Review: Tadpole Talin 15″ NotebookAs a follow-up to my Tadpole SPARCLE review in November, Tadpole sent me one of their Talin x86-based notebooks running Sun’s Java Desktop operating system to review and use for the past three months.
The review unit specifications:
The system arrived with the Java Desktop (version 1) and StarOffice 7 productivity software installed. Installation media is provided, and I reinstalled the system as part of the review process.
Contents of the shipping package:
My first observation was that the Talin 15 looked identical to the SPARCLE. It appears that Tadpole uses the same base laptop enclosure and form factor for both machines, and that only the system board is different between the two. So, some of my previous comments about the SPARCLE are still applicable for the Talin:
Out of the box, the Talin feels solid and well-built. There are no “creaky” or mis-fitting plastic parts, the screen hinge opens smoothly, and the screen latch “clicks” shut when you close the screen. Lifting the top of the system does not feel like it is bending the LCD screen – the frame around the LCD is solid. The system itself is “Sun Purple” with silver highlights, just like the SPARCLE.
The Talin boots faster than any other x86 (desktop or laptop) that I’ve ever seen, even with the large amount of installed RAM in this review unit. On initial power-up, a BIOS screen is shown – and in less than ten seconds total, the Java Desktop boot loader (in this picture, an installation boot) is ready.
The Java Desktop boot logo strongly resembles the Solaris boot screen, with “Welcome” in different languages.
The Java Desktop install process is a rebadged SuSE Linux YaST2. It gives plenty of information for people who are used to such installs, but I feel that the “visual clutter” could be simplified a bit if the JDS is to be aimed at replacing Windows desktops for enterprise customers. The install process seemed rather slow, but I blame that on the 24X-read combination DVD and CD-RW drive. A faster drive would speed things up quite a bit.
Java Desktop System (version 1) comes with the GNOME 2.2 environment, StarOffice 7, Ximian Evolution 1.4, and Mozilla 1.4. I immediately deinstalled the older version of Mozilla and downloaded the latest Mozilla and Firefox binaries for Linux. Both worked without a problem, and were considerably faster than the included version.
Tadpole’s “Getting Started Guide” is a two-sheet guide to registering the installed JDS software, installing available updates, configuring wireless networking, installing the Linux drivers for the 56K internal software- based modem, and burning CD-ROM discs using the Gnome file manager.
If a reinstall of JDS is required, the Vendor Update CD contains the drivers for the Tadpole LCD, the Conexant software modem, infrared port, and ACPI power management. Source code for these drivers is included on the CD per the GNU GPL.
I had no problems connecting the Talin to my wired 100BaseT network; either to a Linksys/Cisco SD208 switch or to a generic 5-port GigaFast desktop switch. DHCP worked flawlessly, and there were no autonegotiation or packet loss problems. File transfers and general network access performend at expected speeds for a 100BaseT network. I did not have an access point available to test 802.11b connectivity.
Connecting an external VGA monitor, keyboard, and mouse (I tested both PS/2 and USB keyboards and mice) worked without a problem. “Hot Plugging” is not well supported, and changing to a different input device usually required a reboot.
The keyboard and trackpad on the Talin (as on the SPARCLE) are well-designed and laid out, with decent sized keys. CONTROL on the Talin, however, is at the bottom left of the keyboard (under SHIFT) as is typical on most PC/x86 systems. (on the Talin, CONTROL is next to the A). The cursor keys are an inverted-T, and the backspace key is large. My only complaint with the keyboard (again, as with the SPARCLE) is that the escape key (at top left) is small and is the same size as the function keys – users of the VI editor will find this to be an annoyance.
Trackpad response was smooth and non-jerky, and all three trackpad buttons had both audible and tactile feedback, with a good satisfying positive click when pressed.Ongoing Use
The Talin is the fastest computer on my desk right now. It’s amazing that Tadpole can pack a 3Ghz processor and so many features into a laptop an inch and a half tall. This machine would be perfectly at home on a desktop as a primary computer in addition to being a great portable system as well.
One of the nicest features of the Talin is the bright, high-contrast liquid crystal display. This review unit had the 15″ screen, running at 1400×1050. The display was bright, with good contrast and viewing angle. I could not find any “dead” or “stuck” pixels in daily use, or when looking at an all-white or all-black display.
I was able to play DVD video discs (as well as VCDs and SVCDs) after installing the appropriate plugins and packages for both the GNOME “Totem” media player or using VideoLAN Client. Installation of these packages, is not for the faint of heart as there are a lot of prerequisites required that are not included in the base JDS distribution or installation.
The combination DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive performed just fine. I was able to burn data discs using the Gnome utilities and the cdrecord tools, and read the discs on other systems around the office.
StarOffice 7 was able to read and write files produced by Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.Compatibility
The Talin notebook will also run Solaris 9 for x86 platforms, Red Hat Linux, and presumably Windows XP, but only the Java Desktop System is officially supported by Tadpole. Software packages for the Java Desktop System are provided in RPM format, so RPM packages for SuSE should work without a problem (Sun’s Java Desktop is currently based on a cut-down SuSE Linux distribution, but that may change to Solaris x86 in future releases).Power Consumption
I was able to run for over an hour (advertised time is 1.5 hours) on a single battery charge. A longer running time could probably be achieved by tweaking some of the power-saving features available in Linux. After this review was completed, Tadpole said that I may have had a defective battery, as their runtimes are 1:35 to 1:40 on a single charge.
Unlike the SPARCLE, I couldn’t find any integrated battery monitoring tools beyond what was included with the base Java Desktop System. The fans in the Talin are much quieter than those in the SPARCLE. Vents in the back of the system seem to provide plenty of airflow without the fans going into “high speed” mode. According to Tadpole, the currently-shipping software includes a Battery Charge Monitor.
The Talin does put out a decent amount of heat. Not too much, but I wouldn’t put any meltable foods (candy, etc) behind it on a desk.
I liked the Talin. It has a large, bright LCD display with good contrast and visibility. Processor speed and memory are more than plenty to handle anything I could throw at it, and battery life is acceptable for a system this fast. Network performance is acceptable, and the keyboard and trackpad are pleasant to use (something I won’t say about many laptop systems these days).
As with the SPARCLE, the user manuals are in PDF format on CD-R discs with printed labels. This could cause a problem for non-computer-savvy users if the system arrived unbootable needing the OS reinstalled, as you’d have to find another system to read the PDF files with. I would suggest a bit longer “Getting Started Guide” that at least covers how to reinstall the operating system by booting off of the first JDS CD.
According to Tadpole, they will start shipping the Java Desktop System release 2 later this month (July 2004).