Panasonic LX100 Review

I’ve been in the market for an enthusiast compact for a while now. I had my eyes set on the RX100mk3, but then out of nowhere, Panasonic announced the LX100. 4/3 sensor? check. Manual-ish controls? check. Fast autofocus? check. Built in EVF? check. Small size? check. I couldn’t resist, so as soon as the first couple reviews came out, I picked one up for myself. Below are my impressions after about two months of ownership.

Image Quality

Overall, the image quality is great. The sensor is on par with any of the other 4/3 sensors out there. Actually, I suspect most of the modern m43 bodies are based on the same Panasonic sensor (E-M1, GX7, GH4, LX100). While the output is a little different from my EM-1, in terms of overall quality, dynamic range, etc., it goes toe-to-toe with the EM1. Not terribly surprising given the shared sensor.
One thing that immediately turned me off was the default JPEG rendering. I think I’ve been spoiled by the E-M1’s JPEG rendering over the past year or so, but the LX100’s default JPEG setting is pretty terrible. Crappy noise reduction and what looks to me like toy-ish colors. At minimum you have to turn the JPEG noise reduction setting waaaay down. For the most part, I avoid it.

People often make fun of the filters on the camera, but I personally like them. Yes, you can re-create the effects in Lightroom, but it may take you some time. I like having them right on the camera, and especially being able to preview the shot in the selected style. I like Panasonic’s “Dynamic Monochrome” more than the Olympus equivalent, but I like Olympus’s retro style more than Panasonic’s. Go figure.

Lens

I think this was the big surprise for me. For my E-M1, I only have primes. I use the super-sharp Leica 25mm/1.4, the Olympus 45mm/1.8 and on occasion the original 20mm/1.7 — all three top-notch lenses.

As I started to shoot with the LX100, I tried to manage my own expectations. This is a compact zoom, with relatively large aperture. There’s no way it’s going to compete with the best primes for the system. I had read a few of the reviews talking about how corner sharpness suffered at some focal lengths.

But this lens has surpassed all my expectations. Yes, I bet if I peep, I can see some of the corner fall off, but the center is damn sharp. In fact, the Leica 25mm prime is only sharper if you really stop it down to it’s optimum f/4. For something so small and convenient, this is an awesome result. The net of it is that I can do most of my shooting without really worrying about the lens sharpness.

The long end of the zoom gets you about 75mm equivalent. While useful at times, I find 75mm to be a bit of an odd length and not that useful. If I had the choice, I would give up the 50-75mm part of the range for a smaller lens or wider aperture.

Speaking of aperture, one disappointment is that the maximum aperture decreases pretty rapidly as you zoom in. I really like to shoot at 35mm, and at that length, max aperture is f/2.3, which means you’ve lost almost a full stop from it’s maximum 1.7. f/2.3 means that I need ISO6400 to capture my kids at 1/160 indoors, which gives you a bit of grain. At 50mm equivalent, it’s down to f/2.7. This is where the Leica 25/1.4 still comes in
handy.

Size

Of course the whole point of this thing is the small size. If you’re coming from a bigger m43 body or even larger system, the size does not disappoint. It will fit most large coat pockets, and will take up no space in any kind of bag. That being said, it is definitely not pants-pocketable. The lens barrel just sticks out too much, even when collapsed.

When I realized this, I initially hesitated. I really wanted rx100-levels of portability with the 4/3 sensor capability and better controls. However, as I’ve taken this camera anywhere, I’ve come to realize that it’s generally so small and light that I can just use the included strap and string it over my shoulder and forget about it. The camera is so small and light that it doesn’t get in the way of most light activities. For example, after a day at the park, when I get back in the car to drive home, the E-M1 would have to come off for me to drive. With the LX100, I just adjust the strap so that I wear it diagonally and then just sit down and drive.

Physical Controls

The other big draw of the LX100 are the full set of external dials for all the major controls (shutter speed dial, aperture ring around the lens barrel, EV comp dial). In general, I love having these and they make shooting with the camera lots of fun. Interestingly, when I tried a similar scheme over a year ago with the Fuji X-E2, I didn’t like it as much. But since then, I’ve learned to use the manual mode on my E-M1 a lot more. So I think this type of control scheme really requires a level of maturity with camera operation. If you’re still learning the ropes, the dials are going to require you to up your game and really think about all the parameters.

