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Vye Jolibook review – best in class open source computing?

If you’re looking for an original take on small-form-factor open source computing then you’ve come to the right place…

This article originally appeared in issue 96 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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Tech Specs:
Operating system Jolicloud 1.1
Processor Intel Atom N550 (1.5GHz)
Memory 1GB DDR3
Storage 250GB
Weight 1.35kg
Dimensions 266 x 185 x 18.5~25.4mm
Display size 10.1-inch (1024 x 600)
Expansion slot/Misc 8-in-1 card reader, VGA, audio I/O, 300k webcam, Ethernet, 6-cell battery, 3x USB2.0, Bluetooth V2.1, Wi-Fi b/g/n

Pros: The chassis design and specification is excellent with ample processing and storage for falling back to native use
Cons: The battery doesn’t perform in line with its sheer bulk and the tiny shift keys won’t go down well with bloggers

It’s remarkable to consider that Jolicloud started life as a small project dedicated to producing an easy-to-use operating system to be adopted by schools and a means of recycling old and otherwise defunct hardware.

Over the last couple of years the Jolicloud operating system has proved itself to be a shining star in the world of open source computing, but not just for those in full-time education. Having already scooped top marks in our recent netbook distro group test and subsequent Jolicloud 1.1 catch-up review in issue 95, it’s hard to emphasise quite how good this cloud-based distro actually is.

It seems that the team behind the distro have quite a bit of faith in their project too. With a view to carrying the distro’s success over to the equally competitive hardware market, Jolicloud has released the Jolibook in partnership with computing firm Vye.

This playful-looking box of tricks might be designed to appeal to school-goers looking for a simple and affordable computer, but like the distro, its appeal is much further-reaching. With its cutting-edge specification (which includes the latest Intel Atom N550 processor and a capacious 250GB hard drive), unusual design decals and an operating system using bleeding-edge HTML 5 wizardry, it also does much to please hardened gadget fans too.

The N550 processor is one of the latest from Intel and is more than enough to cope with Jolicloud’s lightweight requirements. Its makers have optimised it to run 720p video from services like YouTube et al to help its street credibility.

While it could be argued that the specification on offer is actually a little oversubscribed for such a lightweight distro (250GB of SATA storage might have been better replaced with a 32GB SSD for blazing-fast boot speeds and longer battery life, for example), it’s clear a balance between cloud and local applications and storage needed to be achieved.

The quirky and kitsch styling of the Jolibook’s lid might be something of an acquired taste, but the massively bulky and protruding six-cell battery does nothing for the Jolibook’s image. To further compound the situation, it didn’t live up to the promised seven hours, producing closer to five in our Wi‑Fi enabled tests.

Besides this, however, the chassis is excellent with ample USB 2.0 ports and sensible connectivity options including an 8-in-1 card reader, Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi.

We’re big fans of the chiclet keyboard design too, which is very easy to type with and solid under the fingers. The mouse pointer is very good on the whole, with only slight inaccuracy towards the very edges of its dimpled design. The only exception to usability on this front came from the half-sized Shift buttons on both sides of the keyboard. Since it sits right next to the up directional arrow on the right, we found ourselves – even after days of use – ruining our word documents with typos. Assuming you don’t write for a living this may not be an issue, but it’s a bugbear we really struggled with.

While the 10.1” TFT screen isn’t the best on the market by any stretch of the imagination, it fits the needs of even the most demanding Jolicloud user. The colour is good, but the vertical viewing angle is slightly off. It’s relatively painless to adjust the tilt on the screen to compensate, though, so it could have been worse. For a sub-£300 computer, it’s unfair to pick on it in this respect.

Verdict: 5/5

What started out as an act of tech philanthropy has metamorphosed into the height of open source chic. That said, the Jolibook is not without its faults, nor is it the cheapest netbook in its class. Still, it’s by far the best Linux netbook you’ll find on the market today, and one that doesn’t compromise Linux’s advanced capabilities for the sake of appealing to the masses.

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