Traveling light

>> Saturday, July 11, 2009

Much to my surprise, since I'd received e-mails and a phone call saying it would be horribly, horribly late, the Dell netbook I recently ordered showed up on Friday. A full verdict isn't in, but I think it's going to do what I needed it to, and that would make it a success.

The cons are easy. First, I'm a little concerned about the battery life on this thing, which looks like it may be around two hours, which seems a bit low for a little bitty 10" thing running an underpowered processor. That may be a flaw in my expectations, or it may be something where I simply need to play with settings until I'm maxing how much I can juice out of the battery.

The second big con isn't really addressable: the trackpad on this thing is pretty terrible. To maximize surface area, the buttons are built into the pad itself, which means you can jog the mouse out of position while trying to click. This would mostly be an issue for right-clicks, but for the fact that the pad is surprisingly unresponsive to taps (left-clicking on the pad itself). And if you don't turn off the horizontal and vertical scrolling regions, you will quickly find yourself going crazy.

The pros are what seems to be a solid Ubuntu 8.04 installation and the ability to travel light. For the former, I recommend (if you get a Dell) turning off their desktop and going with the default GNOME (Dell makes it happily easy to switch between them, actually). The distro is quirky in that Dell decided to give everything generic names: Firefox is billed as "Web Browser" and (at least in Dell's desktop mode)'s word processor is called "Document." But a rose under any other name is truly as sweet--it's Firefox and OO.o, however they're billed. You also end up with Fluendo installed, which means you get a pile of licensed multimedia codecs pre-installed and configured, which neatly deals with what we'll call a "legal grey area" for experienced users and a major problem for light users who are intimidated by what's under the hood.

As for traveling light--this thing is tiny, and a big part of what I personally needed, especially with the bum wrist, was something I could tuck under my arm or easily use on my lap. The big Dell, my primary system, is a desktop replacement, and while I'm liable to still sometimes load it into a backpack and haul it up the road (especially when I want to work on photos--though, I was surprised to find, the netbook has GIMP installed on it), it's nice to have something I can slip in a sleeve and carry like a book. (Indeed, I'm typing this up at the coffee shop, having been out and about running errands.)

There are the usual issue/nonissues with a netbook: the light processor and limited memory, for instance, or the half-size keyboard. If you're smart, you buy a netbook knowing full well that's part of the package, and that the machine is not a laptop replacement, much less a desktop replacement.

I look forward to seeing if I can get some writing done with this thing. We'll see how it goes. If not, it'll be my own damn fault, and at least I'll be able to surf the web more conveniently.


Jeri Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 12:02:00 PM EDT  

Congrats on the new little machine! I hope it gives you many hours of writing pleasure. :)

I've been eyeing them covetously for many months, but I like the ease of being all on one computer - my MBP - and while it's not quite as portable it is powerful.

Note to self: just because it's shiny and technically cool, you DO NOT HAVE TO possess it.

Eric Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 5:03:00 PM EDT  

I think I'm going to be very happy with it. Today when I went to a movie, I threw the netbook in the trunk; on the way home I stopped in the local coffee house and wrote a semi-review of the movie while drinking an iced chai. That's the kind of thing it's perfect for--a book-sized convenience, didn't have to load up the bookbag with the 17" monster, which would have been more machine than I needed for drinking a coffee and tap-tap-tapping for a bit. (And while I think the bug is reasonably secure and the trunk was locked, if somebody managed to force it, I'd be out around $300 instead of nearly two grand--not a bad consideration, either.)

But you're right about the shiny and cool. Matter of fact, that's part of why I've resisted the iPhone: it's shiny, cool, and the wrong tool for some of the things I do with a smartphone (and it's on the wrong network--I really hate AT&T).

If you need a portable computer accessory, a netbook is pretty nifty. But it's definitely not a laptop, and if you plan on sticking with Just One Machine, you definitely should resist the lure of the shiny, it will only lead you astray.

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