Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Acer C720 Chromebook first impressions: Fast and cheap

Acer C720 Chromebook first impressions: Fast and cheap

Acer is not a stranger to the Chromebook world and the new C720 is looking to outperform the rest of the pack. The decision to use an Intel Celeron with Haswell technology was a sound one by Acer based on our hands-on testing. The Acer C720 Chromebook is the fastest model we've tested with the exception of the $1,200 Pixel by Google.

What makes the presence of the Haswell Celeron so unusual is that Acer is able to use it while keeping the price of the C720 at $249.99. That makes this Chromebook an outstanding value given the performance compared to the ARM and Atom Chromebooks on the market.

Hardware specs as reviewed:
  •     CPU: Intel® Celeron® Processor 2955U, (1.4GHz, 2MB L3 Cache)
  •     OS: Chrome OS
  •     Memory: 4GB
  •     Storage: 16GB
  •     Display: 11.6-inch, 1366x768, anti-glare
  •     Camera: front webcam (1280x720)
  •     Connectivity: Wi-fi a/b/g/n
  •     Ports/slots: USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI, SD slot
  •     Battery: 3,950 mAh, 8.5 hours
  •     Thickness: 0.75in
  •     Weight: 2.76lbs
The Acer C720 Chromebook is constructed of plastic as befitting its low price. It doesn't feel like it's poorly constructed but there is no doubt it's made of plastic.
Acer C720 Chromebook keyboard(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

The keyboard facilitates fast typing and the keys have the right amount of travel when pressed. It is a standard Chrome OS keyboard with all of the expected Chrome control keys on the top row.

The trackpad works very well but is smaller than those found on other Chromebooks. This is no doubt to keep the C720 size as small as possible, but a slightly larger trackpad would be appreciated.
Acer C720 Chromebook left side(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

On the left side of the C720 is the power jack, HDMI port, USB port, and an the audio in/out jack. The right side has a lock slot, USB port, and SD slot. There are two blue and orange LED indicators on the front of the Chromebook that indicates power and charging status.
Acer C720 Chromebook right side(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Acer claims 8.5 hours on a charge and this seems to be accurate. The use of the Celeron is a good choice by Acer due to the low power requirements which yields good battery life.

The C720 is a fast performer due to this processor. The Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook that's been out for a while is a fast performer due to its last generation Celeron, and the Acer C720 Chromebook is much faster with the Haswell version. Both of those Chromebooks have 4GB of system memory so its a valid comparison of the Haswell processor. It's worth noting that the Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook is currently selling for $500.

Using the Celeron in the C720 allows Acer to include 4GB of system memory, and this means better multi-tasking than other Chromebooks with only 2GB. In our testing the C720 Chromebook was able to handle lots of open tabs at once with no page refreshing when returning to earlier visited tabs as is common with models with only 2GB.

Of the many Chromebooks tested, the Acer is easily the fastest with the exception of the Chromebook Pixel. The Pixel costs over $1,000 more than the Acer so that's to be expected.
Acer C720 Chromebook closed(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

The 11.6-inch display is just the right size for a portable system and it is an anti-glare screen. It is the standard resolution of 1366x768, which may be an issue for some. In our testing it is a decent screen, not the brightest but sufficient.

The Acer C720 Chromebook will be available shortly from Acer, Best Buy, and Amazon with a list price of $249.99. It's worth noting that this price is less than that of most tablets, an exceptional deal for a laptop.

Buyers of the Acer C720 Chromebook get 12 sessions of Gogo in-flight wi-fi access included along with 100GB of free storage on Google Drive, further enhancing the deal.

