All-day battery life • Durable design
Processor is slow for most tasks • Chrome OS is clunky without a physical keyboard
The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 is a novel step towards a Chrome OS tablet but takes a few missteps. A student is better off going with a full-fledged Chromebook.
When you hear “Chromebook,” there’s a general expectation that you’re getting a laptop.
However, the Tab 10, Acer Chromebook’s latest release, actually falls under the tablet category.
The Chromebook Tab 10 is for education, meant as a bulk product for student use in schools (with some availability at specialty retailers and through Acer’s Education Team). Its main competitors are a $329 iPad that Apple hopes schools will opt for, as well as traditional Chromebooks.
The Acer Chromebook 10 runs on Chrome OS, which is tuned for a keyboard and mouse. Using it without has not been a glitch-free experience, and we’re still waiting for updates to make the OS more tablet-friendly. And while the Tab 10 includes a small stylus in the box, a keyboard accessory (which we feel is necessary) costs an extra $19.99 (and that’s just for a basic one). I’m inclined to believe that no included keyboard means this is for elementary schools. An older student probably couldn’t make it through an essay, let alone a term paper, on a virtual keyboard.
The Tab 10 is not the first Chrome OS to opt for a touch display — the flagship Pixelbook is a 2-in-1 laptop with a 360-degree hinge. And the addition of Android Apps via the Play Store means that you can fill specific needs for educational purposes as well. Still, Google says that software tuned specifically for a tablet will arrive closer to the end of 2018.
The Acer Chromebook Tab 10 represents a big step for Chrome OS, but does it make sense for schools to go with a tablet like this one, rather than a laptop?
A durable design for a tough life inside backpacks
Being built for an educational environment means that the device should expect some rough-and-tumble treatment. This is a big reason why the Tab 10 doesn’t really act like a consumer tablet. Acer was smart to outfit it with a hefty plastic build (what it lacks in high-end appeal, it makes up for in durability). It’s reassuring in your hands, as if it will last for a few years. Some grippy texture on the back also makes the tablet reasonably comfortable to hold.
A bevy of bezels around the 9.7-inch display give you some breathing room as you hold the device without accidentally hitting an on-screen button. Unlike the iPad, there is no home button on the Chromebook Tab 10; you’ll find an Acer logo in its place. Instead, there are onscreen controls for going home, opening the app drawer, and multitasking. To turn off the display, you have to hit the power button. Size-wise, the Tab 10 is 6.78 x 9.38 x 0.39 inches and weighs 1.2 pounds.
When holding the device vertically, a USB-C port is located on the bottom right-hand side; it’s used for charging and connecting hubs to the device (such as a Belkin USB-C keyboard accessory). It’s a forward-thinking move on Acer’s part to install the port here because it offers faster data transfers and is gaining higher adoption throughout the market.
On the left side, you’ll find the power button, volume rocker, microSD card slot, and stylus. I wouldn’t consider this the most natural spot for all these tools, as they’re positioned rather high on the left-hand side. A headphone jack is located on the top.
For camera capabilities, the Tab 10 comes with a 5-megapixel lens on the back and a 2-megapixel lens on the front. Neither of these is spectacular, and photos generally look grainy with heavy noise (especially from the rear camera). Speakers are found on the bottom edge and top edge and provide average sound that isn’t very well-rounded; if you’re looking for booming sound like on the iPad Pro, quite frankly, look elsewhere.
A display that suffices, as long as you’re indoors
In line with its educational focus, a 9.7-inch, 2,048-by-1,536 LED-backlit display is geared more toward note-taking and reading, rather than gaming and entertainment. The display is average in its brightness and color reproduction.
When taking notes, the display offers a decent contrast between the background and what’s being written on top of it, providing a realistic true-to-paper experience that should make the switch from pencil and paper a non-issue for most students. However, unlike some iPad models, there is no True Tone display here, which means the color tones of the screen will not adjust and react to your lighting environment.
On the Tab 10, colors appear realistic in most conditions; they’re just not that vibrant — this is not an OLED screen after all. The tablet’s glossy finish led to some issues outside when trying to use it under direct sunlight. Even under fluorescent lights, there is some screen glare; it would’ve been nice for Acer to provide a matte display option or a screen protector accessory.
Still… Chrome OS on a tablet?
