As mentioned previously, the Zonbook sports a trio of USB ports for connecting peripherals such as printers and webcams. But because this is Linux and not Windows, you're not free to use any device you want. Instead, your choices are limited to those with Zonbu driver support, and a limited library of hardware drivers is a notable weakness of many Linux distributions.
To simplify peripheral selection, Zonbu maintains a list of compatible devices in various categories on its Web site. While there's ample support for things like keyboards, mice, and USB storage devices and decent support for recent name-brand printers, there's no support as of yet for scanners and Bluetooth accessories.
As it turns out, our HP OfficeJet 7310 was on the compatibility list, and we got it working with the Zonbook with no difficulty. The catch: Although the 7310 is a multifunction printer/scanner/fax, it's only supported as a printer.
Zonbu provides a decent amount of value and convenience for your subscription fee. For starters, our unit was updated with a new version of the operating system within 24 hours of our first boot. And because the Zonbu OS is Linux rather than Windows, it's not in the crosshairs of every malware writer on the Internet. That saves you from having to buy, install, and maintain any add-on security software such as anti-virus and spyware scanners. The Zonbu OS includes a built-in firewall that needs no tweaking because it's preconfigured for all the software installed.
Zonbu's automatic backup feature worked without a hitch: As we began filling the notebook's hard drive with our own data files, they were uploaded to our free online storage account without any input from us. Since we weren't backing up operating-system and application files, the online capacity was more than enough to accommodate the Zonbook's 60GB hard drive.
You can get remote access to your backed-up files by logging into your Zonbu account from any Web browser, with no need to install a plug-in first. Similarly, if you'd like to make some of your files available to colleagues, drop them into the Public folder on your desktop and they'll be available via a personal page hosted on my.zonbu.com. Files published in this way are available to all comers, however -- you can't give specific individuals access to specific files.
So how does the Zonbook compare to a conventional Windows portable? An entry-level Windows notebook with specifications similar to the Zonbook's can be had for about $600 these days. (We'll skip assigning an additional cost to software, since PCs usually carry at least a few bundled applications and there's tons of free software in virtually every category, including Zonbu applications such as Firefox and OpenOffice.org.)
By contrast, the $279 Zonbook will have cost about $640 after two years of subscription payments, so the cash out of pocket is pretty much a wash. But while the Zonbook won't save you big money, it can save you something almost as valuable -- time and aggravation, by eliminating the need to find, install, configure, and update all kinds of software on your own. It's this convenience, combined with the data backup and remote access, that should make the Zonbook an attractive option for some users.
While the Zonbu approach will not satisfy anyone who likes to tinker with his or her PC or needs unfettered access to the widest possible range of software and peripherals, anyone looking for a reasonably priced, competent, and low-hassle laptop should give the Zonbook a look.
Adapted from HardwareCentral.