Today my CloudBook ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) arrived. It just came out on Friday and is only being sold by one company thus far. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to pre-order it and, as a result, I’m one of the few people who have it today. Kudos to ZaReason for being so transparent about the initial product launch delay and the problems they’ve had securing the number of CloudBooks Everex had promised them. I have found their customer service to be fantastic and I would definitely buy from them again. The computer has a 7 inch screen and weighs only 2 pounds. I swear it’s lighter than my purse! The computer only costs $399 and comes with a funky Googlish version of Ubuntu (which I think isn’t nearly as good as plain old Ubuntu).
I just opened it up about two hours ago, so I haven’t had much time to play with it. Here are my initial impressions:
Screen – nice, bright, very clear. It is also very small. I’ll definitely have to do some side-to-side scrolling from time-to-time. It doesn’t look like the graphics card is using the proper driver (it’s using the generic driver) so I bet connecting to external monitors will not go well.
Keyboard – I was a bit worried about it being too small to comfortably type, but I find that I’m already able to type with ease and without losing too much speed. I’m sure I’ll get more comfortable with it as I use it more. That being said, I have very small hands and very skinny fingers. I can’t imagine someone with big meaty hands typing on this with ease.
Trackpad – The trackpad is about the size of two fingers of an average man and is located by the upper right-hand portion of the keyboard. The buttons are on the left-hand side of the screen. It definitely will take some getting used to, but it wasn’t difficult to use at all. Again, I have tiny fingers. It had no problem connecting to an external wireless mouse, which is definitely a good thing.
Software – This is where I really have complaints. We have had many laptops with Ubuntu in this house and none of them have ever had a problem connecting to our wireless base station. This one did. I kept putting in the key and it kept not connecting. Luckily it has an Ethernet port so I was able to connect to the Internet and download the software updates. Once the software was updated, the CloudBook connected to wireless. I saw that the folks at Laptop Magazine had the same problem, so if you’re expecting one of these in the mail, be prepared with an Ethernet cable.
The worst part though is the fact that they did not adapt the software for the size of the screen. Registration windows for their software don’t fit the screen, so you just have to hit enter and hope you filled everything out. When I loaded up Firefox, a winfow for configuring the Google Toolbar popped up (which, by the way, no one would want with a 7-inch screen, Everex!) and I couldn’t get to the bottom of it to get rid of the window since it was cut off at the bottom. Resizing the window didn’t help. Every time I tried to kill it by clicking the button in the upper left, it would come back. Finally, I clicked one button on the configuration window, then clicked tab and enter a few times until finally it disappeared. Then I immediately got rid of the Google Toolbar and any other toolbars that take up the very limited screen real estate on the CloudBook. Everex told Laptop Magazine that the problem with windows extending beyond the screen was only a problem with the evaluation version. Clearly, that isn’t true. It’s pretty obvious that the software was thrown together at the last minute and thus has some pretty annoying flaws. I’m sure I’ll notice more flaws as I use it more and things like this continue to happen.
Verdict (after 2 hours) – I bought this computer so that I wouldn’t have to lug around my 15-inch MacBook Pro at conferences. For that, this machine will definitely meet my needs. I can connect to the Web, I can use Open Office, and all on something that is ridiculously light. I will definitely take this on my vacation to Florida in March, since I won’t be doing much other than keeping an eye on the class I’m teaching and checking email occasionally. If this was someone’s primary computer, it would be a disaster. This is not something you’d want to use all the time and there are a lot of things that just plain don’t work right. But for me, it’s pretty much what I was looking for (other than the software issues).
I have a feeling Adam and I will end up making some changes to the computer over the next few weeks and it may get to the point where we just end up installing regular Ubuntu on it, but it’s definitely “good enough” now for what little I need it for. Coming in with such low expectations, I couldn’t help but be pleased with it.