My exploration of the cloudBook
If you just want to install Linux on our Packard Bell N14500, skip down below to the "How to install Linux" section.
One of the only other models that fit that criteria is the Packard Bell cloudBook 14 N14500, available on Amazon.
Unlike Acer Aspire 1, this model from the old computing giant of the 90s has virtually nothing about it online, so I decided to order one on a trial basis, and test Ubuntu Linux 18.04 compatibility.
My first challenge was to boot into the BIOS. I could find very little information online, so I just tried some of the usual suspects. F2 did not work, F10 did not work, F12 did not work, Enter did not work. Eventually through trial and error, I found the way to enter the BIOS is by holding down
Delete (e.g. F12 but WITHOUT the
Fn key). What I saw was a Aptio BIOS, version 5.12.
Browsing around, I soon discovered it had a dizzying amount of options, feeling as though perhaps it has not been customized very much to this model, seemingly referencing sensors and features that might not apply.
I was hoping for some hint as to how to get into a Boot menu, but eventually under the Save & Exit tab I found there was already a device boot menu, I spotted the "UEFI: Lexar USB Flash" device that contained my Ubuntu 18.04 image, and I then I was happily able to boot directly into my Ubuntu 18.04 installer.
It's then when I hit a snag. After selecting "Try Ubuntu Without Installing", I simply got a blank screen with no help whatsoever. Damn it.
I then decided to poke around in the configuration menus. I really have no idea what these security features do, or even if its a good idea to disable them, but typically they ruin Linux compatibility so I just went around disabling everything. After each of these, I then saved my changes and went to boot again from the USB drive.
I went into Advanced, and under Trusted Computing I set all these to DISABLED. No luck.
I went to Advanced -> Security Configuration. Set both of those properties to Disabled (TXE HMRFPO was already there). Still no luck.
I went to Advanced -> Platform Trust Technology -> fTPM set to Disabled. Nothing.
Really at a loss here. I went to the Security tab. Oddly enough, Attempt Secure Boot was set to "Disabled" -- but it also showed that System Mode is "Deployed" -- I have no idea what this means. I went to Key Management, and then tried setting "Provision Factory Default keys" to Disabled. Although I broadly know what Secure Boot is (and generally just try to avoid dealing with it), I'm not sure what this means in this context, or if it makes a difference to set it to Disabled. Well, here goes... AND nope, no difference.
I went to the Chipset options and went to Southbridge options. Under this there is "OS Selection" (With a not-so-helpful message of "Select the target OS_Vfr", whatever the heck that means.) It has the options Windows, Android, Win7, Intel Linux, and MSDOS. What does it do? No idea! I'll try setting it to Intel Linux, since why not. And... it worked! The graphics now work. This was it.
I went back and flipped off the advanced touchpad setting
In this review I will mostly compare it to the clearly similar Acer Apire 1 sub $200, or the Acer Swift SF114-32
In general: A sub $200 laptop that runs Linux quite well, great for light-medium usage, development, with a crisp, bright full HD 1920x1080p display screen.
It manages to have a smaller form-factor than the Acer 1 while still having the same size screen and resolution -- although about the same form factor as the swift
Sleek appearance, arguably better looking shell-like
The hinge seems sturdier than the Acer Aspire 1
It comes with a nice sleeve included in the price
In general: 4 GB is limiting for running a lot of Chromium tabs. Playing FOSS games you'll be fine, but don't expect to play any AAA titles on Steam.
I'm really not a fan of the touchpad - The Acer has a touch pad that "clicks" anywhere on it, and uses two-finger click the right-mouse button. This touch pad only has a button on the bottom, however, these aren't even apparently buttons, which means it only "clicks" if you move your finger to the bottom to click, which is kind of the worst of both worlds.
Keyboard is clickier (could be good or bad), but the keys are also elevated more which could collect dirt
Seems marginally heavier than the Acer Aspire 1
The screen can only bend back to about a 135 degree angle -- it can't even close to lie flat.
The included power-supply has a bulky plug, and a short, thin cable
Missing an Eithernet port, and has one fewer USB port
BIOS is a bit confusing
The unit might be one-of-a-kind -- I find so very little about it, or even the modern incarnation of Packard Bell
Acer Swift - I'd generally recommend this unit
cloudBook 14 - Possibly recommended over the Acer Aspire 1 based on slightly sleeker form factor, however the Acer Swift is better than this one at the same price point
Ultimately, I'd recommend buying the Acer models over this one, but this is a nice alternative, with it's shining feature certainly being about half an inch smaller while still having the same big, crisp display.