This is slightly old news now – especially to the poor souls who I see and bore about my new laptop every day at work.
I’ve wanted to buy a laptop of my very own for about a year now but, already having a desktop PC that works fine, I couldn’t really justify it. Also, I wasn’t sure what I wanted from a laptop: a desktop replacement like the Dell Inspiron, which my brother bought last summer with a huge screen but large and heavy, or an ultraportable like the little Vaios and iBooks that might be a bit underspec and overpriced.
Then a couple of weeks ago I stopped procrastinating and decided that I want a small, light laptop that had to have a bit of umph and could run Linux. I had no idea what was available so I just looked at the main manufacturers like Dell (too big), Sony (too expensive and focusing a little too much on what it looks like over what happens under the lid), Apple (ditto Sony)…
In the past, Tony has bought new hardware based on recommendations in the PCW magazine Group Test reviews. So I did a search and discovered, conveniently, that PCW’s February 2007 issue did a Group Test of lightweight laptops. Their favourite, with a glowing review, was for the Samsung Q35. After looking at some of the others that they tested, I came to the same conclusion.
Then I discovered that the Q35 also comes in RED!!!
After a bit of debate about settling for the slightly lower spec Q35 Red over the standard silver Q35, I figured that what difference there might be between a 1.83 Ghz Intel core 2 duo (the red one) and a 2 Ghz Intel core 2 duo (the silver one) I’m unlikely to notice with my type of usage (email, Web, word processing). So I plumped for the Q35 Red.
And it’s so cool!
The keys on the keyboard feel really nice to type with. There’s is a slightly odd keyboard layout in that you have to use the Fn key to get Home and End but it actually takes less getting used to than I expected. What still catches me out is having to reach slightly further to the right for the right-hand Shift key. But even so, it’s all very nice. Another thing that user reviews pointed out as being negative is the slight stiffness of the touchpad buttons but it’s not a big deal and I tend to double-tap the touchpad anyway.
Other than that….the build feels really solid (including the DVD drive which doesn’t feel as flimsy when open as on some laptops), the monitor resolution (widescreen 1280 x 800) compensates for the smaller screen (12.1″), the picture quality is great, the battery life is good….
….and almost everything worked on Ubuntu Edgy out of the box!
I booted first into the factory-installed Windows XP Pro to check that all the hardware worked (like the SD/MMC etc card reader). After some initial confusion about which way up to insert an MMC card (the user manual says with the label down, but actually it’s with the label up), all was fine. So I wiped the harddrive and installed Ubuntu Edgy.
All the software comes on CDs in the box with a healthy understanding, on Samsung’s part, that users *might* want to reinstall at some point (even if it’s just because of a harddrive failure), rather than expecting a hidden partition on the harddrive to be sufficient. Actually, there is a hidden recovery partition on the Samsung Q35 but it contains some recovery software, rather than an entire operating system. The idea is that you can take an image of your machine at certain points to which you can revert in future if all goes wrong. I figure that if I’ve got all the software on CD and I screw up my machine *that* much, I’d rather just do a straight reinstallation. Besides, the recovery software runs on Windows.
So, in the BIOS, I made the hidden recovery partition deleteable and told Ubuntu to format the entire harddrive. Unfortunately, I think there’s a slight bug in the BIOS so that whenever you do a cold restart (ie shutdown and power off then power on again) the BIOS setting defaults back to protecting the hidden partition from being deleted again. And I kept forgetting to switch it back to being deleteable. So, on my second installation attempt, I remembered to make the hidden partition deleteable. Possibly predicatably, however, after installation, when I next powered on, the machine wouldn’t boot because the BIOS had reverted back to protecting (ie hiding) the recovery partition area of the harddrive. Which meant that the Master Boot Record (on the first bit of the harddrive) was hidden (which is not ideal).
In the end, I gave up and wrote off the few Gb of hidden partition area and installed into the rest of the drive. Strangely, the installation took ages this time. Still, it seems okay and I’m going to do a fresh installation of Ubuntu Feisty when it comes out in April anyway. Slightly annoying that I can’t use that area of the drive but my BIOS version is up-to-date – and I’d have to reinstall Windows to update it now anyway – so I’ll have to live with it.
One thing that I didn’t mention about the factory installation is that there’s another partition which contains a media centre (based on Windows XP) that you can boot into without loading the full operating system so that you can look at photos, play DVDS, and listen to music. There’s even a separate power button on the laptop for it. Because it’s all part of Windows XP I couldn’t keep it when I installed Ubuntu but, at some point, I’m going to investigate the possibility of installing something similar based on Linux and, hopefully, hooking it into the second power button. Apparently I know someone who knows about this sort of thing so there’s a chance that it might work too.
Anyway, on installation, Ubuntu automatically detected the correct screen resolution and just worked. To work on our WPA-encrypted wireless network, the wireless needs Network Manager installing with some slight configuration (though Feisty should do this better), and there’s a weird bug in the sound card support that requires you to run a command (see these instructions for installing Fedora on a Samsung Q35 for the command). Without the command, the sound works but there’s a high-pitched whistling sound that quickly gets irritating.
The touchpad works (including double-tapping to do a double-click) but vertical and horizontal scrolling using the touchpad doesn’t work out of the box. At some point I’ll look into that. I successfully burnt a CD using the Nautilus-integrated drag-and-drop method a couple of nights ago (easier than I remember it being on Windows) so that’s all fine. The card reader does work but ironically only seems to detect the DRM-protected SD card and not the DRM-free MMC card. Hopefully that will change with Feisty because I use an MMC card in my digital camera.
So, all in all, I’m a very happy bunny!