Notebook Review: The Zonbu Zonbook - Page 3

By Joseph Moran
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As mentioned previously, the Zonbook sports a trio of USB ports for connecting various peripherals such printers and Web cams. But because this is Linux and not Windows, you're not free to use any device you want. Instead, your choices are limited to those with driver support within Zonbu's OS, and limited availability of hardware drivers is a notable weakness of most flavors of Linux.

To simplify peripheral selection, on its Web site Zonbu maintains a list of compatible devices in various categories. While there's essentially full support for things like keyboards, mice and USB storage devices and decent support for recent and name brand printers, there's no support for devices like scanners and Bluetooth accessories. As it turns out, our HP OfficeJet 7310 was on the compatibility list, and we got it working with the Zonbook with no difficulties. The catch -- although the 7310 is a multifunction device (printer/scanner/fax), it's only supported as a printer.

Subscription Features
Zonbu provides a decent amount of value and convenience for your subscription fee. For starters, our unit was updated with a new version of the operating system within 24 hours of turning it on for the first time. And because Zonbu's operating system is Linux rather than Windows, it's not in the crosshairs of every malevolent malware writer on the Net, if for no other reason than Windows is far more popular. That saves you from having to buy, install and maintain any add-on security software like firewalls, anti-virus and spyware scanners and so on. (The Zonbu OS includes a built-in firewall that needs no tweaking because all the software is pre-installed.)

Zonbu's automatic backup feature worked without a hitch — as we began filling the notebooks hard drive with our own data files, they were invariably uploaded up to the online storage account without any input from us (there was more than enough online capacity to accommodate the Zonbook's 60 GB hard disk).

You can get remote access to your backed-up files by logging into your Zonbu account from any Web browser, and there's no plugin to install first. Similarly, if you'd like to make some of your files available to other people, you drop them into the Public folder on your desktop and they'll be available via a personal public page hosted off my.zonbu.com (files published this way are available to all comers. However, you can't provide specific individuals access to particular files.

The Bottom Line
So how does Zonbu compare to a conventional Windows-based notebook? An entry-level Windows notebook with specifications similar to the Zonbook can be had for about $600 these days. (We won't assign an additional cost to software since there's tons of free software available in virtually every category, and many of the Zonbu applications — like Firefox and OpenOffice — are available for Windows as well.)

By contrast, the $279 Zonbook will have cost about $640 after two years worth of subscription payments, so in the long run the cash out of pocket is pretty much a wash. But while the Zonbook won't necessarily save you big money, it can save you something almost as valuable — time and aggravation — by eliminating the need for to find, install, configure and update all kinds of software on your own. It's this convenience, combined with the data backup and remote access (that you'd likely have to pay for separately in the Windows world) that will make the Zonbook an attractive option for some people.

While Zonbu's approach will not satisfy anyone who likes the capability to tinker with their computer or needs unfettered access to the widest possible range of software and peripherals, for anyone looking for a reasonably priced, competent and low-hassle notebook computer Zonbu deserves a close look.

Price: $279 (with two-year service subscription at $14.95 a month)

Pros: easy to use Linux OS with all software applications pre-installed and configured; automatic updates, data backup, and remote access included in monthly subscription

Cons: limited support for peripheral devices and/or your own software; no cheaper than an entry-level Windows notebook after factoring in two years of subscription costs.

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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This article was originally published on February 22, 2008
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