  • Cheap
  • Faster than most Chromebooks
  • 4GB memory
  • Battery life
  • Fast charging (1.5 hours from 10 percent to fully charged, less than 3 hours when completely drained)
  • Plastic construction
  • Small trackpad
Additional Chromebook coverage:
  •     Chromebooks: Unlikely battlefield for Intel vs. ARM
  •     HP Chromebook 11 hands on: Distraction-free writing with vivid display
  •     Google announces new Chrome devices from Acer, Asus, HP, and Toshiba
  •     Chromebook Pixel: One of the best laptops I've used
  •     Acer unveils first Chromebook with Haswell for $249
  •     Chromebook Pixel: 5 tips and trick
  •     Chromebook Pixel hands on (photos)

5 reasons why the iPhone 5c might be a flop

5 reasons why the iPhone 5c might be a flop

Rumors are circulating that Apple is cutting orders for the iPhone 5c in the face of weak demand, and this in turn is fueling speculation that the handset might be a misstep by the Cupertino giant.

But if the iPhone 5c ends up being a flop, what's behind the failure?

First off, I think that it is far too early to call the iPhone 5c a flop. Even if Apple is cutting orders, this could be part of the normal scaling back that happens following a launch as Apple re-evaluates the supply chain and balances things out. This sort of thing is normal.

Apple likes there to be as short a gap as possible between stuff coming off the assembly line, and that stuff being sold, and strives to have around 4 to 6 weeks of channel inventory. Given that iPhone 5c handsets (of all colors) are shipping within 24 hours, while the higher-priced flagship iPhone 5s is on 2 to 3 week back order, it makes sense for Apple to concentrate more on the iPhone 5s.

Another point worth bearing in mind is that we are unlikely to ever find out the sales figures of the individual handset models as Apple only reports data on iPhone sales as a whole. So if iPhone 5c sales are poor, but this is offset by strong iPhone 5s sales (and there's data to suggest that the latter is outselling the former by a significant margin) then the overall effect on sales will be hard to notice. Pundits and analysts like to focus on iPhone sales figures, but revenue and margin data are more telling and as a rule are better indicators of the health of the product line.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that a lot of people who buy handsets are locked into contract and upgrade cycles, and this could mean a delayed or extended upgrade cycle that extends well beyond the initial release. This may be doubly so for the non-flagship handset where consumers might be unwilling to pay unlocked prices to get their hands on the phone and instead wait until they are eligible for a subsidized upgrade.

But, if despite all I've said above, the iPhone 5c is judged to be a flop, what could be the reason behind it being a flop? Here are five possible reasons why.

1) Old model in new clothes

While the iPhone 5c is undeniably a new handset, under the shiny polycarbonate shell it is essentially a rebadged iPhone 5. While it is unquestionably an upgrade for anyone running a non-retina display iPhone, for those already owning an iPhone 4s or iPhone 5, there's not much new beyond the color.

2) No sane color option

The iPhone 5c comes in white, pink, yellow, blue, and green, there's no subdued black/charcoal/space grey option. Given that a black (or a variant on black) has always seemed to be the most popular choice of finish, the fact that it is not on offer might be putting a damper on sales.

On top of that, the lack of a red option is particularly surprising, especially given Apple's desire to gain a foothold in the Chinese market (red is a color traditionally seen as symbolizing good fortune).

3) Stuck with one color

You can dress up the iPhone 5c is different colored silicone skins (at $29 a pop) or you can use third-party cases, but as to the actual color of your handset, you're stuck with it for the duration of ownership.

For the trendy or teens with short attention spans, this is a concept that might not float.

As an aside, the most popular color in the UK according to iPhoneStockChecker is pink, accounting for 46 percent of sales, followed by blue at 32 percent, and green at 12 percent. White is low down the list at 9 percent, and the yellow version seems to be the ugly duckling, only chosen by one out of every 100 buyers.

4) Price shock

Apple lists an unlocked 16GB iPhone 5c at $549, which is only $100 less than a 16GB iPhone 5s. You can pick up unlocked handsets for less than this, but that high official price – which got a lot of press attention at the iPhone unveiling – will have undoubtedly put some people off.

5) Second best

The popular perception is that iPhone buyers are swayed by style, and that owning the attest and greatest handset is a status symbol of sorts.

