ZaReason's New Terra A20 Ubuntu Netbook: Everything Works
Real Computer or Toy?
Netbooks of late have lost some of the charm and excitement marking their initial reception. Many vendors offer a variety of operating system options, but very few preload an OS targeted specifically at the netbook. ZaReason is one of the few and preloads Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix on their Terra A20 netbook. What follows is our hands-on review of the device and how it fairs for the mobile traveler.
If you were to take a look under the hood of the ZaReason netbook, you'd find an Intel Atom N270 1.6 GHz processor, up to 2 GB of memory and a variety of options for the hard disk. They also offer, as an option, a built-in 3G wireless modem ($99), but our test machine didn't have one. Network options include Draft-N Wifi and 10/100 wired Ethernet. Screen size is 10.2" and supports resolutions up to 1024X600. Three USB ports, an SD card reader VGA monitor and audio connectors round out the list of hardware items.
Boot time is definitely a plus for this little machine. If you've ever used a Windows-based laptop, you've probably suffered through boot time creep. With every new application and driver you load you'll see the time from hitting the power button to a useful computer slowly creep up. The ZaReason Terra A20 goes from power on to login screen in a snappy 45 seconds. Type in your user name and password and you can be doing useful work in another 10 seconds. That's not too shabby for a hard disk-based computer.
Ubuntu Netbook Remix uses a screen-heavy approach to launching applications or accessing specific file locations. This works really well on a screen with a relatively small amount of real estate. Similar applications are grouped together under wide buttons. Clicking on one of these buttons presents icons for each individual application in the middle area of the screen. It seems to work better than the traditional Ubuntu desktop on the smaller screen.
When you start typing on the keyboard, you will quickly notice the size of some of the keys. The three keys on the bottom row to the left of the shift key on most US keyboards are comma, period and the forward slash ("/"). On the ZaReason Terra A20 all three of these keys are smaller than the rest and take a little getting used to. We found it pretty easy to hit the slash key instead of the period, and that can be a problem when you're typing in web addresses or sentences in a document.
Real Computer or Toy?
Answering that question really depends on your perspective. Netbooks aren't meant for heavy-duty computing tasks like graphics or number crunching. That doesn't mean they aren't up to the task of word processing, creating presentations or surfing the web. Ubuntu's Netbook Remix edition comes with pretty much everything you'd expect to see on the full desktop version. If you can't find what you need, it's typically available for download from the normal repositories.
To check out multitasking and memory usage we launched Open Office Writer, Calc and Presentation. We ran all three and Firefox without a hitch. The 2GB of system memory is probably the biggest reason here and is definitely worth the extra $29. Netbooks find their best application as a second computer for those times when you just need something to check e-mail or do some writing. The ZaReason Terra A20 definitely fits that bill.