Even then, I still sometimes get tripped up by the EV comp dial. On a more DSLR-like control scheme like the E-M1, switching from shutter to aperture priority typically resents the EV comp value. No so on a LX100 (or any other body that employs similar control). Once you dial in -2 EV, you had better remember to switch it back when you’re on to the next shot. Other times, the EV comp dial gets knocked while the camera is in my bag, and next thing I know I’ve shot a few shots at -1 EV. Over time I’ve learned to be more vigilant about the dial, but still it is a source of stress.

The other slightly odd decision was to make the focus ring by default adjust the shutter speed. This is configurable in the menus but the behavior is really confusing until you notice it. It’s very easy to move the focus right every so slightly, especially when you’re going for the manual aperture dial, and by doing so, you’ll adjust the shutter speed a little bit off of it’s dial setting. In general, for a given shutter speed dial setting, you can fine-tune it using either the manual focus ring, or the rear wheel by up to 1 stop in each direction. While this is handy in that you can set “in-between” shutter speeds like 1/160, it also means that the current setting may not be exactly the same as the dial, which means you have to look at the screen if you want to be sure.

Autofocus

For the most part, the autofocus is amazingly fast. I was really surprised by this. I’ve never used a compact camera that focused this fast. In most cases, it’s faster than my E-M1 with 25mm/1.4 (not the fastest lens in terms of focusing). It also retains it’s AF speed in low light better than the E-M1. Basically no complaints here.

One of my torture tests for AF is to take shots of my kids as they go back and forth on the swings in the park. LX100 can handle this no problem. Just set the shutter to 1/1000, S-AF and fire away.

I haven’t done too much with the C-AF. In my limited use, it seems OK, but not amazing. I suspect it’s probably on par with the GH4. Panasonic’s face detection works quite well, and I prefer the UI to Olympus’. However, the one thing I’ve gotten used to on the Olympus is the ability to set it up so that by default you have your selected focus point that gets overridden automatically when a face is detected. On the LX100 (as other Panasonic camera), face detection is it’s own mode. So if you want to switch between Face detection and single point focus, it takes some menu navigation to do it.

Other Minor Observations and Nit-picking

One very nice feature is the nearly silent leaf shutter. I’ve played a bit with the Fuji X100s, but this shutter is even more silent. So much so that when you first start  laying with the camera, you can take a shot w/o realizing it. I’ve seen this happen to multiple people I’ve handed the camera to. They push the shutter, they see the screen blank for a second, but because I had auto image review turned off, they’re not sure if they took anything. The shutter barely makes a sound and registers no tangible vibration. The ultimate sealth camera.

One disappointment is a lack of built-in flash. There’s a small flash in the box, which is usable in a desperate situation, but I much prefer a built-in bounce-able flash like the one found on the a6000.

It’s very hard to chimp your RAW files on this camera. While this problem exists on any cameras, it’s particularly bad on the LX100. The jpeg preview that is rendered when you take a shot in RAW is way too low-res. You zoom in two levels to 4x, and that’s the limit. Any more and you just see stretched blur. The main problem is that the resolution is not enough to be able to confirm focus. I just have pray that I got it and check on the computer later.

I found the WI-FI feature ok when it works, but have had tons of problems getting it to connect at all.. especially when I’m out and about with no wifi networks around.  Perhaps an issue on the iphone side, but it’s bad enough that I haven’t been able to use the feature much, even in cases where I really wanted it. Perhaps I’m just doing  something wrong, but I’ve never had this much trouble from any of the apps from any of the brands.

I think one of the persistent complaints about the LX series has been the lens cap. The LX100 is no different. Included in the box is a standard snap on cap with a short leash chord you can use to attach it to the body. There’s just something about it that feels super onerous when you just want to get a quick shot. There is a petaled lens hood, but availability of the black one in the US seems poor, even months after launch. I may just go with a UV filter, but haven’t decided yet.
Other reviews have noted this as well, but on startup, it takes a long time for the lens to fully extend. It’s sad because the camera feels so snappy once it’s ready to go, but turning it on feels sloooow. On a related note, if you turn it on, and then go into playback mode and start looking at some pictures, the lens retracts. To get it to extend again, you have to half-press the shutter, but then again it takes it’s time to fully extend again. Kind of annoying when you’re out and you take a few shots of something, then want to review them in playback, and next thing you know the lens is back in so when you’re ready to take some more shots there’s a delay.

