer’s site didn’t help so I started working through the drivers for the ES1 that I found through the Acer Germany website. (Note that the Edge browser doesn’t work with their download page. I used Chrome.)
The important drivers are available here from the Acer Germany website. (I had problems with the Acer US website.)
Download the Chipset, DPTF, IO Drivers, MBI and TXE drivers. After installing these drivers there were no problems listed in the Device Manager and the touchpad was working.
[If Acer removes the drivers I’ve uploaded a zip file of the drivers I used here. Later builds of the Windows 10 preview might not need these drivers.]
Note that the Chipset driver took minutes to start up and while I was waiting, thinking it wasn’t working, I used compatibility mode to run the setup.exe file several times. Eventually two install windows popped up so I don’t know whether it just took a long time or whether compatibility mode worked. Try running the setup file as normal and waiting 5 minutes. If you don’t see an install windows, try compatibility mode. (Right-click on Setup and choose Troubleshoot Compatibility.)
As on Windows 8, I have some issues with the touchpad locking up, regularly, but I’ll need to check internal hardware and screws because I’ve taken the ES1 apart many, many times.
Update: After installing all the WIndows drivers the touchpad is just about usable. I turned of the Touchpad Delay feature in Windows settings which may also have helped but there’s still an occasional lock-up. Note: I’m using Insider build th2 10525 too.
Testing will continue with a look at battery life, performance and other features but here’s the status so far. (Updating.)
Windows 10 tests on the Acer Aspire ES1-111M
Working: Gigabit Ethernet, webcam, touchpad, brightness, audio, Bluetooth (some issues in this build though), WiFI (Intel Wireless-N 7260 upgrade – works well), HDMI (extended display), keyboard.
Working with additional install: Microphone / Cortana: Install the Realtek audio driver from the Acer drivers site and make sure the Microphone Boost is set to +20.0 dB
Your feedback on Windows 10 is always welcome. Have you tested it? What do you think of the UI, the features? My preview review of Windows 10 is here.
Over the last three weeks I’ve been working with three laptops and a number of phones while travelling across the width of Europe. I sit down here now with just two items. The Nokia Lumia 830 and the Acer E11 are the perfect low-cost partnership for multimedia reporting, weighs just 1500 grams including cables and, thanks to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, work very well together. The total cost of the setup is just $500.
I had a feeling that the Nokia 830 and the Acer E11 would be perfect for the job I’ve done over the last three weeks. I’ve trained young journalists in Ukraine where their monthly salary is just $200 and they can afford a low-cost laptop once every 4 years on average. They need to be mobile, connected, secure and multimedia capable and their old netbooks, some even running Windows XP, are due for an update. Chromebooks aren’t capable enough for these journalists so the best option is an 11.6-inch Windows laptop. For images, audio and video the only entry-level option is the Lumia 830. I also had a Lumia 930 with me but it’s too high-end for the target audience and the quality of the photo/videography on the still 830 beats much of what is used from their existing smartphones. Android is popular mainly due to having the best choice of chat and social networking apps but the Lumia 830 offers all that they need. I also had a Surface Pro 3 and a Chromebook with me but neither of those fits the bill. While the Chromebook is the best option for writing articles from a public hotspot (with HTTPS Everywhere and the Zenmate extension turned on) it can’t handle local image management very well. It’s a no-go when it comes to video too. While the Lumia 830 can trim, sequence and re-encode video clips it’s highly possible that the modern journalist needs more. PGP email encryption and Pidgin Messenger with OTR are also no-go areas on a Chromebook.
This low-cost setup isn’t just about low-income mobile reporters though because it’s a capable set of equipment. It’s simply at a price bracket that wasn’t possible a year ago so it opens up mobile computing to a huge range of people including students, low-income families and people, like myself, that don’t like to overspend on equipment. At about $20 per month over a 2-year period, this $500 setup is something that can even be a secondary ‘on the road’ kit for those that don’t want to be taking their $2000 setup with them. It’s a holiday kit, a train kit, an exhibition kit and training course kit.
Nokia Lumia 830
I’ve been very impressed with the Lumia 830 over the last three weeks. The image and video quality is excellent even if it has noticeably lower quality than the Lumia 925 or 1020 that I’ve also had. There’s a little light bleeding and flaring from off-frame light sources in some cases but the colors seem quite honest and it’s more than good enough for online usage. The flash is slightly lacking so for low-light photography the 1020 would be better but having said that, I was quite happy with the results I had in low-light without flash.