While there no denying that the iPhone 5c is a new handset, it isn't a flagship handset, and with so much attention focused on the iPhone 5s, does this make the iPhone 5c seems a lesser, inferior, second best purchase?

The bottom line

Apple CEO Tim Cook is on record as saying that the company doesn't fear cannibalization, and that extends as far as its own products cannibalizing one another. At the end of the day, whether consumers are buying the iPhone 5s or the iPhone 5c (or the older iPhone 4s), people are still buying an Apple product as opposed to the competition.

If the iPhone 5c is a viable product, then chances are that we'll see similar models coming down the pipe in the future, if not, then we may see Apple shift away from this approach. This is how businesses do business.

The Metro hater's guide to Windows 8.1

The Metro hater's guide to Windows 8.1

In unveiling Windows 8.1 earlier this year, Microsoft executives said, “We’re listening to feedback.” That’s a polite way of saying they were trying to avoid being splattered by a barrage of rotten tomatoes.

Some of the most vocal complaints—sorry, feedback—came from longtime Windows users who wanted the good parts of Windows 8 without sacrificing the familiar Windows 7 desktop. Responding to that complaint was the impetus behind Microsoft’s decision to restore the Start button in Windows 8.1 to its traditional place at the left side of the taskbar.

The good news: Windows 8.1 has all the user-interface pieces you need to bring the desktop to the foreground and make the Start screen recede far, far into the background.

The bad news: Windows 8.1 doesn’t have a magic “make Metro go away” button. Desktop diehards will need to spend a couple minutes (really, that’s all the time it takes) to tweak Windows 8.1 into submission.

Here’s what you need to do to make Windows 8.1 as desktop-friendly as possible. Note that all of the features I describe here are new or significantly changed in Windows 8.1 compared to Windows 8.

Step 1: Uninstall unwanted apps.

Your focus is on desktop apps. You have no desire to use any of the 20-plus built-in Metro apps and no plans to download any from the Windows Store. To reduce the chance that you will inadvertently launch one of the built-in apps, uninstall as many as you can. Windows 8.1 allows you to uninstall all of those apps in one operation; that’s a big improvement over Windows 8, which made you uninstall each app separately. (Note that you have the option to uninstall from a single machine or from all your synced devices.)

Step 2: Adjust the look of the Start screen.

Windows 8.1 includes an option that allows the Start screen to share the same background as the desktop. Personally, I find that setting somewhat distracting, so I leave it off. Instead, I recommend removing the pattern and adjusting the background color to something neutral. This dialog box isn’t in PC Settings, where you might expect it. Instead, you have to go to the Start screen, click the Settings charm, and then click Personalize. Note the background with no pattern is in the bottom row, second from the right.

Step 3: Tweak the Start screen settings to suit your preferences.

Right-click any empty space on the taskbar and click Properties. That opens up the familiar-looking Taskbar And Navigation Properties dialog box, with a Navigation tab that’s new to Windows 8.1. Options here allow you to bypass the Start screen at sign-in, show the All Apps screen when you click or tap Start, and disable the two hot corners at the top of the screen.

Step 4: Arrange the Apps screen.

You’ll probably want to avoid the Start screen completely, but you can’t avoid an occasional visit to the Apps view. It replaces the All Programs menu with a full-screen list, organized into groups. You have several sorting and grouping options in Windows 8.1 that aren’t available in Windows 8. To get to Apps view, go to Start by clicking the Start button or tapping the Windows key; then either swipe up from the bottom of the screen or move the mouse until a small down arrow appears in the lower left corner, which you can click to see your full list of apps.

Step 5: Pin your favorite desktop programs to the taskbar.

This is actually one thing Windows 8.1 does better than Windows 7. From the Apps view you can select as many desktop programs as you want and then click Pin to Taskbar from the command bar at the bottom of the screen.

Step 6: Set your default apps.

