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:

  1. Initial boot & setup requires a Microsoft account. What a joke. Microsoft, you are not Google. Just. Stop. It. Microsoft, you have no need to force me to create a Microsoft account besides your own vanity and greed. Oh, I’m told I can create a local account; but after setup!?!?!?!?!? How obnoxious. Then, instead of just giving me direct options, it’s a long twisted path. By comparison, making an account in KDE (my prefered UI) is System Settings -> Account Details -> User Manager. It is even, by default, in the frequent options list when I first load System Settings on a newly installed device. Essentially changing it to System Settings -> User Manager. For Windows 10 it is: Settings -> Accounts -> Family & Other Users -> Add someone else to this PC -> I don’t have this person’s sign-in information -> Add a user without a Microsoft Account. I mean, huh? It should have been Settings -> Accounts -> Add User without Microsoft Account; along with option of Add User with Microsoft Account. Really, who are the usability designers at Microsoft? If you support an option why do you make it hard to find? Oh, yeah, I mentioned why already….

  2. Now a word from ….. Microsoft’s crazy security ex-burts who think a PIN should be required when I already have a password. I know both can be guessed or brute-forced. But isn't a mix of numbers, letters and symbols more secure? Why would I trust Microsoft with something as insecure as 4 numbers? Oh, make it more complex? You mean like a password already on my account? And why, repeatedly, tell me it is required and let me remove it from my account a moment or two after setting it up?

  3. Now, updates, the thing everyone should do the first thing after getting a new device. Not after futzing with accounts. Anyways, at least this should have been easy: Settings -> Updates & Security -> Check for Updates. But what, it wasn’t you say? Two items came up. First is why is Microsoft using me as a distribution point for their software? If you want to use my computer/network/Internet connection, at least pay me! Oh, I guess Windows is soooo cheap already (yes, that’s sarcasm). And I don’t have a choice of sending updates to other computers!?!?!? Oh, and they say “Allow downloads from other PCs”; that’s not sending; does that mean I don’t have a choice on where I get updates? Do you think I trust Microsoft? In the past, no way; at this point, no way; the future looks pretty dim too. In case you’re wondering what I’m blathering on about, go to Settings -> Updates & Security -> Advanced Options -> Delivery Optimization -> and turn off Allow downloads from other PCs. I would also continue to (an additional) Advanced options and manage bandwidth settings. Both for usability and in case Microsoft “accidentally” turns that setting back on. Another thing to think about, back in the original Windows Update, you might want to change the “Change active hours” settings; most home users are not active between 8AM and 5PM.

  4. The actual update process isn’t too bad, if it worked. I clicked the “Check for updates” button, it spun for over an hour and then said there were no updates. While at the same time in bright red letters saying “Your device is missing important security and quality fixes.” I’ve never had that issue with Linux nor Mac OS X. Mobile OSs typically don’t either (Android & iOS). So to troubleshoot, I thought I’d go to a DOS, er, command, er, no prompt exists if I search for it from the Start Menu!?!??!??! So I hunt for it and no good. I finally find “Run” and it tells me that Microsoft’s own cmd.exe is not a verified app?!?!?!?!?! Oh, it’s Windows S you silly wabbit! Am I a victim of another joke? Windows S is supposed to be simpler and more secure; but you can’t download updates? And then, to get out of Windows S, I have to sign in with a Microsoft account? Why are they giving me what is seemingly a failure of an OS before I even use it? Needless to say, I didn’t have to type the full “get out of windows 10 s mode without microsoft account” in searching for a solution. To make it simpler, I guess I’ll just use my outlook.com account for a real reason. :-(

  5. More of the slight tangent on Windows S. I get it, it’s more like a mobile OS. Only allow app store apps unless the user specifically requests otherwise. But why oh why would Microsoft disable its own trouble-shooting tools. I wish there were those same tools on Android and iOS. This is a step back, not a step forward. And I think it’s because of Microsoft’s poor security track record and methods. Not an altruistic act to help users; more something to cover up things so users are duped.

  6. After doing that, a reboot, and did Windows Updates finally work? Well, at least the Command Prompt is easily found with searching. And apparently the searching of Updates took only 15 minutes this time! How much quicker! (yes, sarcasm again) Gee, even my elderly mother knows to keep things updated. If there is no feedback about it, how are people going to learn? Trust Microsoft and just be dumb. I hate to say this, but… Sad, very sad, bad, very bad. But that’s about updates in Windows S(tupid) mode. Why were there like 3 times that updates had to be downloaded & installed not in Windows S? And why during some of those updates did the laptop reboot repeatedly after each download? I guess it must be really hard to keep Windows up to date (and hard to not be sarcastic). Even with my Linux and Mac OS X machines that have been off for over a year, I boot-up, update, reboot and I’m ready to rock. Windows? Nah….

