The Reform Laptop Daily Driver Poll

I was surprised at how capable the Reform Laptop ended up being. I love the thing and find myself looking for excuses to use it. But I’m curious if the Reform has found others here in with same kind of thoughts. So what better way to ask than here in the MNT forum via a poll? Right!?

  • I use the Reform as my daily machine
  • I plan to use the Reform as my daily but have not yet done so
  • Never planned to use it as a daily but believe it could be used thusly
  • Never planned to use it as a daily machine

0 voters

If you think another option should be listed let me know. Otherwise if you vote, please feel free to expound on your position below. Thanks!

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I would definitely use it as daily driver, but the lack of video hardware acceleration in browsers breaks my experience :frowning:

bought it with the intention of it being my primary machine. i use a unihertz titan for multimedia.

The reform is fast enough for most of my usage and I originally intended for it to replace an x230 with its poor screen as my daily driver.

At first the uncommon keyboard layout made me delay using the reform as a daily driver. (I got used to it later.) Then I hit the battery discharging issue. Due to a mistake on my side this lead to me frying a resistor. The replacement was out of stock, so repairs were delayed and I would only use the reform without batteries inserted.

I also hit by missing wifi drivers in the shipped kernel¹, which made me want to try a different kernel which in turn made me want to enable video output from U-Boot. I got pretty far and learned a lot, but never found the time and motivation to understand how the full display stack works to get actual output working. At this point the reform was delegated to tinkering until mainline kernel support.

¹ Which is/was annoying for an otherwise hacker friendly device. The reform is expensive, so I wanted to use a spare wifi card I had lying around to get things started. Why not build kernel modules and ship them with the image?

I eventually got an ath9k compatible wifi card, a replacement resistor and was also happy about the firmware changes to fight battery drain. I booted the device regularly, checked battery levels and used it a bit which lead me to trust that the battery drain issue was now inconsequential. Then I was away from the device for a few weeks and came back to some dead batteries. :frowning: These cells were possibly pre-damaged from the first time they discharged too much.

So now I’ll reconsider the device after I got new batteries and there’s either over-discharge protection or an external switch to make disconnecting batteries from the system convenient. I saw recent work on U-Boot and I believe 5.17 works now without patches, so it might also be time to look for an NVMe device. :slight_smile:

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I currently use the reform as my only labtop. To replace my aging t530. Currently I’m impatiently waiting for a RISC-V processor when they eventually come out for us users. I still use my t530 for scanning in film however, which will remain its duty until it follows a death eyes wide open.

ATM I had been recently considering making some custom hardware to allow Li-Ion as I desire higher energy densities for my use cases but have decided against it and instead have decided to make a battery bank instead for when I need the extended lifespan away from an outlet. I do enjoy lukas’s desire to eschew the horrid labor of current mining practices and have made the decision to continue this for that project.

I am currently taking the time to machine some new IO panels out of aluminum as I broke them during me monkey-fingering the laptop with the bottom open and shattering the acrylic IO shields. As this labtop will experience fairly harsh conditions over its hopefully 10+ year lifetime (low tempratures, high tempratures and plenty of time on bike & motorcycle saddlebags)

After the IO shields are done I will finish the new trackball seating with the ball bearings. Though I’m hoping that MNT will come out with an official replacement. As I would rather support them with that purchase despite my desire to make it as smooth as an arkanoid arcade machine. This machine is so sweet that none of us can let it’s official production die on the vine. Oh and a ortholinear keyboard.

After my babbling I can truly say that I intend to make this platform my permanent labtop. As long as I can make it last, 10+ years at least.

6 Likes

I was never going to use the Reform as my daily driver, as my daily driver is a desktop - but I did purchase it with the hopes it would become my go-to for field use, at least where I wouldn’t be forced to use an ultra-portable.

There are a few things that have prevented that, starting with PEBKAC:

  • I struggle to get used to the keyboard, something only time would resolve.
  • Sway drives me nuts, GNOME is too slow, and I love Window Maker but haven’t found the time to get it configured to the point where it has everything I need (like a Dockapp for managing the Wi-Fi).

