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Samsung ATIV 9+ loves Fedora 21 Alpha.

Today I received my brand new laptop, a Samsung ATIV 9+ (model 940X3G-K04), and of course my first exercise was to boot it on Fedora 21 Alpha. This model has the QHD+ 3200×1800 text display with a touchscreen, and a solid state 256 GB storage device.

First steps with Samsung ATIV 9+

I downloaded the manual on another system, which I read to discover I should hold down the F2 key at power-up to get into the BIOS setup.

I inserted a USB stick with Fedora 21 Alpha installed, before starting the laptop. By the way, I published a screencast on how to make that Live stick. Then I got into BIOS setup, and used the Boot options to enable booting from the USB stick.

I decide to make a full disk image of the pristine hard disk, compress it, and send it to backup just in case. I don’t feel like keeping 20 GB of the disk reserved for a Windows operating system I’m unlikely to use. So:

dd if=/dev/sda bs=1M | gzip -c | ssh paul@192.168.0.X 'cat - > samsung-ativ-full-disk.img.gz'

I’m pretty sure this is going to tie up the laptop for longer than I’d like. On the plus side, it will give the CPU a bit of a burn-in as well. I ran through an installation after the disk copy was finished.

Booting after installation

The first hurdle was that the GRUB text screen is so small as to make it almost impossible to see for anyone over the age of 18. With the aid of a microscope I was able to find the right option to boot without testing. ;-)

Note #1: If the screen is also very dim, you can visit the BIOS setting to turn off the automatic screen dimming at boot time.

The actual boot from the Live USB stick was completely uneventful. Of course systemd was super-fast. In no time at all I was in the Live session.

Applications and interface

GNOME 3.14 did an excellent job detecting the HiDPI type display. The GNOME top bar and dock were sharp and readable. The display is gorgeous, quite comparable to a Retina-model MacBook Pro.

Some apps are still suffering a bit on HiDPI, though. LibreOffice and Firefox UI elements are far too small by default. Epiphany a.k.a. GNOME Web, on the other hand, works great. This is probably because GNOME Web responds to the overall GNOME display settings for HiDPI.

Note #2: To make the Firefox interface more HiDPI-friendly, visit the about:config URL page, and change the setting for layout.css.devPixelsPerPx to 2.

The Ctrl and Fn keys are reversed from my Lenovo x220 I’ve used for the last 3.5 years. Sigh, muscle memory. But the function keys mostly seem to work (other than the Windows specific ones).

Samsung ATIV 9+ touchpad issues

After hitting Fn+F5 to test the touchpad enable/disable function on the keyboard, I found the touchpad worked erratically. It sometimes didn’t work at all, even after a cold restart of the laptop. The pointer would disappear when the Terminal application or other text entries came to the foreground. The GNOME on-screen keyboard would emerge at these times, even if I didn’t need it and wasn’t touching the screen.

GNOME hacker and Fedora buddy Ray Strode, in his usual generous style, kindly entertained my questions and found some help for me. This seemed to do the trick:

sudo modprobe -r samsung_laptop
gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.peripherals.touchpad touchpad-enabled true

Ray opined that the routine that was catching the function key to disable touchpad was, for some reason, no longer catching it to re-enable. This might have something to do with the kernel module. I plan to investigate further next time I reboot the system.

Touchscreen

This is where the enabling work in GNOME shines. A lot more systems these days have touch screens available. I love the fact that I can drag my apps around the screen with a finger as opposed to the touchpad. The standard auto-sizing targets at top, left and right all work well, so I can quickly maximize or half-size windows.

Unfortunately, the resizing handles on window sides and corners are difficult to grab accurately, which is frustrating. On HiDPI touchscreens, perhaps there’s a way to increase the size of these targets. Overall though, far more goodness than badness.

Other issues

The keyboard backlight does not work if you install in EFI mode. Presumably, I should be able to reinstall the system after turning off Secure Boot in the BIOS, and then regain this capability. I’ll probably try that over the weekend so I don’t take more time away from productive work during the week.

Overall impression

The laptop itself seems to have sturdy build quality. It’s an attractive slate/charcoal color. The shell definitely shows oil from even clean, dry hands. The glossy touchscreen of course shows even more smudging. It would be nice if Samsung included a cleaning cloth.

I already love the touchscreen and find myself using it to quickly select the Activities overview, the GNOME settings at the upper right, and to swipe the notifications area into or out of view. The display is gorgeous and very bright even at half brightness.

One of the Samsung’s primary draws is its very slim profile. Besides the power adapter port and one USB 3.0 port on each side and the ubiquitous Kensington port, there is a mini-DisplayPort, a small port for the included gig-Ethernet dongle, a mini-HDMI port, and a TRRS-compatible 3.5mm headset port.

