Look and feel
Whether or not you like the Jolibook's lid obviously comes down to personal preference -- some we showed it to couldn't get enough of it, while others said they wouldn't be caught dead with it. Personally, we think it looks a bit childish, though we're continuously intrigued by the what's going on in the motif -- what are
a bunch of netbook computers doing hanging in some sort of town with a Joli Office and Joli Coffee!? Is this what life is like on the Jolicloud? Is there a Joli Juice where they can recharge? Never before has a laptop lid made our mind churn so much with questions.
If you can look past the trippy lid, you'll find the Jolibook to be your average 10.1-inch netbook. Built by Vye, an ODM in the UK, the inch-thick chassis is made of black plastic and is surrounded by three USB jacks, VGA and Ethernet ports, and headphone and microphone sockets. There's also an eight-in-one card slot on the right edge. It's actually not a bad feeling little laptop, though obviously there are more svelte looking systems out there -- we're looking at you, ASUS Eee PC 1018P
. And let's be honest, you can't stop starring at that big bulging six-cell battery up there. We have to say it gives the netbook a very dated look, and also adds quite a bit to the three-pound weight of the device. Also, the battery itself is a bit wobbly -- even when locked in, it jiggles a bit.
Keyboard, touchpad, and screen
The chiclet keyboard on the Jolibook is reminiscent of those on ASUS' netbooks, and that's not a bad thing. The raised, plastic keys are well spaced, and while the layout is still a bit cramped, we were able to type the majority of this review with very few typos. As the Vye Jolibook is only being sold in the UK and other parts of Europe right now the keyboard layout was a bit foreign to us Americans, but when you first boot the system you are able to pick the software layout. Still, the right and left Shift keys are shrunken, and yes, it's extremely frustrating.
The touchpad also seems to steal its look and feel from ASUS' playbook
(no, not RIM's tablet
) -- the pad is flush with the palm rest and is only differentiated by small braille-like dots. The small bumps aren't as pronounced as the ones on ASUS' pads or even Lenovo's ThinkPads, but it is still mighty comfortable on the index finger. That said, we did run into some navigating issues -- for the most part it allowed us to point and click just fine, but other times it just didn't want to cooperate and the cursor just kept jumping all over the screen. We're inclined to blame the close proximity of the pad to the keyboard, but we didn't have the patience to deal with it so we whipped out our Logitech Anywhere MX
mouse. The Jolibook also packs Bluetooth, so a regular Bluetooth mouse will fit the bill as well.
The 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600-resolution display is bright enough for watching videos on YouTube or Hulu, but the quality of the panel leaves more to be desired. The screen is just fine for watching the latest SNL clip with a friend, however vertical viewing angles aren't stellar and setting it back a bit requires you to adjust the screen forward quite a bit. We grabbed the Cheese webcam program from the app store, and had a ball snapping pictures of our mug using the 1.3-megapixel webcam. The speakers are standard for a netbook -- they're not loud and relatively tinny.
The OS: Jolicloud 1.1
Ah, the operating system. The Jolicloud! The major differentiator between the Jolibook and the other Windows 7 Starter netbooks out there. Yep, it's the center of the experience here, and those that have used Jolicloud 1.0 or 1.1 before will be right at home, but if you're new to the Ubuntu-based, web app-centric operating system there's quite a bit to explore.
In essence, the OS is the antithesis of Windows or a "desktop" based OS -- all the applications you need live on the first tab of the main menu, what the company calls its Dashboard or "App Launcher." As you can see above, it looks a lot like iOS in the sense that its a grid of applications and you can add as many pages of apps as your heart desires. (The netbook comes with most of the apps you'll want right off the bat pre-installed, including Gmail, Chromium, Twitter, OpenOffice, Skype, etc. You can install more from the app store, but we will get to that soon.) When you launch a web app or program, it lives on the top of the screen and you can toggle between them up there or by hitting Alt + Tab. Pressing the Jolicloud button on the keyboard always lets you return to the main menu.
The second tab on the main menu is what the company calls its "Social Stream," and it's really the feature that differentiates the OS from any of the other custom netbook Linux builds (i.e. Ubuntu Netbook Remix
, Easy Peasy, etc.) out there. When you first get the netbook or use Jolicloud on any other computer, you're required to sign up for an account using your e-mail address. You are also able to log in using your Facebook username, but that's only after you've had a Jolicloud account setup. The reasoning behind all this is two-fold. Firstly, it lets Jolicloud store information about "your Jolicloud" -- what apps you have, your settings, etc. -- on its servers so you can log into the OS on any computer. They don't call it the "Anywhere OS" for nothing! Secondly, it lets you connect with friends that also may be Joliclouders. Once you "follow" or friend those individuals, the Social Stream pulls in information about them -- what apps they like or they've downloaded, etc. You can follow them and they can follow you back. You see, it's a social
OS -- not just an OS built around social networks.
The third tab is where you can view your files and folders as well as access Cloud storage services like Box.net and Dropbox. The fourth contains information about your Jolibook as well as you account.
In reality, you will spend a majority of your time on the netbook in the various web apps, which are for the most part just websites that launch as separate apps rather than just as another tab in the Chromium browser. There isn't a way to create your own web app or shortcut based on a website (no Engadget app for you!), but there are over 700 free apps in the store, which include popular sites like YouTube, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, etc. and loads of others. The entire experience is familiar since it's really just a browser based OS, but there are also non-web based apps like VLC Player, 280 Slides, OpenOffice, GIMP, and Boxee. Luckily, that means that if you aren't near a WiFi hotspot, the netbook isn't just a brick -- you can still write documents, take pictures or watch some local video. (Sadly, we've been hearing Chrome OS won't have that same sort of offline functionality.) Overall, it's a very user friendly operating system and extremely simple to master. Those that have been scared of the big, bad scary Linux, have nothing to worry about here, however, those that wish to experiment with Sudo command this and that can always get behind the scenes by hitting Alt + F1 to access the terminal.