Have you ever been afraid to open a package?
On the first day of Feburary, 2011, St. Louis had a major ice storm.
On this day, the ice was so bad that I couldn’t get my work truck out of my driveway, which was impressive because it slightly slants down toward the road. Before I had a chance to call into work to let them know, my boss called me and said it’s not worth trying to drive, and to stay home try to do a bit of work remotely and answer phone calls.
I noticed around noon that there was a package left on the doorstep. I didn’t order anything at all, but it was addressed to me with no return address.
After a few minutes of head scratching I cautiously opened the package. It was a laptop! From Google! For free!
Google was taking applications for the Pilot program earlier in the year, maybe even late 2010. Before applying, I made sure that I had signed into my Chrome browser and installed some “Apps” and synced my bookmarks. I also may have hinted that I was also interested in developing my own extensions for Chrome.
How, why, its not clear, but Google gave me a gift. A 1.6ghz Intel Atom PC, 16GB SSD. It wasn’t fast, but it was FREE. I used ChromeOS for a few weeks, but quickly realized that I wanted more than just a web browser out of a laptop. Apparently someone received a CR48 with a standard BIOS, and it was then dumped and shared.
I ran Windows on it for a while, but eventually settled on Ubuntu. It was great for a light browsing machine, and I used on and off for over a year. After the year of abuse, the hinges were completely shot.
A few weeks ago I got a wild hair to try to repair it. I drilled some holes in the back of the plastic and put screws through it, and it was then stronger than ever. I installed a new version of Ubuntu with XFCE and realized how nice the machine still was.
This seemed the rebirth of my free laptop. Next I had the urge to upgrade the little 16GB SSD. I ended up buying a 120gb MSATA disk. When I disassembled the machine to install the SSD, I noticed I lost one of the nuts that I used to repair the hinge and decided to beef up the hinge even more. I took a trip to the hardware store and picked up some bigger hardware, and some new drill bits.
When I got home, while enlarging a hold, my brand new drill bit binded up and what was left scraped across the motherboard near the RAM slot. It looks like a few leads were severed and now it won’t boot anymore. The SSD I ordered was useless because I didn’t have any other machine that supported MSATA SSDs.
What did I do?
I ordered a used Lenovo Thinkpad X220 from eBay, and a Bluetooth adapter, ExpressCard 54 USB 3.0 card, and an upgraded Intel 802.11n card from Amazon The Lenovo supports the MSATA SSD, as well as a standard 2.5″ drive. So I’ve now got 120GB of solid state storage for my OS and software, and a 320GB 2.5″ HDD for storage. It would be roughly the same size and weight as the CR48 if I didn’t have the 9 cell battery sticking out the back. It’s got a matte screen too, which is something I grew to love on the CR48.
I’ve never been happier with a laptop keyboard than I am with the X220. It feels great to type on, has dedicated volume and mute keys, and with all the function keys. This was a huge step up from the limited key count of the CR-48.
The only grip I momentarily had (and apparently I’m not alone) is that the very bottom left key is the function key, instead of ctrl like almost any other keyboard. I found its just an option in the BIOS to swap the two keys, so I immediately change it. The two keys are not the same size on this model, so I can’t physically swap them like you can on some Lenovos.
The trackpad at first sight was hideously small. I was shocked that the buttons were above the trackpad instead of below. What I didn’t realize is that the trackpad is one that physically clicks just like the CR48 and Macs do. It’s a lot smaller than the one on the CR48 though, but that’s a trade-off for having a bigger keyboard in a compact machine. It has one of the nub/eraser head/nipple pointer sticks too, but I can’t use it as efficiently as the touchpad.
I’m not trying to do a full review of an almost 2 year old laptop. This is just some of my impressions coming from a cheap free laptop to my first Lenovo.