I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere, but the default luminance setting of the rear LCD seems really off. Images look as if you did a +2EV exposure adjustment in Lightroom. You can tone it down in the menus, but this confused me initially. In combination with the fact that I often didn’t realize I had knocked the EV-comp dial to a -1EV position, I underexposed a bunch of shots. I’ve learned to try to keep an eye on the live histogram as much as possible.

Another minor nitpick. When you turn on both the leveling meter and the histogram on the live view, it tends to cover a large part of the image. When I handed the camera off to a friend when it was in this state, she asked me, “where’s the actual picture?” 😦

I haven’t used 4K photo mode that much, but when I have, it’s been pretty nice. It’s certainly a very interesting way to shoot, and I definitely plan to play with it more in the future. For the scenarios I tried it in, it seemed highly dependent on the C-AF performance during video. In other words, you get 30 frames per second to choose  from, but that doesn’t mean anything if your subject is moving out of the focus plane and the AF can’t keep up. Also, the in-camera UI to browse the video and pick out frames is kind of clunky and slow. It will work in a pinch, but it’s probably better to do it back on the computer, in which case, I’m not totally sure what software I’m supposed to use.

Lens stabilization seems reasonable. It’s not anywhere close to the E-M1, but it does let you get down to the 1/20 shutter speed or so w/o much issue.

Bottom Line

In most of my day-to-day, outdoor situations, the LX100 has replaced my E-M1 as my go-to camera. It’s smaller enough than the E-M1 that I will take it out in more situations. So much so that debating getting something bigger as my “big gun” (D750, A7ii, etc.)

I still turn to E-M1 + 25mm f/1.4 for indoor situations (mostly because of max aperture). I’d prefer if this combo focused as quickly as LX100 though. But those are often situations where I don’t need as much portability, so it’s starting to make sense to differentiate further and get something slightly larger for those situations.

Fedora 10 initial impressions

  • vmmouse works out of the box. About fricking time.
  • LiveCD installer is pretty cool. It does an image based install, which seems pretty darn fast.
  • Fonts still suck. Waiting for someone to post subpixel-enabled rpms.
  • YUM seems usably fast now. But background update processes lock the database for a long time, which is annoying.
  • Input method setup was easy. Japanese input method there by default. Also VLGothic was there by default.
  • Nice artwork.
  • Trying to turn on desktop effects in a VM crashes the X server. Boo.
  • Thanks for shipping some nice included desktop backgrounds.
  • Nautilus still uses object-oriented mode by default!?
  • sbin is in the path. FINALLY. Also rm is no longer aliased to rm -i. Also about frickin’ time.
  • Weird text-mode boot splash. But I actually like text mode boot splash. Less to go wrong
  • Why is the initial user not in the sudoers file? At least give me the option.

Random screenshot:
Fedora 10 screenshot

More HP LP2475w notes

OK, I’ve had the monitor for about a week now, and I also got it calibrated with the Eye-one display 2 calibrator that I got from newegg. Here are the full notes:

  • Wide Gamut: It’s still there. It’s still kind of annoying. Firefox 3 makes the experience quite a bit more bearable, but Flash doesn’t support it yet so video’s often look like candy colors still. I also get the feeling that cleartype might not be tuned for wide-gamut monitors.. but I don’t understand the theory enough here to really say. Even with the calibration-corrected gamma, text looks every so slightly more fringy. It could also just be the bigger pixels when compared to my NEC 2070NX.
  • Color uniformity: A few readers on the HardForum thread for this monitor have reported a green-to-pink color uniformity problem. I think I see it too, though it is very faint. Here’s a picture that I took that exaggerates it:
    coloruniformity.jpg
  • Ghosting: I don’t see too much motion blur, but there is some inverse ghosting. Doesn’t really bother me that much though.

