Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

The $279 Zonbu Notebook is the latest offering from the Open Source computer company—following up on the $99 Zonbu Desktop released earlier this year. The software is the same OS seen on the desktop, updated with a few new features such as real time data syncing. But the question remains: Does Zonbu find the sweet spot between solid performance and an entry level price?

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

Hands On: Zonbu's Data Syncing Linux NotebookS

What distinguishes the Zonbu from other operating systems is the Zonbu Plan, which offers automatic software upgrades and synchronized online storage for a monthly fee. It is also what allows the laptop to sell for $279, provided you subscribe for two years. With the $15/mo plan the hard drive links up with the Amazon S3 server and provides backup and additional storage that can be accessed from anywhere. Without the Zonbu Plan, the laptop will cost $479.

The other neat feature of the Zonbu OS, is its potential to integrate with anything. One example is the public folder, which makes any file in the folder remotely accessible and and usable by any script written for Zonbu. We were able to drag and drop images into the public folder and have them appear on our Facebook page, via a Zonbu Facebook App.

On the hardware side, Zonbu went with an Everex laptop, the same manufacturers who offer the $200 Wal-Mart PC. It features a 1.5 GHz VIA processor, 512 MB of RAM, 60 GB HDD and a 15.4-inch widescreen LCD. Their goal is not to create a powerhouse, but to offer a low-cost Windows alternative. The laptop also has a CD-RW/DVD combo drive, 802.11 b/g, 3 USB ports, headphone/microphone jacks and VGA out. The Zonbu Desktop, in comparison, went with a 1.2 GHz processor, and used 4GB flash memory backed by Amazon's S3 server as its primary method of storage.

As we've mentioned in the past, the Zonbu GUI is generally quick and responsive, with programs like Open Office and Banshee music player proving more than adequate. But the OS lacks the polish and power of Vista or OS X. As an example, dragging an image from the browser to the desktop is not possible; sites such as YouTube can also glitch out a little. However, these aren't dealbreakers, but examples to show the difference between the top dogs and new competitors.