Sylvania Netbook With Ubuntu: A Good Mix
Jan 3, 2009 4:00 AM PT
Given the many options out there, someone in the market for a portable computer may have a hard time deciding whether to go with an ultra-small netbook or a small-but-not-THAT-small notebook computer.
If you want a netbook, you've got another choice ahead of you: Would you like that with Linux or Windows? While it's no surprise to see the latter offered as a pre-installed operating system, the former is also a common option on lightweight netbooks -- much more so than on desktops or larger laptops.
It all comes down to what you will use the netbook for. The real answer for many buyers may rest upon the issue of ultimate portability and functionality.
Netbook computers are still in search of a niche. After the novelty of a slightly bigger-than-pocket-sized computer wears off, the ultra-small netbook form factor may only serve as a convenient short cut to reaching a Web site or e-mail while traveling.
Let's assume that the need -- or at least a strong curiosity -- is present for a netbook. Let's also assume that, newbie or otherwise, the Linux OS is the platform of choice.
Sylvania recently introduced the Sylvania G Netbook Meso (US$369.99). Nearly an unknown in the growing field of netbook manufacturers, Sylvania built in enough features to set the Meso apart from the crowd of netbook contenders.
Netbook makers are choosing from several different processors to power their ultra-mini hardware lineups. For instance, there is the Intel Celeron M 353/571 MHz processor, Intel Celeron M mobile 915GMS processor, a VIA C7-M ULV processor and an 400 MHz Ingenic 32-Bit single core mobile processor.
The newest entry in the processor line is the 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 Processor, and it's the chip that the Meso sports.
Typically, netbook makers are using low-capacity solid-state drives or 4 to 16 GB flash drives for onboard file storage. Those manufacturers that use traditional hard drive technology generally install drives in the range of 20 to 40 GB of storage. Sylvania packs an 80 GB hard drive into its netbook.
RAM (random access memory) is another component that generally comes up lacking in netbooks. In theory, the less-demanding circuitry of a netbook coupled with a more efficient Linux OS requires smaller onboard memory. Many of the leading netbook models come with 512 MB of RAM preinstalled. You can double that for a surcharge. But Sylvania ramps up the memory to a standard 1024 MB DDR DRAM.
The Power Pack
Battery runtime has always been an issue with notebook computers. Happily, that's often less of an issue with netbooks. Sylvania uses a four-cell battery that lasts for nearly 3.5 hours, depending on user settings.
One of the most appealing features the Sylvania model has is one of the operating systems it offers. You have the option to run the new Ubuntu Netbook Remix. This is an updated version of 8.04 Linux (Hardy Heron).
Canonical, the commercial developer of the Ubuntu distro, has collaborated with Intel and OEMs to optimize the OS and deliver Ubuntu on netbooks in retail.
The OS remix includes a new interface that simplifies accessing favorite online and off-line applications and display more appealingly within the restricted screen size.
Another cool feature is the camera built into the top center edge above the screen. The system is pre-configured to activate the integrated Web camera for video and still shots with a single mouse click.
The Sylvania G Netbook Meso comes in a variety of case color choices. The test model was shiny black (onyx). Other selections are yellow (solar), pink (blossom) and white (snow).
The unit weighs 2.2 pounds and measures 9 inches (L) by 7 inches (W) by 1.25 inches (H).
Internet access is provided via a 10/100 Ethernet port and built-in 802.11b/g WiFi. One of this unit's strongest features is its 8.9-inch backlit LED display. It has a resolution of 1024 x 600. The video display is bright and clear. It actually rivals my wide-screen HP Pavilion notebook screen.
The G Meso can connect to an external display via a VGA port on the right side and is easily expanded through three USB ports on the left. Plug a multi-port USB hub into one of these ports and gain much more expandability for a printer, a thumbdrive, a mouse, an external DVD writer and more.
The G Meso is equipped with a multi-format card reader, something missing in many other netbook models. This adds even more compatibility with storage cards used with cameras, MP3 players and photo devices.
The unit includes a headphone jack/line out port as well as a microphone/line in port.
Graphics support is provided from an Intel 945 Express Graphics chipset.
Despite Sylvania's claims that the keyboard provides 85 percent of a standard notebook keyboard, it's still just too cramped for sustained typing. This is the netbook's weakest component. I had to resort to plugging in a travel keyboard to avoid numerous mistyped letters and prolonged two-finger pecking.
Netbook keyboards in general are notably cramped. The one in this model is terrible. If this were a user's only portable, the keyboard could be a deal breaker.
The stereo speakers are less critical for overall netbook performance. This, too, is true with most laptop computers. Serious listening needs headphones. But Sylvania placed the speakers along the lower edge of the clam case just below the screen. This position is higher than the usual lower edge of the case. The result is a slightly more pleasing sound from the still too-tinny speakers.
I really like what Canonical did with the Ubuntu Remix. I am very familiar with this Linux distribution, as version 8.04 is installed on one of my desktop work computers. Other Linux versions stuffed into netbooks hide exposure to the OS by forcing users to navigate with a PDA-style interface.
Ubuntu on the netbook gives users a choice. A single click switches from the Gnome GUI (Graphic User Interface) to tab-based interface that resembles a Web browser. Being able to switch from one desktop scheme to the other effortlessly makes Ubuntu a real joy to use in such a tiny form factor.
Unlike other Linux distros sandwiched into netbooks, the Ubuntu Remix is not a watered down or crippled version of the OS. It has all the bells and whistles I enjoy on my desktop.