  7. One interesting thing, as soon as I logged in with my Microsoft account, it did change how I setup the desktop. I guess that is kinda cool; I do wish that KDE supported a similar feature. I should check to see if I update it on this new laptop, it also gets updated on my other Windows machine. I’d just have to swap out a hard drive on my Lenovo T420s. I’m too lazy and it runs beautifully with Kubuntu even after all these years!

  8. Now, oh my god, bloatware with Windows OEMs will probably never go away. And Microsoft just adds more crap as well. Not only that, they actively make it hard to remove crap. I’ll admit most Linux distros, Android, Mac OS X and iOS put a lot in as well. But they all have sane defaults and at least allow for reducing background activity. Even iOS does, if it's a bit hard to figure it out. Oh, Samsung, Amazon and a few other Android OEMs are far from perfect too.

  9. The Acer bloatware was not too bad to remove. I also removed stuff that wasn’t Acer, and I couldn’t tell if it was Acer’s bloatware or Microsoft’s bloatware. I’m removing it and keeping it together because I want to make Windows “core components” a separate rant. :-) The obnoxious part is that some of the apps, especially the Acer stuff, was not removed. I created another user afterwards, logged in and lo and behold that crap was still there. So removing it is a lie! And that leads me to the next rant.

  10. Removing bloatware, whether it’s OEM or Microsoft, is annoyingly a pain! I own the machine, I want it removed. I’m so glad for places like Zareason.com and System76.com so I don’t have to deal with this crap every time I buy a new machine. But I do have a new Windows machine, which I’m starting to regret. Maybe for prosperity sake others might want to remove the bloatware. Here it goes.....

    1. Goto Start Menu

    2. Type in “powershell”, but don’t hit enter.

    3. Right click on the app, and choose “Run as administrator”

    4. Type: DISM /Online /Get-ProvisionedAppxPackages | select-string Packagename

    5. Then for each item listed, use: DISM /Online /Remove-ProvisionedAppxPackage /PackageName:<PACKAGENAME>

    6. Careful you don’t remove packages that might actually be necessary. Like Audio controls or network managers. If you want a more automated way, check out this article. I don’t vouch for the code, run it at your own risk.

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.

  1. After all that, how was actually using Windows? The Start Menu was a confusing mess, and the tiles just make it look like I’m in a Las Vegas style adware center. That was how it looked before I removed all the bloatware. Having removed it all, it was more tolerable, though it didn’t adjust very well. There are many gaps and there are still game advertisements, etc. Too bad what I did on my other laptop’s Start Menu didn’t come over like the other theme-like settings. Moving tiles around somehow feels clunky. Resizing isn’t bad, but moving around is like some weird circular motion on endless columns of 4x4 grids. Android and iOS have nice simple icons and folders for icons. A difficult to manage GUI is not good even if it is customizable. Anyways, I’m glad I’m only doing it once on this laptop.

  2. Trying to deal with files in Windows Explorer isn’t so bad; as long as you tailor the left pain, er pane. The metaphors that Microsoft have used in the past all fail; and what is worse is that they keep them all there for users to see. It might make some folks comfortable, but the new user sees a confusing mess; I consider myself an experienced user and it’s a confusing mess. How many places are Documents listed? And it’s all under Desktop? So what is "the desktop"? And if it’s all there, why have Quick Access? Why can’t I remove Quick Access when there is nothing there? I changed the “Open File Explorer to” option to be “This PC” and got rid of all Quick Access entries. I’m kinda happy, sorta, maybe.

  3. My standard apps are:

    1. Google Chrome: Installed no problem. Ran perfectly fine on the Acer Spin 1 with Windows 10 Home. Switching to tablet mode, well, see below.

    2. Firefox: What can I say? Oh, how about “yeah!”. It downloaded, installed and ran perfectly. Since Mozilla did updates recently, Firefox runs really smoothly.

    3. LibreOffice: Another painless install. I’m surprised it ran so well on this machine. I’m betting it is the 4GB of RAM.

    4. Gimp: Yes, I like this better than Photoshop. If that means you’ll ignore this post, I’m surprised you’re still reading anyways. If you’re mad, try separating out the learning curve vs. usability vs. features. Anyways, Gimp is a heavy application. But it worked well enough for the light graphic editing I do.

    5. Inkscape: I’m surprised it is in the Windows Store. The install was smooth; the initial launch was a bit slow. I didn’t play with it a lot, but the app works great for what I did.

    6. Clementine: I have to admit that this little Acer can’t hold my whole music collection. Did it perform well for my much smaller collection of favorites? Absolutely!

    7. PSPad: This is a nice text editor I’ve used for a long time professionally. Not much to say about it, and I’m not sure why I’d use it on this device. Everything is cool with it though.

    8. Atom: Another editor, newer, shiner and I think better. Can’t complain about it running. I do wonder though, since it uses Chromium as a container to run the app, that if I left other apps open, the little Acer would start to slow down. Chrome and Clementine have been running the background. But add Gimp, LibreOffice Writer, etc. for a full workflow? I'm not sticking with Windows long enough for it to be worth the test.