I’m new to calibration, but my with my first profile, the monitor validator that comes with Eye-one Match tells me I have an average deltaE of 0.69, which I understand is pretty good. There definitely seems to a bit of technique to this, so I’ll have to update this post if I manage to coax better numbers out of the screen.
At this point, I’m seriously debating returning this monitor and just getting an NEC 2490 instead. Everyone likes the 2490, and after I’ve spent 600+ on this one, spending 300 more the best thing out there doesn’t really seem like a big deal. If I use the monitor for the next 4-5 years, it seems totally justifiable. I still don’t really buy the whole wide-gamut thing, and it seems like it’s going to take a while for people to sort out more-than-8-bit displays anyways.

A little closer, but still not quite there: Hardy Heron on my Thinkpad X60

I’ve reported my experiences on running previous versions of Ubuntu on the Thinkpad X60. Here are the notable updates with Hardy Heron:

  • Wireless: Ubuntu dropped the closed source ipw3945 driver from their restricted packages repository, instead, opting to use the iwl3945 driver that’s included in upstream kernel sources. Unfortunately, the version that gets shipped with the kernel is way out-of-date and doesn’t work well. Or in my case, not at all. The solution is to grab newer drivers from the compat-wireless project. They have a build system that can overlay newer drivers on top of an existing kernel module directory. I tried a snapshot from April, and it worked fine for me. After a reboot, the card came up and worked fine through the NetworkManager.
    One remaining gripe with the wireless is that the hardware kill switch only works half way. It will kill the wireless if you turn the switch off. However, turning it back on doesn’t re-enable the wireless until you re-insert the iwl3945 driver. I can script it, but still a major pain in the ass.
  • Graphics: Compiz seems to work fine (though I don’t care to use it). Metacity’s compositing mode seems to work too, though it’s disappointingly slow.
  • Battery: Battery life seems better than with Gutsy, provided that you’re willing to do some work. First step is to install the powertop package, run the utility, and follow it’s recommendations. Next, take a look at this guide on Thinkwiki, detailing a few more settings that can be tweaked. It still sucks that you have to do this all manually. Most of the settings are easily scriptable, and I’m sure there’s a way to automatically trigger them when you go into battery-powered mode, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Feels like I shouldn’t have to do this much work.
  • Suspend/Resume: Seems to work. Only tried it about 5 times.
  • Temperature: This is still my biggest gripe. Even with all the tweaks described above, the laptop as a whole gets considerably hotter than when running windows. Particularly the bottom side and the right side of the palm rest. While it’s better than before, it still annoys me enough that I’ll run Windows most of the time. It’s particularly bad when it’s plugged in (and some of the power saving features get turned off)
  • Software: Overall, Gnome hasn’t changed much (which is a good thing IMHO). Firefox 3 seems like a huge improvement, except for the fact that FoxMarks doesn’t work yet (but I expect that to work before the temperature control does).

Progress I suppose. But less than I had hoped for. I know Lenovo sells these things with SuSE, but I don’t think the experience is much better on those models. I made a feeble attempt at running the Emperor Linux Kernel, but couldn’t get it to boot. I’m getting a little pessimistic that Linux will ever run completely fine on this machine (read: all the hardware works) during it’s useful lifetime. Oh well.

Dell 3007WFP-HC Mini-review

Ok, my last post about this thing, I promise.
Since there are tons of other reviews on the web about this thing (where you can see pictures and specs and measurements and the like), I’ll just link to those articles that I read if you want to read about that stuff.

I’m just going to talk about what I noticed.
This monitor came with glowing reviews around the net. The other contenders are the HP LP3065, the Samsung 305t, and the 30 inch Apple Cinema Display. The reason I originally purchased this model was because a) it was the cheapast, b) it had good reviews, and c) it has a enhanced (wider) color gamut.

