ZaReason UltraLap 440 Review Part 1: Baptism by fire

scale12x[BLOGGER’S NOTE: Yeah, it’s unconventional to do a review in two parts this way, but the timing of my receiving the ZaReason UltraLap 440 coincided by chance with the week leading up to SCALE 12X, perhaps the busiest time of my year. All of which is to say, as you’ll see below, that a lot of work was thrown at this machine during the course of the week prior to SCALE 12X, during SCALE 12X itself, and immediately after SCALE 12X. The tl:dr here is that it performed flawlessly and more detail is forthcoming in Part 2].

The e-mail came as expected: ZaReason CEO Cathy Malmrose wrote me the day before asking me if she could introduce me to the new ZaReason marketing manager, Vy Nguyen. “Of course,” I said. Vy wrote me and asked me if I could review the new ZaReason laptop, the UltraLap 440, like I did with the ZaReason Alto 3880 a couple of years ago.

As if you have to twist my arm to try new hardware. Gladly, I said. However, there was a minor detail: With this request coming in February, my attention was locked laser-like on the Southern California Linux Expo and that the rigors of this show had better make this laptop a hard worker with the ability to process a lot of data for long periods of time at the touch of these unusually fat fingers.

In other words, this hardware was going to get slammed under nearly constant 12-hour-a-day-minimum use for the next few weeks.

Long story short, the UltraLap 440 worked like a champ in the weeks leading up to SCALE 12X, during SCALE 12X and immediately after SCALE 12X.

First things first: Off with Ubuntu and on with a distro on which I can get real work done. That would be Korora 20 KDE (though later on, as you’ll read in the next review, other distros were given a test run on this hardware). Copy over my home directory onto the new laptop, make a few adjustments and I am good to go.

As mentioned earlier on many occasions, I’m a ThinkPad guy at heart, so when a smaller, lighter form factor crosses my radar, skepticism rears its ugly head. “So, kid, show me what you’ve got,” was my first response taking the laptop out of the box.

This skepticism was squashed fairly quickly. This hardware is a “lightweight” in form-factor only; the UltraLap 440 did the same tough work, under the same tough conditions under which I put some of the more traditionally hard-core hardware, and it passed this test with flying colors (and, to be honest, I could be easier on hardware. But in my defense I’m not hard on hardware on purpose. I’m just an incredibly clumsy oaf with heavy fingers).

Also, battery life on this hardware deserves special mention. On more than one occasion over the course of the SCALE 12X weekend — usually when picking up the laptop and running with it under my arm, like a football, to some emergency — I had neglected to plug in the laptop. I never ran out of power, noticing at one point that I was somewhere in the 20s, percentage wise, after just over three hours of battery use under some fairly trying conditions that included, but was not limited to, a high number of file exchanges from external drives, USB sticks and SD cards, to say nothing of live streaming video monitoring during the course of the show.

The old saying is essentially correct: Good things actually do come in small packages. The 14-inch screen — the HD display is one of the strong points, despite the fact it took a little getting used to from the nearly square ThinkPad screen — did not hamper my personal work performance. There are even little things that bear big mentions, like the multi-monitor support coming in very handy during the show, or the 8GB of RAM — an optional upgrade for $59 that is well worth the expense — helping to carry a heavy load without breaking a sweat.

For the few weeks around SCALE 12X, the UltraLap 440 gets high marks for grace under pressure, and its use in non-show conditions — let’s call that normal day-to-day use — will be the topic of the next review.

Coming next, ZaReason UltraLap 440 Review Part 2: Daily life with the ZaReason UltraLap 440 that does not include the best Linux/FOSS show of the year, highlighting the upsides of this machine — and there are many — and the downside — primarily one, which is easily overcome.

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