Daylight images are also good enough for publication…
And here’s an HDR Photo Camera application shot…
Audio quality is good from the microphones and video stability is impressive thanks to the optical stabilizer – a unique feature at this price which makes the Lumia 830 the best full-HD smartphone video camera there is, in my opinion.
Phone reception is spot-on and, once I had tweeked a few settings, I was getting 36-48 hours out of a charge which is better than my Lumia 1020 did. Performance is good and I had no problems with Web browsing speeds although the sunspider 1.0.2 scores are not class-leading at 1200 ms. Sizing is perfect for me and I like the removable battery and accessable MicroSD card slot. The snap-on rear cover is a little fidgety though.
One area where the Lumias score highly is in mapping and nvaigation. Offline maps are perfect for mobile users without continuous data availability and Here Maps came into its own while checking that our driver was taking a direct route between towns that we visited during our training in Ukraine. Points of interest appeared to be reasonably up to date.
When using public WiFi I like to make use of a VPN service. I’ve used HideIPVPN’s UK tunnel service and it’s been great. VPNs aren’t stable on this Windows Phone 8 however. I often saw lock-ups while trying to reconnect to WiFi with VPN enabled although once it was working it was stable. Other aspects of security and privacy are controllable but it’s difficult to find all the setting hidden in the Windows 8.1 phone operating system.
I used the OneDrive photo sync capability on Windows 8 Phone and it integrates well with OneDrive usage on Windows 8 laptops meaning you don’t have to connect the phone to get photos once you’ve had enough internet connectivity for images to synchronize. Bluetooth file transfer works well for the occasional shot too and of course you can always connect the USB cable if you need to. It’s that flexibility that helps make Windows a bit more useful than Chromebooks in some situations.
Overall I am really happy with the level of value, performance and quality available from the Lumia 830 and Windows 8 Phone. Prices are around $380 in the USA but much cheaper in the EU with prices in some countries lower than 300 Euro (250 Euro for businesses that don’t pay value-added tax.) UK prices are a little high now at 270 pounds but I expect this to drop to euro pricing levels soon. The Lumia 925 is also dropping in price but given that future operating system updates may not reach that one (consider Windows Phone 10 in 2015) the Lumia 830 is probably the better choice.
Acer Aspire E11 (ES1-111M)
The Lumia 830 was launched as a ‘budget flagship’ phone but the Acer Aspire E11 is nothing more than an entry-level Windows 8 laptop. It’s light (1.2 KG, the same as a Surface Pro 3 with keyboard cover) and silent but it comes with a few compromises that you need to know about before buying. There’s only 32GB of on-board storage, a cheap plastic casing and a non-IPS 1366×768 screen. I don’t have a problem with any of those ‘issues’ but some might. I occasionally have an issue with the processing power though as the N2840 isn’t really ‘desktop’ capable. Office runs, PowerDirector 12 runs and browsing speed is totally acceptable but if you’re coming from a ‘Core’ laptop you’ll notice the difference. For bloggers and multimedia journalists it will mean that you’ll have to be careful about how you work with video. Fortunately there’s a video trimmer and simple video editor on the Lumia 830 that will help. Image editing on the Lumia makes sense too. The Acer E11 is good enough that it can be used as the place where all the media comes together and I’m happy to say that the keyboard is good enough for long sessions of typing. the touchpad, however, is a little temperamental. It’s locked up on me twice and responsiveness can tail off sometimes. Two-finger scrolling isn’t smooth. Clearly there’s a firmware or driver issue here that needs sorting out.
A full-size SD card slot (not deep enough to hide a card permanently) is provided along with two USB ports (3.0 and 2.0) and a useful Gigabit Ethernet port. A full-size HDMI port provides digital A/V output and Miracast wireless display is supported. Battery life is great – 9 hours in this typing situation. You’ll easily get 6 hour browsing out of this and about the same when watching H.264 videos using the Windows 8 Video player.
Unfortunately there’s no way to upgrade the storage (a more expensive model comes with a 500GB hard drive that could be swapped for an SSD but I’m happy with the extra security of a soldered SSD. I’ve enabled SecureBoot and added a BIOS password that should keep my data safe if the laptop is lost. The RAM can be upgraded after dismantling the mainboard from the casing. [Video unboxing includes mainboard removal here.] The plastic casing might look cheap but I get the feeling it’s quite rugged and it stays very cool.
