Taking An Acer Spin 1 For A...

October 11, 2019


Bad puns, so what you gonna do about it (that's a reference).  Here is another adventure after getting an Acer Spin 1 (SP111-33).  I got it for 50% off, so it was a steal.  It is the typical 2-in-1 or convertible ultra-light laptop.  So I figured I’d use it to try out Android, ChomeOS, Linux, etc.  

Simple intro to another adventure, but oh boy, wait til you read the first part…..

A Ruffian Saying Ni To Miscrosoft

Second things second…..  Wow, I forgot how much I hate Windows.  Sorry, had to say that right away because it is perhaps the biggest impression I’m left with when starting to write up everything I did with this little laptop.  It came with Windows 10, which I haven’t used for a long time.  I’m glad I don’t use it regularly.  So off we go….

Enumerating things makes it easier:

How much did I save?  Well, that is subjective in some ways and hard to tell in other ways.  For my brain’s processing power what I save is immeasurable (i.e. sanity from not seeing crud). For less phone-home junk? Maybe.  For computer performance?  Who knows what is happening behind the scenes on this underpowered laptop (CPU or network usage).  For disk space, it didn’t even change from 39.9 GB free; meaning not much space.  So just privacy and sanity is really saved.  But that’s worth it to me.

A Newt?  Well I Got Better!

I didn't want this to turn into a rant about Windows.  So before I go into installing other OSes, I first want to mention backups.  I like OneDrive, as mentioned above, now you can backup some local directories to it.  What happens with stuff as you remove it locally or online?  Removing a file online puts it in the Recycle Bin both online and locally.  Same thing when removing files locally.  That is nice for the “oopsy” type people, which I am often enough.  Will it take up space eventually?  Probably, but I think it’s worth the trouble.  Paying attention to how much space you’re using is like paying attention to engine lights, not gas gauge, but the other engine lights.  

Anyways, I’m really talking about reloading the OS on the system.  Microsoft is improving on this sort of thing.  During the Windows 7 days or earlier, good luck.  

Even though it wasn’t necessarily easy to find, Windows 10 does come with a tool to build a recovery USB.  Go to Settings -> Backup -> More Options -> See advanced settings -> (which loads Control Panel) -> Recovery.  Oddly, if you go to Settings -> Update & Security -> Recovery it is not the same.  Though there is, currently, a link that says “Create a recovery drive” that leads to the same place.  I guess different words mean different things depending on who is talking?  Or where you go?

The creation process had wording that I thought it was backing up the currently installed system.  The recovery USB took a loooooong time to be made (like 5 hours), much longer than downloading & “burning” a Kubuntu iso.  To boot into the recovery USB, I had to change the boot order in EFI/BIOS; easy enough.  But word of warning, it looks like Recovery is just the OS, not of your data.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Above I had the intention to format, but amazingly, after making an Android-x86 bootable USB the Acer booted directly to it. It seemed to work without any EFI/BIOS changes; odd, but I like Acer’s defaults in this case.  

I also saw that it recognized the 64GB EMMC.  There was also an option to rescan for drives; so I figured why not try installing on (another) USB 3.0 drive.  

After booting into the installed Android-X86, not the live version, I set up my account and updated.  So far so good ….. except for the TermOne Plus; it never would update, just Download pending.  Oh, just in case you’re wondering, this was done in laptop mode.  

An important thing is that Android complained about the USB being corrupt.  Either option given (“Use as portable storage” or “Use as internal storage”) told me it needed to be formatted.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I want to use all the storage on the USB for apps and what-not, so I formatted.  It seemed to freeze up at 20%, and, unsurprisingly, after a reboot, the loader could not find the kernel.  Well, duh, I just formatted it!

I actually wanted to see the difference in the drive.  When I installed android-x86, I formatted it as EXT3.  When plugging in the USB to my trusty Lenovo T420s with Kubuntu, I noticed it was EXT4, and only 4GB.  The partition also could not be resized.  Weird, is Google doing something fancy for security?  Or the folks at android-x86.org?  I’m not into trying too hard on this USB idea, so I just redid the partition table & made a single EXT4 partition.  This did not work, so I formatted inside Android again and then did the reinstall.  That did not work either; it complained that there was not enough space to do the install.  Another idea to try was to install on NTFS partition on the USB.  This worked, but is very very slow.  It creates a file for data on the NTFS partition.  Yuck.

The final thing to do, which is the normal thing to do, was to install directly to the EMMC device in the system.  Thankfully it shows up as a mmcblk device.  I resized in Windows so 29GB each OS.  The installation and setup went fine, all the while in laptop mode.  

Swapping back and forth between tablet and laptop mode gave me a bit of trouble.  But a simple post & response got some functionality working.  After the keyboard and mouse went away in tablet mode, it didn’t come back “spinning” back to laptop mode.  I’d reboot and they were back; but not something to do all the time.  I will, hopefully, eventually, provide some debug information and I am sure the folks at Android-X86 will fix stuff up.  

Do I like Android for a laptop?  With how to use this laptop, sure, it’s great for simple web browsing, email, (some) casual gaming, listening to music or watching videos.  I had some trouble because some games didn’t work.  For those curious, Android in Windows wasn't great on this little git either.

All the mobile or mobile-like stuff works really well and pretty fast on this Acer Spin 1 with Android-X86.  But do not expect the tablet-like functions to work completely at this point in time.

On second thoughts, let us go to Chrome OS. It is not a silly place

Next on my list of things to try is ChromeOS; or better said, Neverware’s CloudReady.  Again, easy install & setup; and again a few issues related to tablet mode vs. laptop mode.  First, no rotation like Android.  It was good that “spinning” it to tablet mode shut off the keyboard and mouse.  But then not coming back on going back to laptop mode is a pain.  

Another issue was no automatic virtual keyboard popping up.  A work around that isn’t too bad is to either:

Neither are optimal but it works.  You can even use the Accessibility trick on the login screen in case you close the lid or let it sleep while logged in.  That never happened to me, I just happened to, ah, think of it, ah, separately.  :-P

I will also say that CloudReady seemed to be as snappy as Android-X86.  I wasn’t expecting that!  This isn’t really a review of CloudReady, so I won’t go into too much more.  Overall though, getting CloudReady setup is easy and simple.  Updating is easy and simple.  Using it is easy and simple.  Even going through the steps to get to work offline is fine.  

If only the “spin” worked!!!  :-(  And Android apps were supported.  Then I’d say that I found an awesome alternative to Windows 10 on this device.  If Acer planned on supporting Chrome OS on it, I’m sure it’d be fine.  It is pretty much like other Acer Spin models.  Oh, and I’d get both Chrome OS apps and Android apps.  Hint hint Neverware, you know it’s possible.  :-)

You must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with...an ultrabook, er, herring!

The next OSs are Linux Distros.  Each one performed very well on the Acer Spin 1.  But all I tried had issues with the “spin” aspect.  Since this isn’t really a review of the various Distros, I’ll just list the OS and some quick notes about each.

Sorry that's it for now.  I have to figure out what is wrong with my parrot.  Thanks for reading.