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Teo, the New Tough Linux Netbook From ZaReason

It's About Time

  • May 19, 2010
  • By Carla Schroder
The nice folks at ZaReason, the independent Linux OEM computer vendor, sent me their Teo tough netbook to review. This turned into a family affair as my excellent significant other Terry was charmed by the little netbook, and had to try it out. Executive summary: thumbs up.

The fun started when we unpacked the Teo and pulled out its soft case (a $19 option). OK, so maybe we're just dotty old gadget hounds, but the little case is cute, a soft case with carry handles and cord storage. The Teo is black with sleek simple lines, and the ZaReason logo in silver.

<em>Teo Netbook</em>
Teo Netbook

It's About Time

I've been wanting a netbook ever since the ASUS Eee PC was released. The idea of the Eee PC was more exciting than its execution. It came with a seven-inch screen and a 4GB solid-state drive instead of a 80GB hard drive, which saved power but came up short in storage capacity, its 900MHz Celeron mobile CPU was slow, and ASUS played games with the batteries, claiming eight hours battery life. But that was with an optional larger battery, not the stock battery. It ran a highly-customized version of Xandros Linux. But none of that was supposed to matter, because the idea was to use it more as a Web client than a standalone PC.

The Eee PC sold like crazy, and why not? At two pounds and $199 it made a nice inexpensive second computer. Something to fling in a bag and carry anywhere. But for me it fell short. It always seemed like a natural thing to have an extra-small laptop. Not way underpowered, not with a dim tiny screen, not with inadequate storage, nor with a tiny unusable keyboard, but a real laptop. Just smaller than the desktop-replacement and movie-playing behemoths, and less expensive than the elite super-lightweight "executive" models.

Behold the Teo

Of course the idea was easier than the execution, and it took time for the technology to make it possible. And so, here we are with the Teo, which is one of the nicest netbooks available.

The Teo is billed as "ultra-sturdy". I did not test its sturdiness, yes, I chickened out. Maybe I would be more ruthless with a Dell or Lenovo, because it is easier to be ruthless with the property of soulless globalcorps. ZaReason is a family business. The Teo is so cute I don't think I could have harmed it under any circumstances anyway.

What does "Teo" mean? Cathy Malmrose, the CEO of ZaReason, explains:

""Teo" means "small" in Maori, the original language of New Zealand. Why Maori? Because 1. there are many cool Ubuntu users in NZ, 2. we spent last summer in NZ figuring out how to set up a ZaReason shop in Wellington and 3. Maori is a delightful language, having street names such as PapaTui, PapaToeToe, and even a street named Whatawhata out in the middle of nowhere."

Sharp Bright Screen

The Teo feels sturdy. She's a beefy little girl, not as thin as other netbooks, but still very portable. The screen is beautiful; it is bright and sharp, and quite readable even for me and Terry, with our don't-like-small-print eyes. Colors are excellent, with true bright whites, and good saturated reds, blues, and greens.

The keyboard is smaller than a standard laptop keyboard, but it didn't take me long to get used to it. It has good feel and response, and does fine for finicky touch-typists like me. Though I have small hands, so users with large hands might not be as comfortable. Terry's hands are a little larger, and she kept hitting the forward-slash key instead of the period key. Terry is a great test subject for computers, representing ordinary users with brains. She uses Linux every day for college homework, editing digital photos, and audio production, though she would not call herself a guru

The six-cell battery is shaped to elevate the Teo slightly, putting it at a good comfortable typing angle. The screen has a wide viewing angle, so you don't have to fuss with getting it just right. Sitting on my lap it is a little top-heavy, but not too much.

Operating System, Everything Works

The standard operating system is Ubuntu 10.04, which brings to mind a funny thing. You know how those great big-time computer vendors need months and years to ever update anything? ZaReason was shipping 10.04 right after it was released.

While Ubuntu is the most popular customer choice, ZaReason offers other Linuxes: Ubuntu Netbook Remix, which is Ubuntu with a netbook-optimized appearance, Kubuntu, Debian, Mint, or Fedora. Real Linuxes with all the bells and whistles, not weird little crippled-for-netbooks Linuxes.

Earl Malmrose is ZaReason's chief designer. ZaReason does not order off-the-shelf computers, but works directly with manufacturers to get machines made to their own specifications. Cathy explains that

"Earl travels extensively both to touch and test potential new hardware options, but also to work with Canonical at every LinuxFest we can manage. Canonical usually attends the Fests also. They are open and willing to assist in bug squashing on potential new hardware.

"Our systems need to adjust seamlessly with each upcoming new version of Ubuntu. We work with the manufacturers who build for quality, not cost (although ironically, better quality equals better cost in the long-run).

"Choosing pre-built hardware leads to glitches that you need to fix by modifying the OS. You modify the OS, burn your own company CDs and tell yourself that you are creating an intangible asset, intellectual property, increasing the value of your company by having your own version of the software.

"But what happens *for the customer* when there is a hard-to-replace CD with their system? If you ever need to reinstall, you have only one point of contact -- the company that built the computer for you. If your laptop or desktop was built to work with a stock install (like we do) then the customer can download the OS from the ubuntu.com or get an install CD from a friend, or attend a local LUG meeting where there are bound to be people passing them out."

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