Other problems are software-based:

  • No integration of battery status into the OS, meaning if I’m not careful it’ll hard-power-off and I’ll lose whatever I’m working on.
  • Hardware video acceleration worked out-the-box, but broke during an update - and I never found time to fix it.
  • Firefox - my browser of choice - is slow, and sites with video really struggle. YouTube in particular is unusable full-screen.
  • Unreliable updates: frequently, an apt update will result in something somewhere breaking - the video acceleration, the network status widget, at one point Sway’s status bar just upped and vanished.

I see that there was a new image released last week: as I’ve been faffing around with mine since first receiving it, I’m going to stick it on a new SD card as a fresh install and see how I get on!

The other problems, sadly, are hardware-based and as a result less likely to be fixed:

  • The trackball (original design - I haven’t had the chance to try one with the steel bearing mod) is unpleasant to use, and while my 3D-printed buttons haven’t yet broken I’m concerned that with extended use the stems will snap - having seen exactly that happen to others, in some cases necessitating the desoldering and replacement of the underlying switch.
  • No lid-close sensor, so no way to quickly suspend and resume - assuming suspend-and-resume is now reliable, I haven’t tried it since the early days.
  • A fragile screen: with no padding between the display half and the main body, the screen seems very easy to damage. Mine is already exhibiting the gloss mark from where the trackball appears to rub and has a visible bruise to the right-hand side. This despite the fact I have literally never carried it further than the living room - it’s never left the house. I can only imagine how much worse it would get if I were to actually take it out into the field.
  • Poor battery life. This is, to be fair, exactly what I was expecting - my tests were within about quarter of an hour of the official specs - but does mean I couldn’t take the thing out and expect a full working day without carrying the charger.
  • Brittle IO shields, as mentioned above. I broke one pretty much immediately during assembly, and though Lukas was kind enough to send out replacements it’s left me concerned that it’ll happen again.
  • Minor, this one, but annoying anyway: I got the shiny vegan-leather case, and one of the zip-pulls immediately snapped. I think Lukas was looking at how to resolve that issue a while back, but I think it got pushed down the priority pile due to more pressing issues!

For now, I’m sticking with the desktop as my daily-driver and a very-much-not-open-source six-year-old Dell XPS 13 as my field gadget: faster, more robust, considerably smaller and lighter, and with a solid 12-hour battery life under light usage conditions.

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Thank you for all this detailed feedback, it is very valuable for us to plan and prioritize improvements.

Software:

@ghalfacree do you have a suggestion for a desktop environment you would like to see on Reform? XFCE perhaps, or Wayfire? What do you usually run on a Linux system?

With the System Image V3 (beta release out now), we are adressing the apt upgrade-ability issues. We are not putting anything in /usr/local anymore and using stock mesa libraries etc. from Debian. We have a Debian developer (josch) as a contributor who has contributed a lot of work cleaning these things up in the last weeks. Firefox is in my experience usable full screen with some settings tweaks (forcing layer acceleration, for example). The Chromium 97 shipping with the latest Debian is still quite a bit faster though.

Hardware:

What are the main problems with the keyboard layout? Alternative stagger, function key placement, split space bar? Would a “trad” keyboard help that addresses these 3 things? (We would need to create some custom keycaps for that though, as there is no spacebar or 1.75U cap we could buy, AFAIK).

I have just ordered the first 100 pairs of black powder coated steel side panels that will be available in March as a cheap upgrade and if they work well we’ll also include these in every future production unit.

We’ll also offer the replacement trackball cup and replacement buttons for people who don’t have them yet.

We have also addressed the “Zippergate” on the sleeves in the current production by switching to a zipper with full metal handles.

The “fragile screen” complaint is something that we should investigate more closely as it is not happening everywhere. There are no bruises on my personal unit that I use almost every day and carry back and forth between home and office all the time, for example.

3 Likes

one of the zipper pulls on my vegan leather case also snapped off during the first week.

Yep, it happened to a bunch of people including me. I got quite angry at the company making these zippers TBH. But we can’t replace these without redoing the whole case :frowning: (Edit: I mean, on existing units, new ones have a different zipper)

What I personally did was just remove the rest of the plastic from the handle. A metal piece remains, it also has a hole, through which a strip of leather could be mounted, for example, or another handle piece.