This is a step a lot of people overlook. By default, Windows 8 sets several common file types to open with Metro-style apps. Windows 8.1 follows in that tradition. You can use the awkward and confusing Default Programs option in the desktop Control Panel. But it’s much, much easier to use the new Defaults option, which you’ll find in PC Settings under Search & Apps.

Don’t forget to change your default browser here. If you use Chrome or Firefox, the desktop version of your preferred browser becomes the default. If you use Internet Explorer, be sure to visit the Internet Options dialog box using the desktop interface. On the Programs tab, under Opening Internet Explorer, choose Always In Internet Explorer On The Desktop, and also check the box beneath that setting (Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop).

There, you’re done.

That was probably more complicated than it needs to be, but the end result should be a system that is far more tolerant of your desktop habits, with far less Metro style.
Windows 8.1: What enterprise users need to know

Microsoft made available for download by the public as of October 17 the Windows 8.1 bits, as well as a few post-RTM updates to those bits. But what about enterprise customers?

Microsoft execs said last month that enterprise customers would be able to access the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) to get the Windows 8.1 Enterprise and 8.1 Pro bits, once they were made generally available. They noted at that time that Windows 8.1 (core) would not be available on VLSC.

Those promised Enterprise and Pro bits are available as of today, October 18, in the VLSC, Microsoft officials said. However, I am hearing from some volume license customers that they cannot see any listing for Windows 8.1 in the VLSC and they're being issued trouble tickets.

As Microsoft officials noted in an October 18 Springboard Series blog post, Windows 8.1 Enterprise cannot be updated via the Windows Store; it must be updated via the media from the VLSC.

Customers can opt to do an in-place update of their existing Windows 8 Enterprise installations by using Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2013 or System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager, or by burning the media to a DVD or copy to a USB key.

As a reminder: Anyone upgrading from Windows 8.1 Preview to Windows 8.1 GA should know that all applications — Windows Store and desktop/Win32 — need to be reinstalled as part of the update process.

Microsoft's Springboard blog post includes information on how those interested in moving from earlier versions of Windows and/or non-Enterprise SKUs of Windows 8 can move to Windows 8.1. The post also includes information about how IT pros can update their key-management service servers and keys for activation.

I've had a few users ask whether Microsoft plans to make Media (.ISO) updates available to the general public for Windows 8.1. The answer is no.

A spokesperson noted that the only way to update a retail-activated Windows 8 computer to Windows 8.1 will be to go through the Windows Store and download the updated bits. However, .ISO-based updates will be supported for volume-license installations (as well as for TechNet, MSDN and DreamSpark subscribers).

Why isn't Microsoft making the .ISO files broadly available for Windows 8.1? Another spokesperson told me it's because "8.1 was intended as an update for users with Windows 8 already installed." I know Windows Store downloads have been problematic for a number of users and spotty Internet has made downloading from the Store a challenge for some (especially outside the U.S.). But that's all Microsoft officials are saying right now about .ISOs.

Users asking about how to update their Windows To Go versions of Windows 8: Microsoft officials say you'll have to reimage your existing drives as part of the deployment process.

11 top Windows 8 apps

11 top Windows 8 apps for work and play

Windows 8.1 has rolled out, and the operating system is better than ever. Apps make any platform shine and while there aren't as many Windows 8 apps as there are on other platforms there are some pretty good ones.

11 top apps for Windows 8.x
This collection of 11 Windows 8 apps covers the spectrum, from leisure to productivity apps. There are apps to keep you informed and others to keep you up-to-date with your friends on social networks.

All of these apps have been tested on touch tablets to ensure each can be used handily by touch as well as on laptops and desktops.

There is a bonus slide that shows the author's favorite way to use snap view as that has been greatly improved in Windows 8.1.

These are not the only good apps on Windows 8 but are the top apps the author uses heavily. If your favorite app(s) is (are not) listed please share them in the comments below.

Note that all apps can be found in the Windows 8 app store, simply search for the app name in the Store app.

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