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26 April 2018

Galago Pro: first impressions

by Kevin Thornton

System76 Galago Pro

These are my thoughts on the System 76 Galago Pro, which is best described as their “MacBook Air”. It is a 13” high-DPI display in a machine weighing about 3lbs.

Background

I last used a Linux laptop in 2000 or thereabouts. Since then, I’ve had a series of Apple laptops, including several MacBook Pros. I currently have a 15” 2015 MB Pro. It is an excellent machine, and the best Apple laptop I’ve owned. It is also incredibly expensive, with my config pushing $3,000US.

My day to day work is mostly writing code, writing documents, or writing emails. The main tools I use are:

That list hides a lot. My typical day involves a lot of gcc and/or clang, and probably some LaTeX.

One problem with using Chrome for email and reference management is that it is CPU-hungry, which means power-hungry.

I’ve had growing frustrations with OS X and Apple over the years. Briefly:

With MS office available “free” now at my institution, and runnable from the cloud, the only application that I think I’ll miss is Keynote.

TL;DR

For the impatient: this is a fantastic machine. Great configurations available at a big range of price points. Small, portable. Linux has evolved a huge amount since the early 2000s, and Pop OS feels very well thought out. I cannot wait to get my Ubuntu desktop set up this summer.

The deal-breaker for some would be the sub-par battery life.

The machine

The machine comes out to about $2,000US. This is more hardware than a MB Pro for much less. If you don’t get the fancy hard drives, you can get the same storage for something in the $1,300-1,400US range. Same RAM, too, btw.

The screen

I’m sensitive to eye strain. After several days of use, this screen is good for me. I’m using solarized dark for the Gnome terminal, and 256-color solarized light for my neovim theme. Usually, I’d prefer the light theme for the terminal, but for some reason the dark is working better for me.

I may eventually change the default white point to be a bit more yellow. We’ll see.

There is a “night mode” (think f.lux or OS X’s built-in Night Shift). It works quite nicely.

The biggest difference from Apple is in the fonts. Apple has beautiful fonts. Linux has good fonts. That matters a lot to some people.

The keyboard

Slightly “squishy”, but not bad at all. The only oddity is that it is “PC-like”, meaning that there’s Function key where left Ctrl “should be”. I’m about 90% used to it. The main key area is about the same size as on the MB pro.

I remapped CapsLock to Esc, of course.

I’m not in the best position to judge right now, as RSI is flaring up. I wish I could have a split mechanical keyboard on all machines at all times.

The track pad

It is fine. Two button with limited gesture support. I’ve tried using touchegg to enable more gestures, but to no avail. Either I’m doing something wrong or what I’m trying cannot be done. Touch pad gestures is an area where Apple is an industry leader.

The battery

This is the weak point for Linux laptops. I’m guessing it’ll be five hours on a light day. When compiling a lot, it’ll be less. Also, when writing C/C++/Python code, I have the YouCompleteMe plugin running, which runs an LLVM-based code completion engine in the background. Yes, that is as awesome as it sounds, but it definitely uses CPU in the background.

The charger is smaller and lighter than most Apple chargers. It works as advertised.

Perhaps oddly, tlp is not installed by default. The support page notes this, and discusses battery life in some detail.

The short battery life will bug a lot of folks. I’ll see how I feel in a year. I’m too tall to use a laptop on a plane, etc., and so I’m rarely far from a plug.

Pop OS

There are lots of reviews online. They generally like it. I like it. I cannot really compare it to stock Gnome or the Ubuntu desktop, but Pop is well put together. Most settings are easy to find. The packages are nice and current. GCC7 is the default compiler, and it found some bugs for me instantly. Their support page has a lot of nice hints.

Some wacky things

Google Drive integration

Google, in truly lame fashion, do not have a syncing app like they do for other platforms. One can use Nautilus to browse your Google Drive. That’s fine, but I like to be able to do terminal stuff for some of what’s on my Drive. On my servers, I use the Golang drive command-line app, and I imagine I’ll be using it a lot on this laptop, too.

Digital photography

I use darktable and gimp for digital photography. I have a Sony APS-C DSLR and a full-frame mirrorless. I was able to import directly from the mirrorless camera, set to “Auto” mode for USB connectivity, using Darktable. This is something I am unable to do on OS X, where I have to set the camera to “mass storage” and import with OS X’s Image Capture application. Of course, Lightroom works just fine on OS X for importing, but I’m not a fan of that software.

Libre Office

I have not played with this yet. I really like Keynote on OS X. I typically really dislike making slides using LaTeX/Beamer. (Google Images searches for “Beamer slides” make me sad.) I’ll definitely give Libre a shot, but I expect to need to have an Apple around to prep slides for teaching as well as get better at Beamer.

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