On paper, putting Chrome OS on a tablet doesn’t seem like a bad idea. However, the biggest issue here is that the software isn’t optimized for a device without a keyboard and mouse. In the long run, this might make sense from a product development standpoint, but it’s still early days and Google hasn’t yet customized or released a version that incorporates a better keyboard-free experience on tablets.
This is where the biggest road bumps occur for the Chromebook Tab 10, and in addition to the OS, the questionable choice of a RockChip processor doesn’t help its cause. While some cheaper Chromebooks opt for this processor, generally a safer bet is an Intel Celeron chip. The RockChip processor is noticeably slower. Simple utility tasks took longer; signing into the device took about 10 seconds, and opening an app often took 2-to-5 seconds. It’s a minor detail that can add up to a lot of time wasted as you wait for your tablet to load throughout the day, especially if you’re a student who relies on it to load projects and research topics.
Acer opted for an OP1 processing unit that has a dual-core Cortex-A72 and quad-core Cortex-A53, designed for battery life and connectivity. It all means that you’re essentially getting the basics, rather than super fast performance or run times. Neither Acer nor Google took steps to customize this experience. Generally, with a Chrome OS device, there are light customizations allowed to create a smooth user experience. This could be as simple as changing a line of code when booting or more advanced changes like adding custom options.
When I used the Tab 10, I first tested Google Keep, Google’s proprietary note-taking app that comes pre-installed as part of the Google Suite (the series of apps that includes Docs, Sheets, and Mail). To get it working, I had to restore the Tab 10 twice and uninstall the app twice, as Google Keep repeatedly crashed and caused a flickering effect on the display. Once it started working, however, I was able to take several lines of notes with no issues.
Another app I tried, the MyScript Calculator, which requires quite a bit of background processing, is one of those education apps that was hit or miss on the Tab 10. I could write out several math problems, watch as they morphed into typed text, and then have the app compute the answer. It generally performed all right, but would crash after the tenth problem.
Google recently added the Play Store to Chrome OS, and Android Apps have long been available on these devices. Access to education apps and VR experiences is a key selling point of the Tab 10, as those will undoubtedly expand the experiences the device can provide.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try the AR and Google Expedition experiences, as those aren’t yet available and should arrive by the end of the year. Once ready, it’ll allow classrooms to be mapped out with objects in 3D, and students can interact and learn from them in real time.
Then there’s that stylus
Including a stylus in the box is a nice touch, but it doesn’t compare to the Pixelbook Pen or the Apple Pencil. Instead, it is a small Wacom EMR stylus that doesn’t require a battery and has a plastic build.
There is no pressure-sensing tip or hand detection; rather, it acts as just another way to interface with the Tab 10. Using the pen with Google Keep resulted in a low-latency experience that could have benefited from hand detection. You will likely find that there are some markings from your palm, but it didn’t distract too much from the writing experience.
A concern with the stylus is the size. It’s a short, 3.9-inch long stick, and I found my hand cramping slightly with long note-taking sessions. It’s also quite light and tricky to grip — great for smaller students, probably not so great for the older kids.
A+ for battery
Inside the Chromebook Tab 10 is an 8,860mAh battery that lasted longer than the guaranteed nine hours. In that time frame, I used Google Keep for notes, the Chrome browser to watch videos and respond to emails, and performed some general productivity tasks. It seems that while the processor fell short with fast speeds, it is good at conserving battery life. In standby, it lasted for close to three days with minimal use each day, which is encouraging considering the hours in a day a student spends in school.
The most significant factor to consider is that this is not a consumer product; this is for education. If you’re already working in a Chrome ecosystem, it might be worth taking a chance, but expect frustrations from both students and teachers.
The main issue is that the Tab 10’s performance suffers when under a heavy load or when you put it through its paces on just one application. The lag time that occurs is probably the most frustrating aspect of the user experience, and I can foresee a teacher in a classroom acting more as tech support for these glitchy devices rather than actually teaching the students on the curriculum. Judging by my experience with the Tab 10, I’d say it’s not quite ready to be the teacher’s pet.
A wiser move is to wait for software optimizations to arrive that allow for more functionality without a keyboard, more fluidity between the apps, and more efficiency in load times.
For now, I’d choose the traditional Chromebook over the Tab 10. If you’re stuck on having a tablet in the classroom rather than a laptop, the $329 iPad is an excellent alternative.
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