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Saturday, May 20, 2017

System76 Galago Pro Review

I have owned a System76 Kudu since Fall of 2016 (which I reviewed here) and it has helped me be much more productive. However, I bought that as a desktop replacement laptop which it excels at, and I needed to buy something more mobile. Thankfully, I pre-ordered the System76 Galago Pro not long after it was announced, and I finally received it a week ago.

Although I have been ridiculously busy wrapping up my second book Learning RxJava, some folks asked if I could write a review. So here it goes:

The Galago Pro is thin, light, sturdy, and beautiful.


Design
  


The System76 Galago Pro has a discrete and ergonomic profile, and is only .56" in height. It is light and thin, and perfect for mobile use even if you have to walk and type with one hand. The aluminum casing is a nice touch and helps it feel sturdy.

Aluminum casing helps this laptop feels sturdy, and it looks cool

The keyboard has great response. The resistance on the keys feels just right. The placement and spacing between them does not feel cramped and it feels even better than my 17" System76 Kudu, so typing is pretty fluid. The trackpad is smooth and recognizes gestures without issue as well.

The keyboard is not cramped and its design feels optimized.


Hardware

I did not upgrade a lot of the hardware when I bought my Galago Pro. I kept it pretty modest as shown below. As a developer working on open-source projects and writing books, this configuration is plenty.

Ubuntu 17.04 (64-bit)    
1× 13.3" Anti-glare 3K HiDPI Display    
Intel® HD Graphics 620    
3.1 GHz i5-7200U (2.5 up to 3.1 GHz – 3MB Cache – 2 Cores – 4 Threads)    
4 GB DDR4 at 2133MHz (1× 4 GB)    
250 GB M.2 SSD     $59.00
No 2nd Drive    
United States Keyboard    
WiFi up to 433 Mbps + Bluetooth    

Although it does not affect me, it is too bad international layouts are not available for the keyboard. I know a few folks in Europe who would like to order a System76 but are not satisfied using stickers on their keyboard. I understand System76 is working on this though.

Finishing the final chapter of Learning RxJava on my Galago Pro.

I upgraded to a 250 GB hard drive, but went with the default M.2 SSD instead of the much more expensive PCIe. For my purposes, I found this to boot quickly and perform fast enough. I do not do a lot of video or picture editing where an ultra-fast hard drive can make a difference.

I wish the battery was more ambitious than 4-5 hours. You could probably squeeze more out of it by using airplane mode and lowering screen brightness. But I've found doing word processing with Internet gives me about 4-5 hours. If I'm using an intensive IDE like Intellij IDEA and writing Kotlin code (with Internet), it gravitates towards 3-4. I understand this is about the same performance as the current MacBook Pro, so this is not bad. But it would be awesome to see the boundaries of battery life pushed farther with an ambitious machine like this.

Of course, the big selling point with the Galago Pro is the ports. It has plenty of them!

Lock, Ethernet, SD/MMC, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, USB, USB-C (w/ Thunderbolt 3)


Power, SIM, USB, microphone, and headphone

Unlike the recent MacBook, you will likely not need any dongles here. It is impressive how many ports have been packed into such a thin device. What I found most intriguing is how System76 fit the Ethernet jack, which has a door that flips down to hold the Ethernet cable as shown below:


The Ethernet port has a clever collapsing door

I am glad System76 was not quick to slash the Ethernet port but rather found an innovative way to include it into the design of the laptop. While I would not deliberately test this, the door feels pretty sturdy against my everyday abuse of pulling a cable in-and-out. It is also level with the table top when a cable is inserted.

Having an Ethernet port is especially life-saving when you encounter WiFi driver issues, and you need to connect to the Internet to get them.

Setup

System76 ships its computers with Ubuntu, but I prefer to use the Linux Mint distro. While Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, I find Linux Mint to provide a much more fluid experience and "just works" when it comes to usability (although it is promising what System76 is doing with the GTK "Pop" theme). Normally, putting your own Linux distro on a System76 machine is a problem-free experience. Just make sure to install the System76 drivers.




The Galago Pro worked smoothly with the default Ubuntu installation. However, I ran into a driver problem when I installed Linux Mint 18.1 (the latest version at the time of writing). It has an older Linux Kernel version that does not include drivers for the Galago Pro's new hardware, including the Intel wireless chip. This meant I had no wireless Internet to solve the problem, and thankfully the Ethernet port came in to save the day. I updated the Linux Kernel and then everything worked.
 
System76's customer service is always stellar, and unlike many companies are helpful towards tinkerers and hackers. I did send a message to them and suggested their System76 driver should check the Linux kernel version, and they were immediately responsive and forwarded that to their engineering team. They apologized that I had any difficulties in the first place, as they strive to have everything work even if you use a different Linux distro.

Summary

The System76 Galago Pro is a beautiful machine that feels highly productive for a 13" ultrabook. The keyboard and trackpad feel phenomenal, and the HDPI screen is beautiful. But what really stands out are the many physical ports to get plugged in, including a clever Ethernet port for those of us that like to be wired.

The only place I wish the Galago Pro pushed the boundaries a bit more is battery life. I get about 4-5 hours with moderate screen brightness and doing everyday work. However, this sounds to be on par with the current Macbook Pro, so it is unfair to cite this as a downside. But in a perfect world, 8 hours would be nice.

If you are looking for a high-quality, mobile alternative to Macbook, Surface, or other mobile productivity devices, the Galago Pro is great. It truly excels at the intersect between mobility and not cutting corners, and it just looks and feels cool.




5 comments:

  1. Official website has no mention about SIM-slot/WWAN card. Could you please post the model of WWAN supplied in laptop? Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Here is the hardware list. The port is labeled as SIM but I've never messed with WWAN hardware before.

      https://gist.github.com/thomasnield/df8ca246a0aad90e37b42c071a34ce50

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    2. It has no WWAN hardware. The slot is just cosmetic.

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    3. This is strange, so I just sent a Tweet to System76. Let's see what they say. https://twitter.com/thomasnield9727/status/868112388675031040

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  2. how is the fan noise? Does the fan tend to go up randomly with your galago pro. Raised it with support a month ago and they said they will release a firmware patch. Unfortunately I'm running into issues with my Galago pro. Fan randomly go high, laptops freezes at several times. System76 is sending me a replacement soon.

    ReplyDelete