  4. The Microsoft apps:

    1. Mail: I don’t know why, but to me, Microsoft apps always feel cluttered and hard to navigate. The defaults are crazy and no visual cues as to what to do. But I could get Mail setup to be usable. I do wish they’d not force the layout to be a list of emails in the center and message pane on the left. I like just either a list of messages or reading, not both combined. Another quibble…. I tried “Focused Inbox”, Mail starts with it on. I turned it off, then decided to turn it back on and navigate around. Then decided to turn it off again. Then it asked me to turn on again. I’ll bring back “annoying” and add it to “cluttered” and “non-intuitive”.

    2. Calendar: Surprisingly, the Calendar app is pretty standard fare. Nothing super exciting, but are Calendars all that exciting? I could do everything I needed. Reminds me of when I used to love Outlook back in the 2000 and 2003 eras.

    3. People: Not bad as things go. But where are the icons to get to Mail and Calendar? Mail and Calendar had icons for each other and People, so why not icons in People?

    4. OneDrive: This is a decent app/plugin to the Windows OS. I like being able to move things to the folder and launch things directly from the folder. Working in various apps and everything was pretty seamless. It took a bit to download big files, but that is expected. It was also really nice to upload the installer files and then “Free up space” on each to leave them on OneDrive, and not locally. Another really cool aspect is that I pointed Clementine to the OneDrive folder I have for my music collection. It loaded my music (meaning read the tags) and played them!!! It did have to sync the files; I’m okay with my little sample of favorites. I do wish the icon on File Explorer showed some type of visual cue for uploading. It’d also be nice to cache icons. But beyond that, and especially because of my music, nice job Microsoft (and Clementine for not choking)!!!

    5. Oh, a short aside, I’m waiting for the truly seamless setup. Have all files on Desktop, in Documents, Photos, etc. be online synced. If Microsoft is giving away 1TB of space with Office, they should have the option. Once you log into (yes I’m going to say it) your Microsoft account, show all the files that are online. Allow to download, anything created locally is automatically uploaded, allow for some folders to never be synced, etc. Or maybe this is just because I have too many devices. :-)

  5. People like to complain about ChromeOS in tablet mode. Even I did when it was first available. But I tell you, now ChromeOS in tablet mode is great. Whether it be, well, another Acer device or a Pixelbook, I can’t complain about ChromeOS today. For Windows 10 on the other hand...

    1. Big ugly unwieldy onscreen keyboard; my screen is only 11”. And someone purposely chose the number keyboard? Ick!

    2. Why does the keyboard disappear when I tap the cursor to a new location? Why does it take two taps to appear sometimes? Ugh!

    3. The awareness of the keyboard is atrocious. The “docked” one covers where I’m typing most of the time. The “floating” one does too, but at least I can move it. I’d probably use that, but it doesn’t seem to know when to pop-up as well. Oh well….

    4. The rotation animation is, well, slow and weird. Why does it zoom out & in in a jittery way? Don't blame my hardware. I can adjust these things in KDE.

    5. Why is there a streak across the screen every time I scroll up or down? I know it is my touch like a trail for moving a mouse. But again, I can adjust these things in KDE.

    6. I turned off Cortana in non-tablet mode. Why is automatically on in tablet mode? When can’t I turn it off? Just an FYI ….. I turn off the Google Assistant & Siri too.

    7. After I close an app, why do I go to the stupid tile menu? Normally in Windows you switch back to the last app. In Mac OS, Chrome OS and most Linux you do the same. At least in iOS and Android you go to a list, close the app, and tap to the app you want. Windows gives you something that is neither and doesn’t get it right because of that choice.

    8. Now swapping apps, which seemed easy….. Taskbar on top; tap icons to start my favorite apps. Tap icons to switch apps, even non-favorites are up there… But wait, the “X” to close apps is inconsistently applied? I close an app, the tile menu comes up & tapping on the icons on the Taskbar won’t bring up already running apps? Wow, get it together Microsoft!

    9. Speaking of the Taskbar, it randomly disappears coming out of sleep or flipping it. I start an app, sometimes it has already started, and it comes back.

    10. Not really a tablet mode thing, but notifications. I swipe away the one that pops up. But then that notification is still in the sidebar? Why have to swipe it again? Or at least give settings for its behavior!

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:

  • Add input settings on the taskbar. Then just two taps and the virtual keyboard is there.

  • Under Accessibility settings, enable the virtual keyboard. Then just one tap and it's there.

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.

  • Kubuntu: My favorite, worked well as a laptop and touch screen worked fine out of the box. Same issues as OSes above: no rotation, keyboard & mouse turn off in tablet mode but not back on again. KDE also isn’t designed for touch only. So no long press right click, etc. :-(

  • elementary OS: Becoming my favorite Linux, and touch screen was fine in laptop mode. Tablet mode & things like long press right click, etc? Same?

  • More? Well, this is taking a long time, which I don't have. I do want to try Gnome touch capabilities. But that will have to be another project.

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