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 email@example.com.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.
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.
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.
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.