Setup

Setup is mostly painless. Just make sure you have a dual-link capable vgi card, and if your card has multiple outputs, make sure you plug it in to the correct one (some cards only have dual link on one port). As everyone also notes, the brightness settings come with no OSD. That’s mostly ok, except it makes it impossible to “go back” to an old setting unless you count the number of ticks from one of the extreme endpoints. It seemed like there were about 9 or 10 ticks from darkest to brightest, but you never know of the incremental adjustment grows exponentially the longer you hold it down. In this regard, having capacitive switches is actually a negative. It made it impossible to count based on tactile feedback. Supposedly if you have an Dell XPS machine, you can load some software that has many more calibration options.

Size and Resolution

The screen is huge, and similarly to other LCD’s, at full resolution, the image looks very sharp. Because the screen is so big, there is a tendency to sit farther back from it then say you would a 20 inch monitor. This causes the percieved size of each pixel to be smaller, so text can seem smaller as well. Of course you can always try to make the fonts bigger, but it’s something to think about. Physically, this screen has 100 pixels per inch — the same as a standard 1600×1200 20 inch LCD.
Another thing that some readers might care about: interaction with high-index-of-refraction glasses. I just got a new pair of glasses that have the highest index I could get. It turns out, the higher the index, the more likely you are to see color fringes along high contrast edges that are off to the side of your field of view. Well guess what, combine these properties with sitting in front of a huge display that displays many high contrast rectangular shapes, and voila, fringe city. The first time, I had to put my contacts in because it was so distracting. The second time, I noticed it less.

Wide Gamut

I found the wide-gamut feature to be a mixed bag. The one sure thing I can say is: if you care about accurate color, then don’t plan to buy this monitor without a calibrator. I suppose that could be said for most monitors, but the properties of this monitor make the statement especially true. The main reason is that most monitors out there are uncalibrated, and most of them cover roughly the same 72% of the NTSC gamut. That means designers will be creating content for this range. Without proper calibration, your screen will display colors that designers did not intend.
It may also not be able to display shades of colors that the designer did intend. How can this be the case? it has to do with the bit depth. Both standard 72% NTSC monitors and this 92% monitor are driven by data that comes in at 8 bits per color. This means that the wider gamut monitor maps the same 8 bit space to a larger range of colors. That means values in the space that are a value of one apart will be farther apart in terms of actual color. So if a designer intended a particular value X in the sRGB color range, your HC monitor has a less fine-grained capability to approximate X.
In practice, it’s hard to say if you’ll notice. It probably really depends on what you’re looking for.
If you forgo calibration, then normal content on this monitor will look super saturated and weird. Some of the reviewers liked this effect in games. To me it looks like “neon”, or “radioactive”, and it’s distracting. Web designers will often pick subtle colors that don’t create distractions in their designs. This monitor, uncalibrated, will destroy all those carefully picked hues. A lot of reviews or mini-reviews will say something like the “colors look vivid”, but in actuality it’s just like you turned up the saturation dial a bit too far in Photoshop.
Another problem for me personally is that Linux has no way of setting a global desktop-wide color profile (at least not that I’m aware of). There are a few color managed apps on Linux now, but they are still few and far between. So if you want to play around with Linux as a desktop, be prepared to look at super saturated colors. I tried full-screening Ubuntu running inside a VM, and the default orange titlebars were way too strong, again, not displaying what the designers intended.
If you really need the 92% gamut and you know what you’re getting into, then by all means go for it. But for the average consumer who doesn’t have a calibrator, I can’t say that it’s a clear win. It’s definitely not as much of an advantage as I had thought it would be. It’s mostly a software problem, but nonetheless, it is a problem. Mac OSX apparently fares better, but you’ll still need a calibrator.
In the medium term, you’re probably better off waiting for the new DisplayPort standard to become widespread, and look for monitors that support 10-bits per color (which DisplayPort allows for).

