PRODUCT REVIEW

Sylvania Netbook With Ubuntu: A Good Mix

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 thenovelty of a slightly bigger-than-pocket-sized computer wears off, theultra-small netbook form factor may only serve as a convenient shortcut to reaching a Web site or e-mail while traveling.

Let’s assume that the need — or at least a strong curiosity — ispresent for a netbook. Let’s also assume that, newbie or otherwise, theLinux 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.

The Configuration

Netbook makers are choosing from several different processors to power their ultra-mini hardware lineups. For instance, there is the Intel Celeron M 353/571MHz processor, Intel Celeron M mobile 915GMS processor, a VIA C7-M ULVprocessor 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 N270Processor, and it’s the chip that the Meso sports.

Typically, netbook makers are using low-capacity solid-state drives or4 to 16 GB flash drives for onboard file storage. Those manufacturersthat use traditional hard drive technology generally install drives in the rangeof 20 to 40 GB of storage. Sylvania packs an 80 GB hard drive into itsnetbook.

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 moreefficient Linux OS requires smaller onboard memory. Many of theleading netbook models come with 512 MB of RAM preinstalled. You candouble that for a surcharge. But Sylvania ramps up the memory to astandard 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 afour-cell battery that lasts for nearly 3.5 hours, depending on usersettings.

One of the most appealing features the Sylvania model has is one of theoperating systems it offers. You have the option to run the new Ubuntu Netbook Remix. This is anupdated version of 8.04 Linux (Hardy Heron).

Canonical, the commercial developer of the Ubuntu distro, hascollaborated with Intel and OEMs to optimize the OS and deliverUbuntu on netbooks in retail.

The OS remix includes a new interface that simplifies accessingfavorite online and off-line applications and display more appealinglywithin the restricted screen size.

Another cool feature is the camera built into the top center edgeabove the screen. The system is pre-configured to activate theintegrated Web camera for video and still shots with a single mouseclick.

Product Details

The Sylvania G Netbook Meso comes in a variety of case colorchoices. The test model was shiny black (onyx). Other selections areyellow (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-in802.11b/g WiFi. One of this unit’s strongest features is its 8.9-inchbacklit LED display. It has a resolution of 1024 x 600. The videodisplay is bright and clear. It actually rivals my wide-screen HPPavilion notebook screen.

The G Meso can connect to an external display via a VGA port on theright 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 moreexpandability for a printer, a thumbdrive, a mouse, an external DVD writer andmore.

Other Features

The G Meso is equipped with amulti-format card reader, something missing in many other netbook models. This adds even more compatibility withstorage cards used with cameras, MP3 players and photo devices.

The unit includes a headphone jack/line out port as well as amicrophone/line in port.

Graphics support is provided from an Intel 945 Express Graphics chipset.

Weakest Links

Despite Sylvania’s claims that the keyboard provides 85 percent of astandard notebook keyboard, it’s still just too cramped forsustained typing. This is the netbook’s weakest component. I had toresort to plugging in a travel keyboard to avoid numerous mistyped lettersand prolonged two-finger pecking.

Netbook keyboards in general are notably cramped. The one in thismodel is terrible. If this were a user’s only portable, the keyboardcould be a deal breaker.

The stereo speakers are less critical for overall netbook performance.This, too, is true with most laptop computers. Serious listening needsheadphones. But Sylvania placed the speakers along the lower edge ofthe clam case just below the screen. This position is higher than theusual lower edge of the case. The result is a slightly more pleasingsound from the still too-tinny speakers.

Ubuntu’s Remix

I really like what Canonical did with the Ubuntu Remix. I am veryfamiliar with this Linux distribution, as version 8.04 is installed onone of my desktop work computers. Other Linux versions stuffed intonetbooks hide exposure to the OS by forcing users to navigate with aPDA-style interface.

Ubuntu on the netbook gives users a choice. A single click switchesfrom the Gnome GUI (Graphic User Interface) to tab-based interfacethat resembles a Web browser. Being able to switch from one desktopscheme to the other effortlessly makes Ubuntu a real joy to use insuch a tiny form factor.

Unlike other Linux distros sandwiched into netbooks, the Ubuntu Remixis not a watered down or crippled version of the OS. It has all thebells and whistles I enjoy on my desktop.

1 Comment

  • I am definitely convinced that ubuntu linux will gather a significant market share on the netbook market so we launched what we think was missing until now: an app store for ubuntu / linux called allmyapps.

    Indeed, we thought users were missing a fun and easy to find and install new applications on their ubuntu system. This is why we come up with allmyapps!

    Naturally, it works on every Ubuntu system but I think it particularly makes sense in the netbook context! We launched the website last week and we’re looking for feedbacks so do not hesitate to check it out 🙂
    Thanks!

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