My family flew over to the USA to visit my wife's family in October 2011, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to buy something technological for a lower price than I can get it in South Africa. One of the things I'd been wanting to buy for a long time was a netbook.
With this in mind, I did some searching and some research and decided to buy the Toshiba NB505 from Amazon.com. A number of the reviews on Amazon mentioned using Linux (usually Ubuntu) on the netbook, and they all said that it ran well. With this key piece of information, and a friend's recommendation of a similar model from Toshiba, I decided to save up some money and buy the NB505.
Since I knew the netbook doesn't have a CD or DVD drive and comes with Windows 7 Starter pre-installed, I spent some time seeing how to get a Kubuntu booting off a USB stick. With the "Startup Disk Creator" in Ubuntu and Kubuntu, this part is a cinch. I just used my 4GB USB stick and I had a perfectly working Live USB.
Being an open source enthusiast, I didn't want to give Windows teh chance to even boot up, so I once again took to the Internet and looked to see if I could determine which BIOS was on the netbook, and how to make it boot from USB. I found out that the BIOS will automatically detect a USB stick, and will try to boot of it igf it is set like that. By default, this is the case, so I knew I could just plug the USB stick in and it would try to boot off it.
Finally, the day came, and I unboxed and unwrapped my netbook. I plugged my USB stick in, switched on the netbook, and sure enough, it booted off the USB stick. Windows 7 never had a chance!
While I was waiting for the installation to complete, I took a look at this hardware of the netbook. It feels quite sturdy and the plastic casing feels quite hard. It has a wireless network card (b and g), a touch pad with two buttons, a built-in webcam and a built-in microphone. One thing that struck me was the size of the keyboard. Some of the buttons look a little squashed, but overall the buttons are big and the keyboard is wide. Comparing the netbook's keyboard to a laptop's keyboard, I noticed that the netbook's keyboard was only a little smaller than the laptop's.
Once Kubuntu had finished installing, I rebooted the machine, and decided to see how it handled the hardware. To my utter amazement, everyting just worked. The wireless network card didn't need any proprietary drivers, and neither did the webcam. The volume keys (Fn + 3, 4) also just worked, invoking KDE's volume OSD and tying in to KMix. My 3D effects also just worked, no need to find additional drivers or disable some more advanced effects. The only thing I noticed that was out of place was that the wireless light is orange, rather than green. I presume this is because the motherboard and the operating system are not 100% talking the same language. It doesn't stop the wireless from working perfectly though.
Not only did the hardware work perfectly, but the suspend worked perfectly too. I just closed the screen of the netbook, and it suspended immediately. At one stage, I'd left the netbook for such a long time without charging it that it ran out of battery while in suspend mode. When I plugged the charger in and powered on the laptop again, it resumed from where it had last suspended. I was so impressed.
Just like laptops, my netbook has a VGA out, and plugging a screen in is arguably easier than Windows. A dialog popped up and notified me that I'd inserted a monitor, and asked me if I wanted to configure it now. Clicking "Yes" opened up the screen configuration window, and I had no problem setting the screen to whatever configuration I wanted. Nice.
Even though I bought this netbook a few months ago, I wanted to wait a while before posting a review, as I wanted to see if there were any bugs or problems with it. I'm glad to say that while I have encountered a couple, none of them are show-stoppers they don't prevent me from being able to use my netbook normally.
The first bug I found is that if I have been using the suspend functionality for a long time (i.e. simply closing the netbook rather than actually shutting down), from time to time it stops suspending. As I said, this is no show-stopper, all I do instead is power it down, and when I next power it up and close the lid, it suspends as per usual.
The second, and last, issue, is that when I shutdown the netbook, it would hang while shutting down. After some analysis I saw it was pulseaudio which was causing this, and after removing pulseaudio I never encountered it again. I don't like pulseaudio in any case, and Kubuntu works fine without it, so it was no loss to me.
So, in summary, I am very pleased with my netbook. It was fairly easy to get used to typing on it after using my normal keyboard on my desktop machine, and it has been more than powerful enough to use for developing OpenLP in addition to the normal web browsing and document editing. The only real issue I have had is getting used to the small screen, but that comes with the territory.