The Acer E11 certainly has its limits and these can be obvious if Windows 8 is doing some background work with its anti-virus, updates or indexing but once that’s out-of-the-way (the first few days with the E11 were certainly worse than now, 4 weeks on) it’s a smooth experience and well ahead of the sort of laggy experience we had on netbooks of 2008-2010, thanks to a relatively fast eMMC SSD. Remember to keep the system clean of large files though and you might want to limit Windows updates to essential security items only.
100 GB of free OneDrive storage (2 years) was a welcome bonus and once you get used to using OneDrive you probably won’t run into storage issues. I’ve added a 32GB MicroSD card to the Lumia 830 and carry an extra card with me to be sure that I’ve got enough storage for my original source videos. A USB3.0 external SSD drive might be quicker when it comes to transferring data though.
I really like the Acer E11 but it’s not the only option at the $200 laptop price bracket. I’ve got an HP Stream 11 here (being tested for Notebookcheck) and it’s also looking like a good machine. The ASUS X205 is the other choice in this bracket. It runs a tablet platform and I believe it has disk encryption enabled although I haven’t been able to confirm that. It’s also a quad-core system and might be more powerful in some situations. Single core performance (applicable to web browsing) is higher on the E11 and Stream 11.
If you only have $250 per year to spend on computing and multimedia I can’t think of a better-value way to do it than with a two-year strategy and the Nokia Lumia 830 and the Acer E11. The Lumia offers some of the best 1080p video for the price and you really can do everything on the Acer E11 if you’ve got a little patience. If you don’t have much patience then it’s a big jump up to something with more CPU power. $150 more will take you up to the N3840-powered (4-core) Acer Aspire V3-112P. (with touchscreen.) If you’re ready to take a larger screen size (and weight) then the Acer Aspire V3-371 offers a Core i3 processor and a 13.3-inch screen but the price is well over $400. The other option at this price is the Lenovo Ideatab Miix 2 11 tablet PC with 128GB of storage, a Core i3 and full HD screen. Again though, this is in a different price bracket.
For those that want an Android smartphone instead of a Windows smartphone you haven’t really got much choice because you really need to be looking at a phone with optical stabilizer. The LG G2 is an option but I haven’t tested it fully to be sure that it covers all the ground that the Lumia 830 does.
Stay tuned for my thoughts on the HP Stream 11 (with touchscreen.) The non-touch version of this has been popular at Amazon.com and first thoughts are that it might have a better keyboard and touchpad.
Thanks Nokia for the loan of the Lumia 830 and 930. The E11 was privately purchased.
After a weekend of testing the new $200 Acer E11 Windows laptop (first impressions and video here) I’ve completed my first-take on the subject of Chromebooks vs modern netbooks. Windows netbooks, or at least the new-wave of netbooks, remain the more flexible option but they don’t ‘kill’ Chromebooks. The Chromebook’s efficient, secure and manageable nature has massive appeal to the education and small-business market and Windows remains too heavyweight and too expensive / time-consuming for a ‘low-cost’ solution. It’s in the consumer space though that Windows continues to have the lead despite being an old and bulky OS. Call it the Minecraft-Skype effect or just attribute it to familiarity; Windows remains the go-to choice. The problem is that Chromebooks are getting better every day and prices are dropping quickly. Entry-level for a spritely 7-hour Chromebook is just $179. (Acer CB3-111 at Amazon.) It’s great for consumers but not so good for Microsoft who need to respond quickly. Given their opportunity to improve Windows for the next version in mid 2015, what is needed to make sure that next-generation Windows stay ahead of Chromebooks for consumers? Here’s a list of issues that need to be solved, and a simple solution I’m calling a Windows Surface Laptop.
The Acer Aspire E11 (ES1 in some areas) is one of a new-wave of 200-euro / dollar Windows netbooks entering the market as both a response to low-cost Chromebooks and part of a continuing drive to cut the cost of entry-level laptops. It’s made possible by a low-cost Intel System on Chip and tight motherboard integration, low-cost storage and the removal of the fan. Just 32GB of SSD storage is offered so there are some limits to how you can use the ES1. Look at it as a cloud-computer though (100GB of free One Drive is included) and it’s easy to see how it might fit into schools, bedrooms and living rooms in many houses across the world. The Acer Es1 can boot Linux too so if you feel like trying XBMC , Tails, Ubuntu or other distros, you can. A full unboxing and test video is embedded below, after my words on the first 48 hours with the Acer Aspire E11 ES1-111M.
