Introduction

Back in 2016 I got an Acer Chromebook 11 (CB3-111) to evaluate the platform but at the time it was still very much still a web browser as an OS. That Chromebook became a Linux laptop via custom firmware and a specialized Linux distro specialized for Chromebook hardware. Sadly, at some point it stopped booting and would only go to a black screen resulting in it living in its box for the rest of its life.

The hardware over all was decent for the price range it sold for as they were regularly sold on sale other than the hinge caps would pop up if it was opened further than it preferred. Performance wise it ran pretty good and even on Linux it was capable of some light games.

Back to current day I am evaluating a pair of modern Chromebook. The devices are the 2020 Lenovo Chromebook Duet 2 in 1 and the 2019 Acer Chromebook 311 (C721). The Lenovo takes the form of a detachable keyboard 2 in 1 tablet with removable kickstand back cover and the Acer is the classic classroom formfactor laptop style.

Lenovo Chromebook Duet 2 in 1

Processor: MediaTek® Kompanio 500 (2.00 GHz, 8 Cores, 8 Threads)
Display: 10.1" FHD (1920 x 1200) IPS, touchscreen, 400 nits
Memory: 4 GB LPDDR4x
Storage: 64 GB eMMC
Graphics: Integrated ARM Mali-G72 MP3 Graphics
Bluetooth: Bluetooth® 4.2
Camera: Front 2 MP Fixed focus & Rear 8 MP Auto focus
Wireless: 802.11AC (2 x 2)

The Lenovo Chromebook Duet design wise is the Surface Go meets ChromeOS with the twist of the kickstand being a removable back panel. The hardware design works out rather well in real world usability but as it's a 2 in 1 there is compromise. The design choices made make it a great tablet as with the keyboard and kickstand removed it's a lightweight tablet. The keyboard cover has decent tactile feedback despite being a rather low-profile keyboard, but some might find its reduced footprint less than comfortable and the touchpad is decent for a keyboard cover with a over all firm feel. The screen is where this Chromebook really shines as it's 10.1" 1920x1200 IPS touchscreen has great brightness, good whites, and crisp text along with the great viewing angles IPS displays have.

Ports are where it really suffers as there is only two ports on it with one of them being a single USB 2.0 Type-C port which provides charging, OTG, display port output, headphone via included adaptor and the pogo pins on bottom for the keyboard cover.

While being a tablet form factor the Chromebook Duet does have a degree of repairability as the screen is not glued in and can be carefully popped out from its clipped in mount. The battery is glued down with same industry standard glue pull strips though and all board resources are soldered, and only replaceable modules are the screen, cameras, speakers, pogo pin connector, and battery.

Acer Chromebook 311 (C721)

Processor: AMD A4-9120C (1.6GHz GHz, 2 Cores, 2 Threads)
Display: 11.6" HD (1366 x 768) ComfyView (Matte) LCD
Memory: 4 GB DDR4 SDRAM
Storage: 32 GB (MicroSD Expandable)
Graphics: AMD Radeon™ R4 Graphics
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.1
Camera: 720p HD Fixed Focus
Wireless: 802.11AC

The Acer Chromebook 311 is a well-built durable Chromebook intended for classroom use. As is common with most modern laptops the light nature of results in it not being openable with only one hand as it will lift the laptop up. The keyboard is good, and the keypress is tactile enough to get a decent speed once you are used to the layout with the bonus of the drain holes designed to handle light spills. The touchpad feels firm with the click mostly contained to the lower half without it feeling cheap. The matte TN based LCD display has good brightness but sufferers from the usual off angle viewing TN is known for.

The ports are well laid out with USB type-C port on both sides that supports charging and display port output, USB type-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports on both, Headset jack on the left side that supports headphones and cellphone style headsets.
One huge plus with the hardware is that it is designed from the start to be repaired without any proprietary screws to get the bottom cover off. The battery is not glued down and is easy to replace. The internal layout is for most part modular with the secondary USB ports on their own daughter card, Wi-Fi card is a replaceable module, the touchpad and screen, and the keyboard. While the storage is a fixed 32gb eMMC chip there is a microSD slot to expand it that in my testing works great with a Lexar 128gb card.

Software, Storage, and Performance

The software side has evolved quite a bit since it’s early days as browser as an operating system as the Android and Linux support was still in beta and only supported a small subset of models at the time. The biggest change is that Android app support is now standard, and you can optionally enable a Debian Linux container is intended for development use but may be able to be used for some entry level games. Interface wise the OS has changed a fair bit since 2016 with early versions of the current app launcher being in dev channel at then. The current OS more closely resembles a more tablet friendly version of Android than the older interface was. There is also a new launcher in the works that restores it back to closer to how it was in 2015.

Originally SD card support was more used for importing photos from your camera to upload to google photos but now on models with a microSD slot you can expand your storage. On insert of a new card it will prompt you to share the card with android which treats it just like a SD card inserted into a phone. With Linux you can go into settings and share storage locations with the container. While not perfect the state of how storage is handled has greatly improved. Some things that I would find useful though would be adding support to store the Linux container on the SD card to free up internal storage along with ability to install android apps to the SD card.

The performance of the tested machines over all was impressive with general web browsing working as expected on both. Graphics performance of the AMD A4-9120C did outperform the MediaTek® Kompanio 500 with the processor performance being a closer. The MediaTek® Kompanio did perform better on was Android apps and with Linux container with the Crostini GPU Support flag set. One interesting thing I found is that it seems that on that on at least the AMD based x86_64 models Crostini GPU Support sems to be enabled by default but not on the MediaTek® Kompanio 500 based arm models. As expected, there is a varying degree of overhead with the worst being on graphics-based tasks which have their performance being severely affected. Processor/Memory performance got a minor hit and that means for utility type stuff the container is fully usable. The performance should improve over time as Google fine tunes it.

To test performance, I used BrowserBench to test browser, a custom compile of Eduke32 for both the amd64 Acer and the aarch64 Lenovo to test the Linux container, and Geekbench 5 to test Android. To test the overhead that the Linux container added I used the Acer Chromebook 311 and installed the latest x86_64 Chrome browser in the container and ran the same BrowserBench tests on the containerised Chrome. All of this was tested on Chrome OS 96.0.4664.111.

Benchmarks


Higher is better Speedometer JetStream 2 MotionMark
Lenovo Chromebook Duet 26.03 ± 0.15 36.534 87.09 ± 3.86%
Acer Chromebook 311 (C721) 33.7 ±0.57 41.975 129.04 ± 5.50%

Higher is better High Average Average Low
Lenovo Chromebook Duet (Stock) 20 fps 4.5 fps 1 fps
Lenovo Chromebook Duet (CGS) 59.2 fps 59 fps 58 fps
Acer Chromebook 311 (C721) 57.8 fps 54 fps 49 fps

Higher is better Single-Core Multi-Core
Lenovo Chromebook Duet 285 1373
Acer Chromebook 311 (C721) 338 511

Higher is better Speedometer JetStream 2 MotionMark
Container 24.9 ±1.1 33.470 8.15 ±36.19
Native Browser 33.7 ±0.57 41.975 129.04 ± 5.50%

Notes

Crostini GPU Support (crostini-gpu-support) is a flag that can be set in chrome chrome://flags that is enabled by default on some models but needs to be enabled on others to enable gpu support the Linux container.


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