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On both the desktop and my XPS I’m using Ubuntu with Canonical’s hacked-about GNOME Shell. On lighter hardware, I tend to use LXDE or Xfce - they’re similar enough to classic GNOME 2 that it doesn’t break my brain, and faster than GNOME 3.

The split spacebar took a little getting used to, especially as I have a bad habit of using my index finger to hit a normal space bar right in the middle - which, obviously, ain’t going to work on the Reform!

Ignoring that, though, it’s a combination of the very aggressive rake and the depth of travel. I think the latter might be improved with a clicky tactile keyswitch, which would give me some “that worked, you can stop pressing now” feedback earlier than the current switches - but I don’t feel strongly enough about the possibility to drop a couple of hundred on a new keyboard nor to desolder and replace all the switches in my current one.

Is there an easy way to upgrade to the new zippers? I find I’m not using the case with mine, as the one that broke is hard to pull and the one that’s still intact will itself break if I pull it too hard!

Odd. I can’t swear the bruise wasn’t present from the factory, as it’s only obviously visible on a white background and most of what I was doing with the thing in the early days was on a dark background. I’m pretty confident I didn’t do anything wrong, though - and as I said in another thread, I’ve laptops here which are a decade or more old and have travelled all over the world with me without a single bit of screen damage.

The other improvements sound great - particularly the steel side panels! Perhaps, going back to a conversation we had on the topic a while back, you could do a version with a hole pre-cut for an SMA connector so people could easily fit an external Wi-Fi antenna?

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That would be really cool.

Regarding battery life, I particularly enjoy the transparent power delivery situation of the Reform. I’ve learned a lot about batteries and charging, in general, as a result.

My experience is that I can run about 2 and half hours of work out of a 9 hour work day, including about another hour for travel time. I do not bring a charger, and this has been working for me. During this time I have 5 workspaces open, with 2 browsers totaling 18 tabs, dino, signal, evolution, ms code, lollypop, and terminal open. And then on the 6th workspace I am playing Wolfenstein 3d or Doom. I mention this because I wouldn’t say that I’m babying the cpu at all. I average about .250A while using it. When suspended it is at .115A.

Now when I first ordered the Reform I was VERY skeptical of a lot of things. I didn’t think I would be taken with it. But I’m a sucker for the design, and I’m continually surprised at how useful the CPU is proving to be.

5 Likes

For me personally Raspberry Pi 4 module would be game changer. Or maybe sometime Firefox and Chrome will support HW video decoding using Hantro decoders.

I agree that the stagger on the keys right now is the main source of annoyance for me. My personal preference would to remove the stagger altogether, but I admit this probably would be a hard sell for most people; using a conventional stagger would still be a big improvement. (This would mean either introducing a few 1.25U keycaps or just leaving a gap around the edges.)

I would definitely have sprung for a clicky switch option, or even if I could have bought one with no switches at all and sourced/installed them independently I would have gone for that.

If my suspend and resume situation was 99% I would easily make this a daily. As it is, I’m getting about 3-10 resumes before it hangs and I have to circle 0 it.

But the Reform is really built like a tank. You just can’t go ramming things into the port covers. But I mean honestly, why would you? Those ports are soldered directly to the mainboard. Being rough with them is just going to break them off, etc.

Anyway, we all use our devices differently. My mileage is that the Reform really is built to last. That is part of the appeal to me.

1 Like

I’ve been using my Reform as my main machine since around july 2021. I’m very happy with it so far.

Battery life has never been an issue. I never take the charger with me, it stays by my desk at home, but I bought a USB-C PD to barrel adapter and I’m looking at options for a small 60W adapter that I could leave in my bag for all my devices.
I’ve been thinking about making a little add-on board that would replace the barrel jack with a USB-C port + PD chip, that way people can upgrade without changing the whole motherboard.

I broke one of the stems of the trackball keycaps by not being super careful one time when I needed to clean the cup, but a dab of superglue fixed it.