I wish the power adapter, whose jack is very slim and concerns me as potentially fragile, was something more like Apple’s “MagSafe” power connector. I’m sure that’s patented up and down to prevent anyone having such a feature. But for klutzes like me it’s definitely a huge help.

The 8GB of RAM seem well-suited, even generous, for a productivity user like myself who occasionally dabbles in virtual machine guests or other memory-intensive applications. It might be sub par for someone who has to run a lot of such apps often. But the ATIV 9+ seems weird to buy an ultralight laptop if that’s your use case, so I think 8GB is about right.

The 256GB solid state drive is incredibly fast. It’s my first SSD and I was shocked at the difference for doing not just the installation, but post-installation updates and software additions, as well as migrating my data over GbE from my older Lenovo x220 to the Samsung. It remains to be seen how the SSD stamina works out based on my routine style of use. However, I suspect if SSD is moving into the general marketplace it’s a good match for me since I’m usually more like a general productivity or creative content user.

I would say the ATIV 9+ is the best rival for the MacBook Air or Pro that I’ve seen.

Logitech M570 on Fedora.

I just bought a new Logitech M570 wireless trackball for use with my Fedora workstation. I favor a trackball over a moving mouse, because it’s easier on the joints, not to mention more practical on a crowded desk. My previous trackball device was a wired Logitech, and it developed a few problems recently. I’ve had it eight years, so I decided I got my money’s worth and could spring for a new one.

The Logitech M570 uses the Logitech Unifying Receiver USB wireless dongle, common to many Logitech devices. You can pair up to 6 of them to the current unifying device dongle that ships with the M570. Most Fedora users will want this device to be set with correct permissions for people who login on the console. It’s also helpful to be able to query or display battery status.

So here are the steps I recommend to install the Logitech M570 on Fedora. Do these steps before you plug in the receiver or turn on the trackball device. I’m using GNOME 3.12 on Fedora 20, so your mileage may vary:

  1. You may want to remove your existing pointing device first. Otherwise the new one may not work, at least until you do.
  2. Install solaar (upstream link), a monitoring and control gizmo for your Logitech Unifying Receiver and connected devices. Thank you to Eric Smith for packaging and maintaining this tool for Fedora!
  3. Plug in the receiver to an open USB slot. I recommend a rear slot since you likely won’t move this very often. (If you do, there’s a handy slot inside the trackball’s battery compartment where you can store the receiver without losing it!)
  4. Turn on the Logitech M570, and it should Just Work.
  5. You can launch solaar from the GNOME Shell, and a notification icon appears in the message tray. You can use this tool to see status and pair or unpair devices.
  6. (optional) If you want solaar to start every time you login, open the Terminal and enter these commands:
    $ cd ~/.config/autostart $ ln -s /usr/share/applications/solaar.desktop .

Enjoy!

Bass collection, part one.

I had some spare time this morning and a few people had reached out to me about my bass collection, so enter my 2013 Nexus 7 and YouTube, et voila!

Discoveries, no. 577.

This past week I discovered the following awesome things:

  • Moving from a 10-year-old DOCSIS 2.0 modem to a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, assuming your cable ISP is remotely in tune with the times, will make your bandwidth better.
  • Moving from a 7-year-old (?) Linksys WRT54GL a/b/g wireless router to a new Netgear WNR3500L b/g/n wireless router, assuming you have a laptop with wireless-N, is well worth the investment (and the Netgear is equally hackable with open firmware).
  • If you had a stressful day, playing Rancor Rampage on Kinect Star Wars with your kids is a great way to take the edge off.

What I’ve been missing.

There hasn’t been a lot of music in my life lately, other than listening. Work has been very demanding lately, and between that and traveling to do fun things with the family, not much time has been left over for playing. Today I have a day of glorious playing ahead, though, with some good friends up the road in Reston, VA. It’s nice to have a hobby that gives out such a positive vibe and that you can share with other people.

You can also really connect with your tools as well when you play music. This morning I took out a couple of my basses to make sure they were ready to rock’n’roll, and I enjoyed getting reaccustomed to a couple of my favorites. One of the basses I’m bringing with me is a 1953 Fender Precision issue. I believe it’s the Sting signature model, but I can’t be completely sure. I bought it used for a little under $700, and it’s Japanese made as I would expect from that model. (Typically the Japanese made instruments these days are second only to American built Fenders, and only by a slim margin in my opinion.) The serial number seems to support it.

But unlike the mother of pearl signature marker at the octave fret which you see on the Sting model, this one has a black bar. On very close inspection it seems like the previous owner actually painted carefully over the inset, and then refinished the neck. He did a fine job, though, so I had no qualms about buying it. It did make me wonder why you would go to so much trouble to cover up the signature on a signature model bass. Maybe the guy played in a honky tonk band and the Sting signature gave the other band members the willies.

