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Travels With Teo: Linux Netbook Hits the Road

Road Trip! Recording the Sand Creek Fiddler's Jam

  • July 8, 2010
  • By Carla Schroder

A couple of months ago the nice ZaReason people sent me their Teo Ubuntu netbook to review. I was favorably impressed and gave it a positive review. Then they let me take it on my vacation, so little Teo traveled 2500 miles with us. This was the ultimate portability, performance, and battery test. How did Teo do? Splendidly.

Ruggedness, Nice Keyboard

I never did get up the nerve to test the Teo's toughness. It is billed as a tough netbook, so in the interests of a thorough review I should have knocked it around a bit. But I just couldn't do that. It feels solid and the fit and finish feel good. I stopped at a couple of stores to do a quick comparison with other netbooks, and the Teo compares favorably for overall feel and handling. They all have sharp bright screens, but few have a keyboard as nice as the Teo's. Many of them have flimsy feeling, mushy keyboards with shallow keys. I can touch-type comfortably on the Teo, but the others don't give good tactile cues.

Battery Life

The Teo came with the stock Ubuntu 10.04. I never did figure out how reliable the little Gnome battery meter was. The best battery life I could get, according to the battery meter, was 6.5 hours. I turned off compositing, and turned on all the power-savers. I left the screen at full brightness, configured to dim after a minute of inactivity. Figure 1 should give you an idea of the relative brightness of the Teo and my Thinkpad T61.

<i>figure 1</i>
figure 1

 

The screen has a matte finish rather than a glossy finish. I prefer the matte finish because it doesn't glare or reflect. In a dark room it's too bright at full brightness, so I tone it down a notch.

Recording the Sand Creek Fiddler's Jam

Every June we journey to the far reaches of eastern Montana for the annual Sand Creek Fiddler's Jam. Traveling with the Teo was a lot more comfortable than lugging the Thinkpad along. I stuffed the Teo in my shoulder bag and carried it everywhere I went. Battery life was good enough that I left the power cord at home and charged up at night.

Figure 2 shows the Teo in action at the Jam. I recorded the entire evening using an Audio Technica stereo microphone and Audacity, over six hours' worth of music, on a single battery charge. The Sand Creek Jam takes place in an old one-room schoolhouse with old electric wiring, so I was happy to not need a plugin. Power management has come a long way in Linux; I had all the power-saving settings set for maximum frugality, so the screen was dimmed most of the evening. But all it took was a touch on the touchpad to light up the screen so I could check the recording.

The Teo was just small enough to fit on the old red high chair, which was the perfect height to serve as a recording console.

<i>figure 2</i>
figure 2

 

The speakers, like any laptop speakers, are nothing to get excited about. The built-in mic works, but you'd have to be desperate to want to use it. But the onboard sound chip is pretty good, so you can plug in headphones for better-quality playback, and an external microphone for good-quality recording. I recorded the Jam as 16/44.1 WAV files, which the Teo's Atom processor handled without a hiccup. That is a good CPU test because audio recording and editing are CPU-intensive. I also tried a bit of basic editing in Audacity, like trimming out cruft, fixing defects, and exporting to various audio formats, and it handled everything capably. This would make a great little portable recording studio.

Teo on the Ranch

Our hosts have a big ranch, so I took the Teo on some of our rambles around the place. I'm not sure what good a netbook would do out in the middle of nowhere, but if I ever do need one it is easy to carry and looks cute posed on the big combine.

<i>figure 3</i>
figure 3

 

And on the dump rake.

<i>figure 4</i>
figure 4

 

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