Review of the Lenovo Twist Ultrabook

I recently acquired a Lenovo Twist Ultrabook, and so far I’ve been pretty pleased.  It has some shortcomings, but overall it’s a solid notebook.  I got mine secondhand, so I can’t comment on the packaging, or even what ships with it, but I feel pretty confident that it ships with everything you need to get up and running, including a power adapter.  As an aside, I miss the days when notebooks shipped with carrying cases that were made for them.  I know it’s an option a lot of the time, and I may be showing my age here, but it was nice when you opened the box and there was a flimsy nylon case waiting for you.

The notebook I have has an Intel Core i7 processor, a 500GB Hybrid Drive, 8GB of RAM, and a 12″ touch screen display.   It’s small, weighing in at under four pounds.  The display is the first thing I noticed, being both good and bad.  It is extremely sharp, with a 1366 x 768 resolution glossy display which swivels down flat so that you can use it as a tablet.  However, the screen doesn’t go anywhere near the edges of the back, and there’s a lot of wasted space.  I’m not really sure why Lenovo chose to do this, but it is what it is.  The keyboard is a very nice chicklet or island style keyboard, which I am typing on now.  It feels firm and responsive, which I like.  For cursor input, like most Lenovo laptops it has both a touchpad and a nub-style mouse, which I appreciate.  As a bass player, I have thick calluses on my index and middle fingers, so using a touchpad can be pretty hit and miss.  I haven’t seen one yet that works well for me.

The hybrid drive is an interesting component, and I can’t say that I’ve used the notebook long enough to determine if it’s worth the extra cost.  It is comprised of a 500GB rotational drive and a 24GB SSD.  The idea is that it loads the files you use the most on the SSD to speed up drive times.  It seems to be working pretty well so far, as the machine boots up in almost no time, but only time will tell if this feature keeps working well as the drive becomes more cluttered.  There is no utility that I am aware of to manage this feature, as it is supposed to be transparent to the user.

As for construction, it’s a ThinkPad.  It feels as if it could survive a pretty substantial drop, and the hinge on the screen looks solid.  I’ve owned several ThinkPads over the years, and none of them have ever physically  broken.  This one appears to be no exception.

As for complaints, I don’t have many.  As I said earlier, the screen is a bit of a disappointment, as it could have been substantially bigger given the size of the notebook.  The RAM is maxed out at 8GB, and the chips are soldered in and not removable, so if they ever go bad, that’s the end of the notebook.  Battery life is excellent.  The built-in wireless and Bluetooth work well.  The touchscreen is a little bit too sensitive, but it’s not a deal breaker.  The notebook ships with some Symantec product on it, which I hate, but it’s easy enough to  remove.

All in all, it’s a nice, solid notebook that I like a lot.  It’s fast, responsive, has a large hard drive, and a touchscreen.  I’ll probably be using it for years to come.

Prediction: The mouse is about as dead as the keyboard

Windows 8 has only been out for a few months, and already I’m seeing articles purporting the death of the mouse. “Windows 8 and it’s touch screen interface will render the mouse obsolete” they’re saying. And I get what they’re saying, to a degree. I don’t doubt that touchscreens will be the next big thing in desktop computing; I’m even pushing at my job to find a good source of touchscreen monitors. It’s just that for everyday computing, touch just isn’t there yet. The mouse, as a desktop peripheral, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Ever try selecting a spreadsheet cell with your finger? Or highlighting text? And especially for people who do any sort of graphics work, you just can’t be as precise with your finger as you can with a mouse. It just doesn’t work as well. I don’t usually post about my predictions for the future, as they can be wrong so easily. But this one seems pretty straightforward to me. So that’s it, really. Until someone figures out a way to replicate the fine precision available with a mouse with your finger, you can expect to see the little rodent on every desk. At least that’s my take on it.

Verifying that Linode Backups Work

So, I did something stupid. I was editing my /etc/passwd file when I accidentally inserted “false” right into the name of the root user. So my root user failed to exist. Fortunately for me, I was in the process of retiring that server anyway, so I moved up my timetable and shut the old one down. I did, however, discover that the Linode Recovery Image works extremely well. I was able to boot into recovery, fix my error, and boot my old server up without a hitch, and all in the span of about ten minutes. I also checked out the Linode Backup process. It works exactly like one would expect it to.

All in all, I walked away from this minor catastrophe with zero down time and and as an extremely pleased Linode customer.

Why I can no longer recommend the Kindle Fire

As a Kindle Fire owner, I have been extremely pleased with the device.  Heck, I’m writing this on it, and it’s a very pleasant experience. However, in light of recent developments, I can’t recommend the thing anymore. The reason is simple: it seems that after Amazon releases a new version, they end of life the old one. And that means no more software upgrades. There’s a growing school of apologists out there who are claiming that one doesn’t expect a car to get new features, why would you expect the Fire to? Simple. Because it’s a tablet. And that’s how tablets, and computing devices in general, work. I recently picked up an Asus Transformer tablet for my fiancee, and before I did, I made sure that even though it shipped with Android 3.0, it had an OTA upgrade to 4.0 waiting for it when she unboxed it. The Fire is still a great device, and it still does what it did when I got it, but knowing that it could do much more, and won’t simply because Amazon wants to drive sales of their new devices doesn’t make me a happy customer. So if you’re in the market for a 7″ Android tablet, do yourself a favor and get something for the same price that has an upgrade path. Say, maybe something from Google?

Update: I think I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t add that the Fire is still a great device. It does Amazon video and the Kindle lending library, which no other tablets do (to my knowledge). I still like it a lot and won’t be replacing it anytime soon, but there are better tablets out there.

Enable two-finger touchpad scrolling in Linux

So I finally found a thread about touchpad scrolling which lead me to explore the output of the `synclient -l` command on my Gutsy notebook, and lo and behold, the answer I’ve been looking for:

VertEdgeScroll = 1
HorizEdgeScroll = 1
VertTwoFingerScroll = 0
HorizTwoFingerScroll = 0

It turns out that two-fingered scrolling (like on the new Macs) is really easy to enable. Here’s how.

Make a backup of your config file. Don’t blame me if you don’t do this and hose up your system.

sudo cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf /etc/X11/xorg.conf.backup

Use the editor of your choice to add the following lines to your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file:

Section "InputDevice"
Identifier "Synaptics Touchpad"
Driver "synaptics"
Option "SendCoreEvents" "true"
Option "Device" "/dev/psaux"
Option "Protocol" "auto-dev"
add these lines >>>>
Option "HorizEdgeScroll" "0"
Option "VertEdgeScroll" "0"
Option "VertTwoFingerScroll" "1"
Option "HorizTwoFingerScroll" "1"

Restart X, and that should do it. However, if you're like me, and have enough trouble as it is with touchpads, you may want to disable the horizontal scroll, as you end up flipping back and forth between web pages without a clue what's going on.