At the end of last year, I decided it was time to get a new laptop — my workhorse Galago from System76 was in a slow, steady decline after many years of use.
Before pulling the trigger, I looked at the offerings from a few vendors, including Laptop with Linux and System76. In the end, I decided to go smaller, opting for a StarLite from Star Labs.
A few days after Christmas, 2021 I placed the order for the StarLite. Due to COVID and supply chain issues, it took almost 6 months for that laptop to reach me. You can be sure that I was a happy boy when the courier handed it over to me on that Tuesday morning in May.
I’ve been using that StarLite exclusively since mid-May, 2022. Let’s take a look at it.
(If you’re looking for unboxing video, you’re out of luck. I don’t indulge in that sort of silliness. That said, the packaging was well done!)
Specs and Such
What’s inside? An Intel Pentium SilverTM N5030 processor, 8 GB of memory, and a 480 GB SSD (which I upgraded from the stock 240 GB model). The StarLite also packs a USB-C port, a pair of USB-A ports, a microSD card slot, a micro HDMI port, and a headphone jack.
The screen is 11 inches, at 1080p resolution. The StarLite also packs a trackpad that I almost like using (I generally don’t like trackpads at all, so this is an improvement!).
As for the size, it’s not unfamiliar to me. I’ve used more than a couple of subnotebooks, netbooks, and 11 inch Chromebooks over the years, so I know what to expect (more or less) from a computer of this size. But, as I discuss in a moment, the StarLite doesn’t feel like an 11 inch device.
The laptop doesn’t have the most impressive specs, I admit. Then again, I don’t need an all-powerful laptop. The StarLite has what I need to do what I need to do.
When you order any laptop, you can request Star Labs to preload it with one of a handful of Linux distributions. You can also install any other distro if that’s your thing. I asked folks at Star Labs to install elementary OS, in case you’re wondering.
Using the Laptop
Start up is a bit slow. I’m not sure why that is, but it gives me time to grab my glasses, to turn on my mouse, and to take a sip or three of tea.
Once I’m logged in, everything is quite zippy. No, I didn’t do any benchmarking or anything geeky like that (not that I’d know how to, anyway). I’ve been using elementary OS for a while on a bunch of different laptops so I have a pretty good feel for its performance. That distro runs well on the StarLite, even with its somewhat limited specs.
How I Use the Laptop
Admittedly, I’m no power user. Never have been, never will be. Most of my work involves writing, publishing, minor fiddling with images, and the like. The applications I’m running haven’t changed from when I moved over from my Galago. I mainly use:
- Apostrophe for writing.
- Code to edit HTML and do general text editing.
- Pinta for editing images.
- Firefox for using the internet.
- Jitsi Meet for video calls.
- Newsboat and pandoc at the command line.
I also have the Nextcloud desktop client and Kupfer running in background. Both start automatically when I log in.
What I do and what I use aren’t exactly tasks or software that tax the capabilities of any computer. Usually, I have (at most) four applications running at once. None of them all that resource intensive. And when I use a web browser, I usually have, at most, five tabs open. With that going on, the StarLite never gets bogged down while I’m using it.
Yes, the StarLite’s screen is small, but it doesn’t feel like it’s 11 inches across. The resolution is sharp. The screen is clear and easy to read. While I need to wear my glasses when using the StarLite, that’s true for laptops with larger screens too.
OK, I did some minor fiddling via the Tweaks app for elementary OS, mainly to change certain fonts and to increase their size a bit. That helped make the screen even easier on my aging eyes. However, even before doing that the screen was more than usable.
Until I got used to it, the keyboard was a bit cramped. That’s to be expected — the StarLite has a smaller chassis, hence a smaller keyboard. Funny how that works …
It took about a week to get fully comfortable with that keyboard. Now, I’m typing as quickly on it as did on my old Galago’s keyboard. When I need to really knuckle down and get a pile of work done, I put the StarLite on a stand and use a full-size wireless keyboard.
The keyboard is backlit. That’s not a huge plus or minus for me — I don’t find myself typing in the dark all that often. Or at all. It’s more a novelty, since this is the first laptop I’ve owned with that feature.
One bit of strangeness is the Shift key on the right side of the keyboard. A friend, who also owns a StarLite, calls it the sliver of a right-hand Shift key. It is small, and can definitely mess with you if you rely on that key — without realizing it, you might press the forward slash or up arrow key instead of Shift. But that’s also shown me something I’ve never noticed about my typing habits: I randomly alternate between using the left and right shift keys. It still randomly keeps me on my toes.
Also, a couple of people I know have commented on placement of the power button. It’s on the top row of the keyboard, to the right of the Delete key. That’s a feature of many newer laptops, but there are folks (I’m not one of them, in case you’re wondering) for whom that is something new. It’s another aspect of the StarLite that can take a little time to adapt to.
That’s OK, though nothing spectacular. I go somewhere between four and six hours before having to recharge. Charging, though, is quite quick. Again, I haven’t timed it but when I have had to charge the laptop, it’s usually left on its own while I do other things. When I return an hour or 90 minutes later, the StarLite back to full charge or close to it.
The charger is compact, and hooks into the laptop via a USB-C cable that goes into a dedicated power adapter. Both fit into a small Maxpedition pouch that I had lying around, so they don’t take up too much space.
I like my StarLite. A lot. I have no regrets about buying it. It was definitely worth the wait and definitely worth the (short) time it took to adapt to it.
The StarLite isn’t a computer for a so-called power user, but rather it’s a laptop for someone who’s needs are simpler, less intensive. It’s a Linux-powered laptop for the masses, not the classes.
For me, the StarLite is the ideal laptop for use at home. But I also see it being a good grab-and-go device or one that I can take with me when I travel (whenever that starts happening again).
As well, Star Labs respects the right to repair by selling a range of spare parts. That could come in handy in the future.