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Meet Acer Spin 713: A Phenomenal Computer for All Seasons

It’s a portable office. It’s a movie theater. It’s a LAMP server. It’s a desktop PC. It’s a tablet computer. It’s a Chrome browser. It’s an Android platform. It’s a Linux server. And it gets almost 8 years of free software and firmware updates. Meet the $629 Acer Chromebook Spin 713. And, if you hurry, it’s $80 off at Best Buy today.

The checklist of superlatives is almost too lengthy to mention: a touchscreen of unrivaled quality, a 12-hour battery, dongle-free ports galore: HDMI, USB-C, USB 3.0, microSD slot, and headphone jack. While Chromium notebooks began as little more than a Chrome browser, that was then. The 2020 iteration includes complete Android integration as well as a feature-complete Debian 10 virtual machine platform supporting Apache, PHP 7, and the latest MariaDB/MySQL. If movies and television are your thing, Netflix and Sling TV transform the Chromebook into a near perfect viewing platform. As they say, seeing is believing. So here’s a snapshot from an iPhone that captures the quality of the 2256×1504-pixel (3:2 QHD) display. Suffice it to say, the display is as good or better than our $3,000 MacBook Pro’s screen.

Did we mention Best Buy’s $629 price. This 2-in-1 is a steal. It’s $200 below today’s Amazon pricing and is $400 below the closest comparable Chromebook models. Some may recall that we reviewed the System76 Lemur Pro Linux notebook in August and raved about its pricing at $1322, more than double the cost of Acer’s Spin 713. Having used both machines, I can honestly say you lose nothing by choosing the Acer device, and you gain access to the entire Android platform including Google Play as well as Linux. And the Spin 713 converts into a touchscreen tablet simply by flipping the screen. The only downside is, if these machines go on sale for Black Friday, you will be hard-pressed to find one to buy.

Deploying a LAMP Server with a Chromebook

If you pick up one of these bad boys, here’s a quick primer on setting up a LAMP server on the Linux virtual machine. Begin by enabling it in the Settings tab. Next, click on the Linux Terminal option in your Applications. At the Linux prompt, set up a new root user password: sudo passwd root. Switch to the root user account: su root. Now enter these commands:

cd ~
apt update
apt upgrade
apt install apache2 apache2-utils -y
systemctl start apache2
systemctl enable apache2
chown www-data:www-data /var/www/html/ -R
apt install mariadb-server mariadb-client -y
systemctl start mariadb
systemctl enable mariadb
apt install php7.3 libapache2-mod-php7.3 php7.3-mysql php-common \\
php7.3-cli php7.3-common php7.3-json php7.3-opcache php7.3-readline \\
php7.3-mbstring php7.3-dev -y
systemctl restart apache2
echo "<?php phpinfo(); ?>" > /var/www/html/info.php
echo "ip a" > /usr/local/bin/ifconfig
chmod +x /usr/local/bin/ifconfig
ifconfig | grep "inet "

Make note of your Linux machine’s IP address (last command above) and use a browser to access and verify the PHP info for your server: http://Spin-IP-Address/info.php

In the alternative, use this FQDN: http://penguin.linux.test/info.php

In keeping with their tradition of idiotic obsolescence, the PHP developers dropped support for mysqli in PHP 7 which means the mysql_connect function to interact with MySQL databases fails. Here’s how to restore it:

mkdir /usr
mkdir /usr/src
apt install build-essential git
cd /usr/src
git clone https://github.com/wardmundy/pecl-database-mysql mysql --recursive
cd mysql
make install
cd /etc/php/7.3/apache2
echo "extension=/usr/lib/php/20180731/mysql.so" >> php.ini
systemctl restart apache2

The mysql and mysqli sections will now magically reappear in your phpinfo() listing.

Adding Clearly Anywhere Softphone to the Spin 713

As noted, the Spin 713 also is a fully functional Android platform so adding the Clearly Anywhere softphone is easy. Simply download the software from Google Play. Then run the app and enter your extension credentials and FQDN of Incredible PBX 2020 PUBLIC server.