All I know is that one of the other mods he made was to add a Lindy Fraling hand-wound pickup that, when combined with the strings passing through the body at the bridge, gives this axe the sonic nuts. The neck is pretty round and kind of like playing a baseball bat compared to a couple of my other basses, so playing this bass for long stretches can be a little like a wrestling match — you have to muscle it into submission. But the reward is a big fat P-bass sound that’s shaded just differently enough from a stock 1960’s style Precision to give it a unique vibe. Definitely looking forward to playing it today!

New Logitech H555 details.

In reference to my earlier post, I picked up my replacement H555 headset this weekend and wanted to share the changes I noticed from the earlier model I previously owned. Some changes are good, some are not.

Pros: The headset band is now a little thicker — this might make the newer one just a little less prone to breakage if you dropped it from a great height or if someone who didn’t weigh a lot sat on it. All the previous adjustments are still available. Also, although the microphone stalk is about the same size, the mic housing itself at the end of the stalk is a little bulkier. This probably contributes to a little better noise reduction, which I’ve noticed in casual use thus far.

Same: The general mic sound quality is the same. It’s quite good for VoIP and casual use in screencasts, but of course not as good as a quality microphone.

Cons: The hard case that used to come with this unit was not included in the retail package that I purchased. The new headset fits just fine in my existing case, so this is wasn’t a deal breaker for me. Unfortunately people purchasing this for the first time will only get a carrying bag which doesn’t protect the unit as well. Also the detachable dongle that used to convert the unit from dual TRS 1/8″ plugs to USB has been changed into a non-detachable, USB only plug. If you were hoping to use the headphones with other standard audio jacks, you’re out of luck.

I’m still happy with the quality of the headset, and overall I think it’s a good purchase. The new USB hookup is now recognized by my Fedora 15 box as a “Logitech H555 headset,” so I expect the audio hardware inside is updated slightly. It seems to work perfectly just as the old one did. Just be aware of the above changes if you intend to buy one.

Asus Eee Transformer TF101.

Here’s something I posted earlier on my G+ account in response to a question about our new tablet, the Asus Eee Transformer:

I love it. It’s a little heavier than a couple other tablets like the newest iPad but the iPad was not something I wanted. It’s bright, easy to use, comfortable in the hands, and despite some odd reviews I saw to the contrary, not flimsy feeling at all. I switched the onscreen keyboard input method to the Android keyboard (instead of the Asus one) since the Android one places the keys in a more harmonious way if you’re a touch typist. Obviously there’s no tactile feedback but my accuracy is much better with the Android onscreen keyboard.

We also got the companion keyboard and that makes it work very much like an Android powered notebook computer (or a Chromebook+ if you like). Some apps make the physical keyboard a little slow, particularly Facebook or other web apps where there is too much live updating going on in the background via AJAX, or it’s poorly optimized. Google+ works well on it though. Using Google Docs is much more comfortable using the keyboard.

It’s Honeycomb based (3.1 out of the box) and I understand 3.2 is being shipped soon. The update mechanism is slick and easy like any phone, and the market is much more elegant in the tablet interface. Also I like the book reader, although if you do a lot of reading this way, or any outside, the Transformer can’t hold a candle to a Kindle.

Battery is very generous, and the keyboard extends the charge life by a lot. I haven’t run out of power over a day yet. One thing I haven’t been able to do yet is get the tablet to use my Droid X phone’s 3G for its internet connection over Bluetooth. It looks like it should work and connects correctly, but the browser doesn’t appear to find anything. Maybe DNS related but I need to look into it further.

All in all, 8 of 10 and well worth the $349 I paid for the 16GB model with a Staples coupon.

I had a number of Fedora folks ask me about this hardware who I suspect catch my blog from our planet, so I’m including this on the feed even though it’s a little off topic.

Since I wrote the above, I have the following updates:

  • The above report concentrates on Google services since it’s an Android device and some of the best experience comes from the integrated services. On the other hand, it’s also useful in other ways.
  • I installed the ConnectBot SSH client which definitely makes good use of the tablet form factor + keyboard as a fill-in laptop. However, it also exposes some issues with the keyboard mappings of which upstream is aware and hopefully will have solutions soon. The most glaring issue is the Tab key not working, which as a frequent bash user I definitely miss! Also the current lack of direct Ctrl and Alt key mappings can be frustrating too.
  • I also found a couple VNC clients which I found interesting if not vital.
  • The vendor updated to Honeycomb 3.2 which has a number of little improvements such as a more intuitive mouse cursor, smoother graphics, and a bunch of other general tweaks. Still no solution for the networking through Bluetooth issue though. It’s possible this is an OS tweak by the vendor that would require hacking to solve; I really haven’t had time to revisit it.

I hope this is helpful — feel free to ask questions in the comments, or trackback if you have experiences to share.

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