I don’t notice any bruise on the screen except for some scratches probably done by me when cleaning it, but nothing is noticable when it’s on. The only thing I can sometimes notice is a small white smuge on the bottom, as if backlight was stronger there.

Wifi range is a bit annoying sometimes, but I can always share the network from my phone when it happens.

Keyboard is great, but I still prefer the one I designed and built (using the same kind of switches!), I’ll build a new one for the Reform but components shortage has delayed that.

SSD died after 20 hours of use, but I had a spare.

Software wise, I was already used to dwm and i3 so Sway feels right at home. I switched from Firefox to Qutebrowser, it’s a bit faster. I use an Invidious instance instead of Youtube and watch videos at 720p until I get hardware decoding back.

I initially planned to use the Reform with my desktop monitor, keyboard and trackball when at home, but none of my monitors have native HDMI, HDMI-VGA adapters don’t work and neither does my HDMI-DVI cable. I planned to look into the driver but I’ve been lazy. :stuck_out_tongue:

But yeah, so far so good, and I bet it’s only going to get better as time goes on! I’m not in a hurry anyways and nothing is a show stopper for me. I love this little thing! ^^

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Perhaps some thin black paracord to thread through the eyelets would look nice as replacement zipper pulls.

I completely agree, as IPEX connectors are (from my experience) only reliable for a couple dozen cycles at most, and only a few cycles if the user isn’t gentle with them.

It’s quite interesting to read all of these replies as I just took delivery of my Reform this past weekend. I spent a good deal of yesterday setting it up and kicking the tires, getting it to run off the NVME, installing some of my go-to apps. The performance with the NVME was significantly better than running entire off the SD and, on the whole, I would say that the machine would be my daily driver for 90% of what I do but that keyboard layout is a no-go for me.

One of my primary use cases is writing. I blog, I’m working on a book, I write a lot. I was super excited by the idea of the mechanical keyboard and a form factor that reminded me of my favorite portable writing machine, the Powerbook 170 from back in the early 90’s. But I already know that keyboard isn’t going to work for me as-is.

I’m going to try remapping if I can come up with a layout I can live with but having ALT keys in the middle of the space bar is a bridge too far for me. I have large hands and my thumbs rest smack dab in the middle of the space bar. Moving my hands into a position where I don’t ALT myself to death has already caused me to instead hit PGUP and … and LCTRL so many times. I have been working in software engineering for about 30 years and got my first computer (Commodore VIC-20) 40 years ago. I type about as quickly as I think and have very ingrained muscle memory. Adjusting to a new scheme for ctrl, alt, space, etc. is something I have absolutely no interest in doing, I am here to get stuff done, not go back to Mavis Beacon in 1992. If I’m just doing some light emailing or whatever, I’ll be able to suffer through it, but for extended coding or writing long form prose (blogging, documents, novels, whatever…) it’s just a flow killer. I’ll plug in an external keyboard. If I expect to do a long writing session untethered I’ll keep using my MBP or my Lenovo. My kingdom for a standard layout with a space bar with no ALT keys in the middle.

Don’t let my keyboard feedback make it sound like I’m not happy. I’m thrilled. I love the mission and philosophy of this project, I plan to use, abuse, hack on, improve, and love the crap out of this machine for 10+ years. Great work. I waited two years for it and I am already having fun. I’ll get it into daily driver shape soon enough, one way or another.

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I am using the device daily and carry it around with me.

The major issue I have is mechanical. I need to retighten all the screws on a regular basis. And since I need to open up the bottom from time to time I don’t want to use locktite or anything to glue the screws in.

Maybe on a next iteration a mechanical lock mechanism to hold the bottom plate in place is better than the screws (although they are the cheapest solution I think).

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I’m not using MNT Reform as my daily driver, and don’t have problems with screws. But in laptop I carry with me (Purism Librem 13) I have to retighten the screws from time to time; when I didn’t do it for 2 weeks, I found one screw in my backpack :frowning: The difference between laptops is that Librem uses metal part for bottom, and has two screws in the middle. I guess for MNT Reform putting screws in the middle would destroy the effect :smile:

But it’s good to know that one needs to check screws from time to time. IMO it’s not a big price for ability to change and upgrade hardware components.