Adding Linphone Softphone to the Spin 713

Adding the Linphone softphone is equally easy. Simply download the software from Google Play. Then run the app and enter your Linphone SIP credentials with the configuration setup documented in our tutorial. Linphone calls to other Linphone users and to Incredible PBX 2020 PUBLIC users or anyone with a SIP URI worldwide are free.

Installing OpenVPN for Android on the Spin 713

There are several ways to install OpenVPN on the Spin 713 platform. You can use the traditional method we’ve documented for Linux installs; however, you will lose the ability to use OpenVPN IP addresses from your desktop and browser. The better method is to install the OpenVPN for Android client from the Play Store. Next, send yourself an email with the .ovpn file you created for the Chromebook. Open the message using Gmail on the Chromebook and save the received file in your Downloads folder. Open the OpenVPN for Android app on your desktop. Choose the + icon to create a new Profile and select the .ovpn file from Downloads. Once installed, edit the Settings. In the IP and DNS tab, disable No Local Binding. Enable Override DNS Settings and specify and for your DNS servers. Enable PULL Settings.In the ROUTING tab, enable Bypass VPN for Local Networks and Block IPv6. Then Start the VPN Client by clicking on your saved Profile.

Installing Zoom for Debian 10 on the Spin 713

No computer platform would be complete without Zoom. Begin by downloading Zoom for Debian here. In the File Manager (Alt-Shift-m), navigate to your Downloads folder and double-click on zoom_amd64.deb to install the application. Once installed, it will appear in your Linux apps container. Right-click (HINT: tap touchpad with two fingers) on Zoom icon to add Zoom to your Shelf.

Installing phpMyAdmin for PHP 7.3 on the Spin 713

No development platform would be complete without phpMyAdmin. We found an excellent tutorial to get everything set up properly with a few minor changes. Your LAMP platform already is in place so skip down to Step 2 in the tutorial. There’s one important correction in the instructions. Step 4, item 1 should be: sudo mkdir /var/www/html/phpmyadmin. And accessing phpMyAdmin once installed should be: http://Spin-IP-address/phpmyadmin.

Mastering Chromebook Shortcuts on the Spin 713

If you learn no other keyboard shortcut, remember this one: Ctrl + Alt + /. That gets you the entire list of keyboard shortcuts on the Chromebook. These keyboard shortcuts are a bit like memorizing multiplication tables. The sooner you learn them, the happier you will be using your Chromebook. If you’re an avid Linux user, be advised that the Linux virtual machine and the Chromebook desktop share the same clipboard so you can easily copy-and-paste between the two environments. On the desktop, Ctrl-c copies to the clipboard, and Ctrl-v pastes data from the clipboard. In the Linux virtual machine, Ctrl-Shift-C copies to the clipboard, and Ctrl-Shift-V pastes data from the clipboard. Learn a few new shortcuts each time you use your Chromebook. You’ll be amazed how quickly your productivity improves.

Where To Go From Here?

While you’re getting your feet wet, here are some must-have’s for your Spin 713. For openers, feast your eyes on the 4K Nature Videos on YouTube. Prepare to be blown away.

Next, you’ll want a free Office Suite for your Chromebook. Our favorite is WPS Office which provides Microsoft-compatible versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and a PDF Viewer/Editor.

For video editing, nothing comes close to PowerDirector. Also check out YouTube Studio.

For photo editing, Adobe Lightroom is the hands-down winner. Google Photos and Snapseed (our personal favorite) are also worth a careful look. Both are free compliments of Google.

For Nerds, check out the Crostini Wiki on Reddit. And master the Crosh terminal commands.


Originally published: Monday, November 16, 2020  Updated: Monday, December 7, 2020

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1 Comment

  1. Just a footnote to add that we purchased this device in early November at full retail. But it had a return date of mid-January, 2021 because of the holiday season. When I called and asked whether there was a price match for the $80 price reduction, Best Buy cheerfully refunded the $80 plus the sales tax. The entire conversation took less than 5 minutes and could not have been more pleasant.

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