Digitimes reports that Lenovo will put their name on a $175 Chromebook with a Rockchip CPU in the early part of 2015. Digitimes don’t have a great track record on rumors so this may never happen but it’s interesting to think about the larger question of cheaper Chromebooks.
ASUS has just launched the EeeBook X205, a n 11.6-inch Windows laptop featuring ‘long’ battery life and a full-size keyboard for just €199. It weighs just 980 grams.
Running the Baytrail platform (Z3000-series as seen in the cheap tablets) it’s undercutting even ASUS’ own cheap Chromebook, the C200. In the model I got hands-on with there was only 1GB of RAM. ASUS specifications show 2GB RAM. I hope it’s the latter because 1GB RAM is not enough (as I found out in my review of the Toshiba Encore 2 WT8 at Notebookcheck
The keyboard isn’t the best quality but it’s big and was stress-free in my 5-line test. There’s no touch and of course it’s a sealed unit. Note that you’re likely to find soldered RAM and eMMC storage inside so don’t expect to be able to do any DIY upgrades.
This isn’t the first ASUS laptop that’s retailed for this price but it’s the first that isn’t constrained by a 10-inch screen. Multiple colour options could turn this into a big seller in the next quarter.
In my hands-on I saw an 18Wh battery which is really small for an 11.6-inch laptop and won’t give 12 hours battery life for the average user. It’s possible I was handling a non-final build though so let’s hope for a bigger battery in the final version.
Microsoft and Google are now head to head in the $250 laptop market and it’s going to be one big fight. Chromebooks and the Google ecosystem vs low-cost Windows laptops and the Microsoft ecosystem. I have my opinion on which option is better (tip: there’s no best laptop, just a best laptop for you) and many of you have solid opinions too but what do Microsoft say? On their Windows 8 Chromebook comparison page Microsoft have listed 10 points that should be considered before choosing between the two.
Interestingly, and so, so obviously, Microsoft have omitted the discussion on security.
What they do mention is: Applications, desktop, printers, DRM content, peripherals, document locations.
You’ll notice that there are only 6 points there. That’s because Microsoft want to tell you that there are three types of applications to consider. Office (and other Windows programs,) Skype (and other Windows programs) and PC games (which are Windows programs.) Two more bullet points cover Web and Web apps for which the Chromebook is also given credit.
My personal list of Chromebook issues is similar:
Skype, Local storage, Printing, Microsoft Office, Offline applications, USB device support, Playing a CD or DVD/Video format support, Network attached storage access, Music player synchronization, DRM content. [More detail here.]
The elephant in Microsoft’s room is the important area of security. I’m very impressed with the security features available on Windows 8 but it’s not easy to make sure you have these features in your laptop or even to configure them when you have them. Chromebooks have the huge advantage that they don’t assume that the user is going to proactively act to improve security. “We update transparently and try to provide safe defaults without asking users to make security decisions” [src.] Cheap Windows 8 tablets do a good job if you use a Microsoft account (disk encryption, login tracking, secure boot, sandboxed apps in RT mode) but more needs to be done for the laptops which don’t have some of these features. Windows desktop remains a huge risk area too.
One other point I would argue, and Microsoft should bring this forward, is the fun aspect of using a touchscreen Windows device in RT mode. Chromebooks are as boring as Windows 7 laptops were and that’s not going to attract consumers in the sub $300 bracket. Devices like the Lenovo N20p might change that but only if Chrome OS evolves to offer better touch features and a richer choice of entertainment.
As you might have noticed I’m increasing my coverage of Chromebooks as simple, portable, secure PCs. I predict they will sell well as they improve over the next few years, they will drive a significant improvement in security across low-cost PC products, they will drive down prices of small Windows PCs and you’ll see some movement of Chromebooks into the ultra-mobile space very soon. I look forward to the first sub-1KG product.
I briefly mentioned the Acer Aspire ES1 in an article about the Acer Chromebook 13 last week but I think it’s worth taking a closer look at it now because this could be the next $199 Windows laptop. Given the specifications it also hints at a widening of the free Windows OS offer from Microsoft.