“First, we kill all the marketers.”
Was that cheap as it was made in 2015 and set up with Lubuntu 14. The current *buntu is 19, with the last Long Term Support version being 18.04.
Connected by HDMI to a TV (the HDMI monitors all being in use, the TV being rather idle) it came up and I tried to do the right thing – run an update. That was a flop as the update broke networking which was wireless only. Broadcom strikes again.
I took advantage of the restore partition and rolled things back. That got me wireless again. And more frustration as the thing kept tossing up dialog boxes about problems – but never any specifics. And 14 is so old that reporting the issue will no longer do anyone any good, so the dialog was doubly worthless. The high point was finding an old USB wireless dongle that let me bypass Broadcom’s idiocy.
I found a respin script that supposedly would make a regular *buntu ISO into something suited to the Intel Atom processor and company. I tried it, and got nowhere. I could see it run, but couldn’t install it – the option simply did not exist. Direct install failed, claiming it needed to work with a *buntu system… gee, Lubuntu 14 wasn’t one?
Then I gave in and tried to install DisplayLink (on Lubuntu 14.04) to use the Superbook and it sort of worked. I could get the Superbook to work, as long as I booted and logged in with the HDMI TV active. This rather misses the point of things, so I spent much of a night trying to be able to boot with the USB-connected display. Nothing. Most of the fixes managed to make things worse. And I still had all those annoying error dialogs.
Somehow in all that I chanced upon an already respun version of Lubuntu 18.04. I had nothing to lose, really and tried it. It worked. It came up. It installed. It even got the execrable Broadcom wireless to work (though Bluetooth was a bust). Now I have something that is current and will remain current for a while. It doesn’t throw error dialogs at me (alright, there is one, but only one, on login. Annoying but tolerable). DisplayLink installed… but.
But now I was back to the old issue of needing the HDMI monitor to log in. I did find an older USB Bluetooth dongle that seems to work, so there’s that progress as well. After spending much a morning trying various work-arounds to get things booting with DisplayLink showing up before login and getting nowhere, and breaking things, oh joy (the Superbook trackpad worked, then didn’t. And that’s the minor one. One “fix” screwed things up so bad I had to dance my way into a recovery mode to undo it.) I gave up. Almost.
Then I had that peculiar thought. Someone, replying to a person also trying to get a DisplayLink display to work on boot (or at least OS start…) rather than demand HDMI for login, was “helpful” and said, roughly, “Well then leave the HDMI monitor connected” which misses the whole point of this. The point, for me, is to be able to use the Superbook without need of the HDMI monitor. That thought? “Can an HDMI monitor be faked?” And it turns out the answer is yes. There are HDMI terminators, used to convince “headless” (no monitor) systems to use a resolution that isn’t the lowest setting. This is done to make remote viewing/control tolerable.
While I was waiting for the delivery, I decided that I didn’t have anything I had to preserve on the system and the easiet way to fix all the screwiness of the attempt fixes was to simply start over. Yup, a re-install of the 18.04 respin. This actually occurred twice. I goofed and went a bit too ambitious with cruddy results. So I dialed things back to as minimal as seemed reasonably sane, and has more success. One change was that I went with “automatic login” from the start – and that works and gets to a useful screen without any password or button click or such needed. Not at all secure, but there it is. The thing still demands the HDMI display (TV) be connected or DisplayLink doesn’t start up. You bet I checked that.
And then the HDMI terminator arrived and I realized the hard way that I was missing a piece. The ComputeStick wanted to plug into an HDMI port. And so did the terminator. One adapter later… things still didn’t work, as I just replaced the TV with the terminator in a trivial swap. However, that omitted a setup step. One more boot with the TV, followed by the swap on the live system, and then a visit to the Monitor(s) settings. With things properly set up, the next reboot came up nicely on the Superbook. And to be sure, I did a full shutdown, and brought things up again – and things still worked.
Alright, it’s not a mere $40 anymore, since the terminator and adapter bring it closer to $50 in hardware, still, I have a(nother) small (trans)portable computer. Somehow I lost the trackpad function again, but since that seems more to be way to screw up typing and I prefer a trackball, that’s not a real loss. It is a bit of an annoyance since I know the hardware does indeed work.
Not much of a ‘puter, but for the price…
There is still much annoyance over the Superbook’s lack of deliveries, as can be seen in the Kickstarter Updates comments for them. Someone pointed out NexDock. which appears to be getting some things more right. For one, they are working on a version 2 and the version 1 shipped.
While I am not backing/ordering the NexDock, I think they get closer to right. It’s charged via USB-C (one less connector style and unique charger), has HDMI-imput (easier for video-only display), Micro SDXC reader, speakers and mic. And the keyboard appears to be a true backlit thing or at least a much better done ‘around the keys’ lighting setup. The downside (which probably is really an upside – eventually) is that rather than have an Android application provide a window-ish overlay, it counts on the phones to support “desktop mode” and so far that’s some Samsung and Huawei. And as things are going, I do not expect to see Huawei around, at least in the USA. Hopefully as other makers go to ever-newer versions of Android and support ever better (one hopes) features, the Desktop Mode will become common. That would make things much closer to the ideal, at the very least.
So where does that leave me? My current Huawei gets charging wrong (the Honor 8 tries to charge the Superbook – and changing the setting doesn’t work as it flips back to doing it wrong almost immediately. Huawei says they aren’t going to issue a fix. I won’t miss Huawei. Whatever my next phone will be, it wouldn’t be another Huawei even if they weren’t suspect.) I have used the Superbook as an external keyboard & display for a laptop, but that’s rather silly in my particular case.
There are, however, a couple interesting possibilities. The thing is a battery, display, keyboard, and allegedly a trackpad (4-point). It’s almost a laptop – just add computer. And there are some ‘just a computer’ things that can be added.
One is the Raspberry Pi (the 3 B+ looks very interesting) which is fairly capable, for a $35 (closer to $60 when decked out as I think it needs) but while small and able to run a version of Debian linux, would be a bit bulky and still require external power. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s more something I’d use to just park the thing someplace and a have a small computer there.
The other is a “Compute Stick” (as Intel calls it. There are other makes) which looks a lot like a USB memory stick, but is CPU, RAM, storage, wifi, bluetooth, HDMI (so you can plug it into your TV or monitor), and USB ports. I’ve ordered a cheap one to see how it goes. For $40, I get an Intel Atom, 1 GB RAM, ports, and I can add a 128 GB micro SD card. Oh, and it runs a modified Ubuntu. And by good fortune, NewEgg recently had great deal on a 128 GB micro-SD card, which should arrive in a few days.
I plan to bring the Compute Stick up on a TV or spare monitor, with a USB keyboard plugged in and do setup. Then I’ll try it on the Superbook and if it thing become useful. Even if not, I can still use the Compute Stick on a monitor or TV. There are Bluetooth keyboards with trackpads that would make using a TV less goofy.
I suspect I will eventually also get the Raspberry Pi as it does seem a bit more capable and is quite expandable. And again, it can be a small computer somewhere with stuff lying around. Neither the Stick nor the Pi will be as capable as a proper laptop, but for light things either should be adequate.
For someone who started with an 8-bit machine with a whopping 256 Bytes (I did NOT omit a prefix) RAM, the idea of $40 adding a CPU & RAM & such to stuff “lying around” is still a bit weird. But it’s a wonderful version of weird that sure beats the Great Depression experience of my grandparents.