Anti-Glare Coating

What? Huh?
Who cares about the coating? I mean besides the choice between glossy and matte, there’s not much to say about it right? Well, that’s what I thought too until I saw this monitor. The 3007WFP-HC has by far the most visually distracting sparkly effect produced by its anti-glare coating out of any LCD monitor I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of one of those really cheap CRT that have sparkly coatings, or one of the aftermarket glare coatings that people would place over their monitors.
I compared the effect to as many other monitors I could find. My Thinkpad X60 doesn’t exhibit the effect at all. My Dell 2007fp and 2005fp at work shows it somewhat, but its much less prominent. My NEC 2070nx also is about the same level as the Dell 20 inchers: noticeable, but only if you really look for it. My older Planar PL201M doesn’t show it at all, but this monitor is from 2003, so who knows what they used for coating back then.
To really make sure I wasn’t crazy, I went to the Apple store to check out the 30 inch ACD. Sure enough, it had the effect too, but also less pronounced. It was more tolerable and less distracting.
The effect is somewhat difficult to describe. It’s as if someone put a thin layer of vaseline on the top surface of your screen. This produces a sort of noise that is overlayed on top of the image that your monitor is actually producing. If you move windows around, the noise stays fixed, as it is a property of the coating, and not the LCD itself.
On the Dell 3007WFP-HC, the sparkle has a lot of color variation. For those of you into photography, it can be desribed as really fine chroma noise. On all the other monitors I looked at, the effect is more like just a variance in luminance (i.e. a “gray noise”). The lack of color in the other monitors makes it much easier to forget about. On the Dell, my eyes would keep trying to focus on this color noise rather than the actual content, and this made reading somewhat tiresome. It was most prominent on solid light colors, like a completely white screen.
On the spec sheet, Dell calls it the new “3H” coating. But I couldn’t find any more information on the web.

Verdict

I’m returning it. If I had to give it a score, I’d say 4/5 if you don’t notice the coating, 2/5 if it bothers you.
I got it from Costco exactly for the reason that I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. In retrospect, I think I was a bit too much of a stat junkie on this purchase. The monitor looks great on paper, but for me the coating was a fatal flaw, and the wide gamut was of unclear value.
For a monitor that I paid > $1000 for (for hobbyist use, no less), I felt that I shouldn’t keep it unless I could confidently say I had no major complaints. But using this monitor has been a struggle in trying to like it. After a few days, one just has to give up.

Side Notes

I didn’t try the builtin USB hub or the card reader. I’m sure I would have used them if I liked the screen, but alas, these features are of only peripheral importance.

iPhone

A super short review.
I finally went to the SF Apple store to play with one.
It’s pretty good. Things seem to work as advertised. Typing didn’t seem too bad, though I can understand how people would miss their physical keys.
I tried to post on this blog with one, but Safari crashed three times in a matter of ten minutes accessing different parts of this site.
Looks like they’ve got a bit more polishing to do. Seemed like something I could buy. But the Blackberry Curve looks a little more attractive for now.

Safari browser on Windows

Not really a full review, but an initial impression of Safari 3 for Windows.

  • It’s FAST. I know Jobs harped on this during the keynote, but it is definitely the snappiest browser that I’ve used on windows. It has none of the UI sluggishness that Firefox has.
  • Japanese input doesn’t work. Not in the UI, and not in any of the web pages. I guess it’s still in the works.
  • Seems to be somewhat memory intensive. Four tabs brings it to ~190M in my task manager.
  • It’s got a super simple bug reporting interface. Open source programs should do this.
  • It’s got OS X’s font smoothing on Windows. I detect a little bit of color fringing, but it still looks pretty good.

Overall, I think it’s a strong candidate to replace Firefox for my home usage.
One more annoyance: It appears not to support my thinkpad’s middle button scrolling functionality. I’m not sure if the fault is with Safari or Lenovo. The middle button scroll doesn’t work in a lot of apps..

