Review for the Always Innovating Touchbook
Hello Phoronix people and whoever stumbles over this piece of text
This is my review (about 22nd of Feb 2010) for the Always Innovating Touchbook.
I bought it mainly for writing on remote places and having a long battery runtime.
Remember this is an opinion plus some facts and I am not a professional HW tester.
Furthermore there are no PTS benchmarks (not sure if PTS an the depending libs are already ported to ARM). It may look unsorted and prolly is, and I am not a native English speaker so excuse me for not using a fine cut English as Shakespeare would do.
So I ordered it at the end of Aug/beginning of Sep 2009. It was delivered in Jan 2010. Well, what bothers me here is that I had a financial planning which was okay on Aug/Sep but that wouldn't fit in January. After Xmas and NewYear most people lack money. And the suddenly it would be shipped and my credit card would be billed. Meh.
So if you plan on buying one be prepared for some severe waiting time. Maybe their backlog is lesser now. (I heard that it might be about 2 months now)
There are two things that bothered me even more. The stupid customs (Germany wich had a change in law at the turn of the year so I had far higher customs to pay. Including shipment in the sum and after all summation of all portions the 19% of our beloved tax “Mehrwertsteuer”). At the end it was about 75 E taxes and fees (that might be well >100 $)
And the fact that it was about 3 weeks later delivered with 512 M RAM (instead of the 256M) for the same price. Though once they proposed the HW would be final. Grr.
These additional 256M would've been rather fitting.
PS: lol, I checked and obviously they alredy put in the 512 M (minus some RAM dedicated for GPU usage). htop and free -m show me 4xx close to 512. Neat!
opening the box
So there I finally had my AI touchbook. Well wrapped but without unneccessary material waste. Good. The contents weren't that much: The Touchbook itself (screen and keyboard part), a touchpen for handling the touchscreen (though it also works with the fingers, but then you may have fingerprints on it), the PSU und a folded paper with the most basic instructions (and a warning that the software is still considered beta) and 3 magnets. God, these are STRONG.
Note that the AI TB is sold either as the tablet part alone (so only the computer and touchscreen itself) or with the keyboard part which serves as keyboard and extra battery.
Of course the tablet part has a virtual keyboard so you can use it standing alone.
Well. One of my primary concerns.
If you take out that bluetooth and WLAN stuff ... I dind't test it too thoroughly but atm of writing I am close to maybe 7 hours and it says still 47% left. Huzzah!
Okay, brightness is turned down to max (or min in this case), and I keep from using the disc (the SD data carrier), writing or reading seems to cost energy (of course it does but I think it was “visibly” esp. when I also had the two USB connection sticks in).
So if you can do without WLAN and Bluetooth feature you might really have 10h or more. Awesome.
But no warning by default when it goes low. Then suddenly it's black screen and off. (I'd say it was about 11 h in two sessions of about 6 h with a week inbetween being shut down and off).
By the way: You can also exchange batteries. (lol @ Apple)
PSU is a neat thing til today. I had to buy a physical shape adapter from US to European (German) plugs (5 Euro) but otherwise the PSU doesn't need anything, it will work with 220V also out of the box. So it should fit international use.
Sucks big time. Okay it has a WLAN. Yeah. Might be okay and today's standard in mobile devices, as well as the Bluetooth it has. Fine so far, though they suck energy, might be still a software problem to put them to deeper sleep. But: There is no LAN connector. Absolutely nasty for WLAN despisers like me.
Furthermore here in that country we do not have a lot of WLAN hotspots. Well, and then they are encrypted, closed, there are no public hotspots so surfing just in town... you can forget it.
So it's rather useless for me with all the WLAN unless I build a WLAN at home.
By the way I used the opportunity to check for spots and it showed me after some searching some points (don't know how far remote they were, of course all encrypted) so I guess it is doing okay.
They come irregularly in form of complete images.
So soon I was going to set up the most recent image release of the software. Here is another issue, I have a fairly good connection hat home and an insane one at University but their servers delivered at 75k/s to max of 200 best times. Normally it was 75 k/s and that would take me about 5 hrs.
