Have Laptop, Will Travel—the LS1250 Laptop from R Cubed Technologies
Being the geek that I am, I approach the practical with confidence and the style factor with apprehension. Though style is secondary to me, I admit that ASUS has made a sleek and attractive laptop. I like the LS1250's matte silver-grey color with black trim. The nagging doubts I had earlier about the “cool factor” have been gradually vanquished with each woman (now four and counting!) who raves about my cool laptop. Admittedly, a Mac or Sony VAIO will generate more net saliva, but the LS1250 may prove a better value on a “conversation starters per dollar” basis.
Not only is the LS1250 handsome, but also it feels well built. The carbon-fiber alloy material gives the chassis a nice, solid feel—neither bulky, creaky nor “plasticky” but rather more rigid, almost metallic. Both ASUS and R Cubed claim that the carbon fiber improves portability and is “120% stronger than conventional material”. Dropping the laptop to prove the latter point was fortunately not part of the test.
Regarding portability, this is an area where the LS1250 performs well. ASUS rightfully classifies the LS1250 (that is the Z33Ae in its catalog) as an ultraportable. Weighing in at a thrifty 3.4 lbs. (1.5 kg), the LS1250 slips easily into my backpack or laptop case with the same burden as a mid-sized, softcover book.
Once I've transported my LS1250 to its destination, I am generally pleased with its physical performance. The aspect I like most is the crisp, responsive keyboard. Despite this enjoyment, however, I find fault with the combination cursor block and scroll keys that were stuffed into the congested lower-right corner. I continually reach over and press the wrong undersized key or play Twister with my fingers. Getting rid of one of those special (er, stupid) Windows keys would free up plenty of room for a better layout.
The 12.1" XGA TFT LCD display is bright, crisp and consistent with no dead pixels and works decently in direct sunlight.
As mentioned above, the ergonomic design of the LS1250 is strong. For example, ASUS won a German industrial-design award for the rimless design of its touch pad, which sits flush with the palm rest. This design feels smooth to the touch and eliminates dust accumulation.
I chose the standard 3-cell Li-Ion battery, which worked solidly but less than promised. While in a “word processing” power-management mode, I got around 1.75 rather than 2.5 hours worth of word processing and wired Web surfing.
Finally, heat management is solid, though the underside and palm rest can get quite warm under everyday working conditions. The fan located on the right side runs continuously but acceptably quietly.
Of course, I could have bought the LS1250 directly from ASUS and installed Linux myself. Instead, I chose to have R Cubed do my dirty work. It was a good decision, because R Cubed invests a great deal of effort to make nearly everything work smoothly out of the box. When I placed my order, R Cubed was offering only Fedora Core, but when I asked for SUSE 10.1, R Cubed obliged and sent me a fully functional machine with its own customized kernel. Now R Cubed says that it is an official Novell partner because of this, so maybe I should be asking for royalties?
I was very pleased with R Cubed's Linux installation for three main reasons. First, the LS1250 came preconfigured with a majority of the applications you'll find in a SUSE distro. Second, all of the function buttons worked appropriately on both Linux and Windows XP. And third, I was surfing wirelessly within seconds of starting the machine. Let's take a closer look at each of these.
The folks at R Cubed shipped me the LC1250 partitioned to my specification, which was dual-boot SUSE Linux 10.1 (60GB) and Windows XP (20GB). The GRUB bootloader was already configured as well. After booting the Linux side, I fired up KDE and found a vast majority of applications that come with a SUSE distribution, all conveniently categorized in the menus and with key icons on the desktop and below on the Kicker (taskbar). Not only do I have all of the standard applications—OpenOffice.org, Acrobat Reader, Firefox and so forth—but nearly every application type has at least two options from which to choose. It has barely been necessary to install additional programs on the machine. My most pleasant surprise occurred when I plugged my Canon PowerShot digital camera in to the USB port, which instantly was recognized by digiKam. I was asked if I wanted to download the photos on the camera, which I did, and I was managing them without a hitch.
I also am enamored with the Wi-Fi capabilities out of the box. The installed KNetworkManager is smart, performs automatic link-ups for you and makes managing wireless networks a breeze. I discuss actual Wi-Fi performance below.
Through no fault of R Cubed, I was unable to play most video formats out of the box, despite having the various media players installed, such as Kaffeine, Totem and RealPlayer. This left me to find and install codecs on my own. I learned that R Cubed is now providing multimedia installation icons that allow one to acquire instantly all of the codecs one needs to play back all common video formats.
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal
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