An Afternoon of Ubuntu Feisty Fawn Beta on a Lenovo Thinkpad X60

I decided to give the new Ubuntu beta a whirl on my X60. Recently I’ve heard a few anecdotal success stories of running Ubuntu on laptops, so it seemed worth a try.
I was concerned about running a beta installer on my work machine, so I decided to run the Edgy installer instead. I backed up my important files and used the built in NTFS resize functionality to make space (which, worked surprisingly well, considering my past experience with it). Once Edgy was installed, I used the update manager to pull in the new beta version (you can do so by running update-manager -d). The update took a while, as it had to download all the new packages, but the install completed without a hitch, and one reboot later, I was running Feisty.
First impression: looks mostly the same. Same brownish theme, and same ugly fonts in Firefox. I did get a bubble notification at start up that told me that I was using “restricted” drivers. A few clicks later, I was told that they were for my wireless chipset. Fine, whatever. I appreciate what they’re trying to do here, but I don’t think most end users really care. Feisty seems to make it very clear that “restricted” drivers are unsupported and may have problems that can’t be fixed. Yet it seems ironic and somewhat pointless, since for most users, Ubuntu is going to have problems that aren’t going to be fixed regardless of whether the at-fault component is open source or not.
Anyhow, I do applaud them for at least distributing the driver, and to make it work without any user intervention. It’s a good start.
The one feature that was going to decide whether I was going to be able to use Linux regularly on this machine was suspend-to-RAM. The first time, I just I tried it as a normal user would (by hitting the sleep hotkey), and it worked! I was rather surprised, since I had heard all kinds of fun stuff about having to write custom scripts that unload and reload things as your machine goes into and out of sleep.
The feeling of “finally!” quickly faded, though, as the second and third attempts all failed in different ways. The first time, the wireless card disappeared. The second time, the screen wouldn’t come back. The third time, I lost sound.
Well, so much for that. I tried a suspend-to-disk a few times, and that seemed to work. But I don’t feel motivated enough to debug the hardware issues to make the sleep work. It’s probably going to make me compile new kernel modules or god knows what.
That being said, it seemed that the whole sleep thing was very close to working. Much closer than any previous incarnation of Linux I had seen. Most of the special Thinkpad hotkeys worked, and it didn’t seem like any of the apps freaked out about the machine going to sleep underneath them. The battery, as well as the CPU frequency scaling seemed to work fine.
Not everything was negative, there were a few “I wish Windows did this” moments. One was the support for the conventional “middle button scroll” feature of Thinkpads. Since many Thinkpads don’t have touchpads, IBM had a feature where you press and hold the middle mouse button to turn the track point into a scroller. On Windows, it works fairly well, but you always run into apps that don’t support it. It’s as if the functionality is implemented a little too high up the stack. The most annoying effect is that the scroll functionality get’s lost when using remote desktop client software. Both VNC and RDP clients will not properly send the scroll events to the remote end, which sucks.
On Linux, you can just use the “EmulateWheel” option in your xorg.conf file to turn on this exact feature. And it works at the X-server level, so it works with all apps that understand scroll events. This is certainly an improvement over Windows.
At the end of the afternoon, however, it doesn’t make sense to run an OS that can’t properly drive all of your hardware. I suspect that this might actually be the case for my desktop, so I will investigate that when the final release is available.
For now, on the Thinkpad, I’m much better off running Feisty in a VMware Workstation environment (especially with the new version which will have VMI support so things will be pretty fast).
As someone who’s been using Linux in various forms for a while, I fully understand that it’s not really Ubuntu or Canonical’s fault that these things don’t work. ACPI is really hard, and closed drivers make everything hard. But until the community figures out how to overcome these problems, Linux doesn’t have a chance in the laptop space.
Maybe it’ll happen like this: People will realize Vista blows. Linux will continue to catch up and eventually get good enough to be equivalent of the XP experience (on a few hardware configurations). Maybe a migration to it will become possible with some extra pieces like Parallels-like “coherence” except with a Linux host and an XP guest. People will start to see Linux as a potential alternative, and all of a sudden, companies that write Linux drivers that work will have an advantage.
Or maybe some big hardware PC manufacturer will finally try to get off the sinking Vista ship, and release a limited line that is tested to run with Linux, and has a hardware configuration that is as Linux-friendly as it can be. Who knows. Maybe it’ll be Dell. Someone the size of Dell might be able to use it’s influence to convince suppliers of hardware components to even write drivers, or at least release specs.
Before I go, a few miscellaneous observations about Feisty:

  • Still uses freetype 2.2.1. Not sure if there’s a reason. 2.3.1 seems to work fine for me at work, and works better with some fonts.
  • The default font settings are “grayscale” smoothing and “medium” hinting. It looks pretty good for GTK apps, but for some reason Firefox looks pretty ugly.
  • ThinkWiki is a pretty useful site that has a lot of random details about running Linux on Thinkpads. You can solve some of the smaller problems by reading those pages, but it doesn’t seem like it will help you solve big problems like getting suspend-to-RAM working.
  • Battery life under Linux seemed pretty good. At full charge, the readout was at about 5.5 hours, and it didn’t seem to drain particularly quickly or anything.
  • Firefox still doesn’t support GTK input methods out of the box. You still have to set up your GTK_IM_MODULE env variable to point to something