I should suggest them to ask some hosters, universities or even sf to have some mirrors. Took horribly long to get the image file(s).
They offer different modes for various OSs to bring the software to the SD card. Well, their Windows updater didn't recognize my card (strange since I could read it (the vfat partition only of course)) so I just rebooted into Gentoo and used the proposed cat dd combination with an init 0 and went to lunch. Worked like a charm. Of course you have to backup all user files e.g. /home.
Next boot looked much more smooth and provides you with a selection of 3 OS, the AI linux, Ubuntu netbook remix and Android.
Didn't try the others yet. And of course Gentoo will also work here but I didn't have any time for this yet. Not sure if the Gentoo on AI Touchbook (and pandora or other beagleboards) project compiles on the target or uses more crosscompiling.
So it is really an open box for everyone. Thumbs up.
I don't know if they have a packet manager, didn't try much on the console yet. Til now updates come by images and I did not see a GUI for updates (like I saw in e.g. *buntus or SuSE).
It runs on a 2.6.29 kernel, prolly with some backports by now and customizations.
It lacked /usr/src/linux Kernel sources (you can get em from the website) preinstalled, that would have been interesting for me. Well but they provided /proc/config.gz so I could check out a few things about the configuration. Didn't check for compilers etc. yet.
Htop was missing. Yes, this may seem not noteworthy for people but I noticed since I like to use htop. It's comfy.
Well it woud take me some time to look at all of it but there are word processors and the whole OpenOffice suite (on ARM!) (dunno if it is based on the plain OOo or go-oo), there are browsers (FF and else), some games, system software and other stuff.
The GUI is provided by X and xfce. Oh, well. I admit that I'm a KDE user and though I have used xfce4 in the past I wasn't always happy with it since I had some severe problems (crashes) with it. (Gentoo on amd64 as well as a VIA C7 so it shouldn't have been the cflags, mkay) So I was not too fond to see it here but after all it just does the job. Nothing to cheer about but it works for most parts.
But since we're talking free software / Linux here it may just be a matter of time until a full featured KDE (or Gnome) comes here.
And: There is a big label on the accompanying paper: The software is still beta.
So nothing here is final. As if it ever was in free software, which is a constant stream of development, updates, features (and sometimes regressions).
Hardware in general:
Lightweight, not using too much space. Quite handy though it won't fit in your trouser's pockets.
Can't judge really that much since I'm not experienced in ARM arch.
Basically it's a beagleboard (also used in the pandora), you can get the infos here:
The internal storage is an exchangeable 8 GB SD-Card (plus 256 internal flash). (see storage extra section), there are now 512M RAM inside.
The measures can be taken from their website. Well, it may be a little bit thick if you have both parts but hey, thus you can open the device easily and screw around with the internals.
The mentioned 3 magnets can be put inside the touchscreen part and so you could stick it to your fridge as Gregoire demonstrated in a video (search youtube for this). Didn't try that yet but they ARE STRONG (watch your fingers! I had this on pen and Paper RPG sessions with me for typing a campaign diary and the Gamemaster played all the time with the magnets with his fingers - he's a physician so maybe he has a natural interest in magnets - and bam! his fingers got a hurt).
One possibly nasty thing that must be mentioned: The GPU is by imgtec/PowerVR. These are the poulsbo criminals! Afair the chip is some successor to the one that was used for "intel's" poulsbo. I guess most users will know what that means. I severly hope that we will see some specs and a free driver instead of a binary blob in the future.
So basically if imgtec looses interest in that chip they will not support the driver anymore and you can then throw away your whole netbook. Or stay with the 2.6.29 kernel forever.
The chip may have nice HW features (low power consumption, HD 720 or whatever and openVG, OpenGL embedded and stuff) but as long as it has a binary only driver it is a dangerous situation!
Keyboard & Touchpad
The keyboard is (imo) an essential part of every computer device. Keyboard, screen and maybe mouse (or something that emulates a mouse) are the core I/O for normal computers.
I'm not the biggest fan of touchpads but I understand the lack of mouses on laptops.
So in short terms:
(end of part1)