I’ve been on the hunt for a decent, small netbook for a while. I’d hoped to wipe ChromeOS off of the Samsung Chromebook Plus that I’d acquired — a decent little device in it’s own right — but the effort required to do it properly was simply not worth it.
(TLDR on that: there’s no ‘write-protect screw’ like other Chromebooks; instead you have to remove the battery, among other things. I’d rather keep it as is, preserve the value, and sell it in trade for a more traditional laptop!)
I went through a couple other laptops all with various concessions that I wasn’t too happy about.
- Small (11.6″ or so)
- Decent battery life
- Peppy speed
- Runs Linux without any fuss
- Is under $300 — cheaper the better, but I don’t want immense remorse if it’s broken, unlike a $900 (or more) beast
In my half-hearted on again, off again search you could hit most of these if you were willing to void the warranty of a Chromebook, or were willing to sacrifice any kind of aforementioned pep. It’s the ol’ “small/fast/cheap — pick two” kind of thing.
I’d been eyeballing the Acer Spin One (SP111-33) at Walmart for a while. Not exactly the place to pick a winner, I confess, but I kind of liked how it looked and felt; it was solid as hell, with a sturdy aluminum frame. But at almost $400, I wasn’t sure if it was worth gambling on.
So I hit Walmart.com and I see there’s actually two entries; one is the Acer Spin One at the expected price. But then there’s another SKU with a slightly different model number.
As it turns out, it’s a slightly faster model, but about $100 cheaper. And it’s not solid aluminum. And it’s all black. But it’s still a super light 2-in-1 convertible laptop. They saddled it with Windows 10 S (the one you can only install from the Windows app store from). And it’s a lower res screen instead of the full HD of the more expensive model.
I get in the store, and I see them mostly side by side. The more expensive one SURE IS PRETTY in comparison. And the screen is definitely brighter and nicer to read.
They’re both locked, but that wasn’t a problem. The password was the store number, which is on the login screen.
Once I’m logged in, I load up Edge and pull up an online JS speed test. It won’t be comprehensive, but it’ll at least give me a ballpark.
The two churn through the test, neck and neck. I get some side-eye from the clerk, but I ignore him. I’m shopping, damn it!
By the end, it turns out the uglier, cheaper one actually beat the hell out of it’s more expensive brother.
Some quick googling showed people WERE installing Linux, but one guy said he had trouble with most distros except Kali (and some other one). Hey, that’s fine by me: that’s exactly what I intended to install! 😏
Maybe it didn’t QUITE hit the sub-$300 mark, but it came really close. And considering it hits the rest of the bullet points…
So I bring it home. Cortana’s happy greeting is cut short by a reboot after I insert a bootable USB stick.
There were some issues, so I’m going to outline them here for future users.
Use F2 at the boot screen (don’t hold Fn) to enter the BIOS.
Here’s what I did in there:
- Disabled all of the secure boot stuff.
- Set the boot drive to the USB stick (for the install; throw it back after)
- Internal KB Numpad: Disabled (preference)
- Function key behavior: Function Key (preference)
- Lid Open Resume: Disabled
I kind of shotgunned my way around this whole area, so YMMV. But I think if I took the path I outlined here, first, I’d have had more immediate success…
At this point, you should have the Kali boot screen; perform a full install.
Since there’s only 64GB on the internal EMMC drive (which is enough for my purposes), I instructed the installer to wipe the entire drive. You didn’t want Windows 10 S anyway. 😎
There’s a couple gotchas with the hardware, but most of it can be fixed easily.
During the installation process, everything is fine. But once you boot into the desktop, you’ll find yourself craning your neck sideways. The driver for the accelerometer is reporting the wrong orientation information, so the screen is rotated improperly. And if you rotate it into portrait mode, woosh, it’s in landscape.
The Quick GUI-based Fix
Turn the device on it’s side, giving a portrait orientation. It will render the desktop in a landscape orientation. Turn your head sideways and tap the user menu on the far end of the system bar along the top… (…er… right?)
Then tap the second icon on the bottom; the one right next to settings, to lock the orientation as ‘landscape’. Then you can flip the device back to it’s normal landscape orientation and it will stay in place.
Alternatively, you can run
xrandr -o normal on the command line to force the rotation. You can view the current rotation state, as reported by the accelerometer, with
The Real Fix
Inside that file, add:
ACCEL_MOUNT_MATRIX=0, 1, 0; 1, 0, 0; 0, 0, 1
Note the single space before
The Nuclear Option
Disabling the accelerometer entirely is another possibility, but that is left as an exercise for the reader. 😏
As of this writing, I still haven’t gotten Bluetooth working. But I’ve had it for about half a day at this point, poking at other problem areas, so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll update this when I get it fixed.
I don’t know where the trouble lies, but the service just isn’t running on boot. Here’s what I did to start it up by default. First, call
systemctl enable bluetooth.service to set it to load on boot.
After this, I was able to reboot, and my mouse connected on login. Good times. 👌
(If you’d rather not have it start automatically, you can just use
systemctl start bluetooth.service to start it manually.)
Other hardware with no obvious issues
- Touch screen
- Micro SD card reader
- On-board video – There’s some brief black and white glitching on the very top of the login screen, but you don’t see it anywhere else.
- HDMI – worked as second monitor on a 4K display; didn’t DPI scale out of the box of course.
So yeah, I’m pretty jazzed about this little guy. It’s about as close to perfect as I’ll probably get for now.
I guess I’ll keep it. 😏