Thinkpad X60 Review

I’ve had my X60 for a few months now, so I’ve developed quite a few opinions about it. But first things first, the specs:

  • 12 inch 1024×768 screen
  • Intel Core Duo T2400 1.83ghz dual core processor
  • 2GB of system memory
  • 100GB hard drive
  • Built in intel wifi, 3 USB ports, one firewire, SD slot, PCMCIA slot, GigE port

Looks: The X60 looks pretty much like any other Thinkpad. Classic and black. If you like Thinkpads, you like the X60. If you don’t, then well, there aren’t any pleasant surprises in store.
Likes:

  • Keyboard illuminator light. Not sure I like it better than the Apple backlit keyboard, but it works pretty much just as well. Plus you can use it to illuminate other things than the keyboard.
  • Battery life. I get an average of 5 hours+ with the large battery with my average use pattern. 6 to 7 hours is not unheard of either. On my Powerbook G4, I used to get 2.5 to 3 hours tops.
  • Wireless disable switch
  • Keyboard feel. Thinkpads are known for their nice keyboard, and the X60 lives up to the reputation. But there are a few gotchas (see below). Also, overall, I’d say I prefer the Powerbook keyboard. It had switches that required less effort to press down.
  • Keyboard Drain Hole. Nice to know its there, even though I haven’t needed it yet.
  • Sudden movement detection and hard disk parking. Every laptop should come with this.
  • Build. It feels as sturdy as the T series.
  • It’s light. Even with the bigger battery.
  • Heat. It doesn’t get very hot, even under heavy usage
  • Quiet. It has a fan that runs sometimes, but it isn’t very loud.

Dislikes:

  • Thinkvantage software. Some of it is marginally useful, most of it is useless. The only thing I use are the volume control OSD, the external monitor profile switcher, and the undock menu. I tried the network location manager thing, but found that it sucks compared to Apples version, so I just uninstalled to use to the basic XP stuff
  • No touchpad. I know they don’t have space, but the nub hurts my finger after a while.
  • Scrolling sucks. Two fingered scrolling is definitely the right way to do this. Aside from not working very well, the middle button + nub scroll doesn’t even work in a large number of applications.
  • No ports on the back. Ethernet is on the left, and power is on the right. This means that whenever I’m hooked in, I usually have cables coming out both sides, which is kinda ugly
  • Keyboard Gotchas. They added the windows key, which makes the control and alt keys very small. I don’t mind the control key so much, since i remap caps lock, but having a small alt is really annoying. Also ESC is a small key right above F1, and I always hit F1 when I mean ESC, which gives me the help menu in Vim. The backspace is only a normal sized key, and backslash is a half-sized key.
  • Screen. XGA is too small to get any real work done, though its fine for doing non work stuff. At this form factor, its hard to complain. My bigger complaint is the poor viewing angle of the screen. It seems particularly bad on the vertical axis.
  • No DVI. I can tolerate XGA on the builtin screen, but not being able to hookup to a Flat panel in digital mode totally sucks. And worse yet, even the docking station doesn’t have DVI. I seriously hope this is the last X-series with this misfeature.
  • Sound quality: isn’t the best. Sometimes it picks up noise from the network. Standard set of problems that come with cheaper sound parts. Oh well, hardly any laptop gets this right

I guess it seems like I have more complaints than things I like. But all in all, this is the best laptop I’ve ever used. The positives generally outweigh the negatives, which are more like minor annoyances anyways.
There are definitely a few usability things that I miss from the Powerbook, but they’re not fatal. Some of it is just what you get for using Windows I suppose.
The X60 has definitely redefined my expectations for battery life in a laptop. If only for that reason, I’ll probably be stuck on this sub-notebook form factor for a long time to come. Though if Apple did manage to ship a similar form factor machine with comparable battery life, I would seriously consider switching back.