Acer Chromebook Tab 10 PreviewJune 18, 2018
If you need a tablet to run Android apps, your first and likely last stop would normally be the Android tablet aisle of your local electronics superstore. But soon you might have an intriguing alternative: the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 ($329).
Its name is a tad contradictory and inaccurate (it’s not a traditional “book”-style chromebook), but also very descriptive: Acer has created a 10-inch slate tablet that runs the Chrome OS commonly seen in chromebooks, not the Android OS that is typically found on tablets.
When you first pick it up, as I recently did at a May 23 Acer unveiling event in New York, you immediately notice that it’s not Android-powered. There’s a taskbar at the bottom of the screen, complete with the circular app-launcher icon on the left and notifications on the right, the same as you’d find on a chromebook.
Tapping through all of the notification icons is a bit awkward in portrait mode, since they’re all scrunched together. It’s much easier in landscape mode, which approximates the screen orientations of the laptops and desktops for which Chrome was originally designed.
The second thing you notice is the Tab 10’s heft. It’s designed primarily for use in schools, where spills and drops are common, so it feels a bit more rugged and durable than the Apple iPad, albeit a bit less stylish. It weighs 1.2 pounds, which is a bit more than the iPad’s 1 pound, but it’s still manageable for grade-schoolers’ hands.
The 9.7-inch display is an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel that allows for wide viewing angles. It looked bright and vivid, even in the brightly lit demonstration room. Video quality from the front-facing webcam was adequate, with none of the hesitation or stuttering that some chromebooks exhibit due to their underpowered CPUs.
That’s not to say that the Tab 10’s processor is powerful, however. It’s a Rockchip-made OP1, which is designed from the ground up to power chromebooks. With six cores and a clock speed of up to 2GHz, this ARM-based CPU prioritizes battery efficiency and fast wireless connectivity over processing power, which is fine since that approach fits well with the features that elementary and middle schools are looking for. I opened up a few apps, including the Chrome browser and the Settings panel. Each one started instantly and showed no lag when I scrolled through pages or tapped on icons.
The 4GB of memory and 32GB of eMMC storage are in the same vein as the processor: relatively poky by Windows or Mac standards, but perfectly adequate for most of the tasks that the Tab 10 will be asked to perform.
Exploring With Google Expeditions
The whole point of a Chrome-powered tablet is support for two specialized tools that have earned Google a presence in classrooms worldwide, and that aren’t present in Android. The first is the rather mundane Chrome Management Console, which lets school IT departments set up user accounts for students and secure boot processes that manage encryption (among other enterprise features).
The second is Google Expeditions, which is essentially a suite of virtual field trips—some in augmented reality—that help students learn about everything from the Great Barrier Reef to outer space. It’s a prized feature in many classrooms and one that Apple is clearly trying to mimic by positioning its latest iPad as an ideal education tool for augmented-reality experiences.
Part of what enables AR is touch sensitivity, and not only is the Tab 10 touch-enabled, but it also has a battery-free stylus designed by Wacom. Although I didn’t get a chance to try the stylus during the demo, it’s sure to become students’ preferred input method for interacting with the parts of Chrome OS that are too small to touch with a finger, such as the notification area.
Only Available for Students
Right now, the only way you can get your hands on a Chromebook Tab 10 is if your kid brings one home from school. The devices are for sale only to education customers, with a list price of $329. That’s probably a good thing for the time being, since there are several areas in which Android, iOS, and Windows tablets are much more convenient for consumers. From typing on the onscreen keyboard to installing apps to managing energy use, these operating systems have had the benefit of far more real-world testing and troubleshooting in the tablet form factor than Chrome has had.
Moreover, the main selling points of the Chromebook Tab 10—its Wacom stylus, IT management features, and support for Google Expeditions—aren’t things that appeal to most consumers. The upshot is that for now, we’re withholding a final rating for the Chromebook Tab 10 until we’ve had a chance to test it more thoroughly in PC Labs (and once Acer starts selling it to the general public, assuming it does).
On the other hand, the pickings are currently very slim if you’re in the market for a high-quality but affordable Android tablet. Your best bet is to choose a model from the Amazon Fire lineup, which runs a modified version of Android that heavily favors Amazon services. If Acer decides to sell the Chromebook Tab 10 to the general public, it could be a much-needed jolt for manufacturers to make more attractive alternatives to the iPad or Windows tablets.
Check back soon for our full review.