Micro-review of the Fidelity VPC

A little while ago, I observed that Zellers was selling the Fidelity VPC, an inexpensive Linux-based netbook. Well, I saw it in action over Christmas, and I have to say that I was not impressed.

The VPC comes in a sturdy cardboard box, along with a "wall wart" AC-DC power cord, and a small instruction book. The system itself is about the size of a hardcover book, and opens clamshell-style to expose a small screen and a small, full-function keyboard. After turning the device on, and waiting the thirty seconds or so to get past the boot screen, we were presented with a desktop prepopulated with icons.

The VPC pre-installed apps seem to derive from the Gnome desktop, and AbiWord is the word processor. There is an app to manage wifi connections, and an app to download and install "ipkg" packages to add more apps to the system.

Unfortunately, we had some problems with the wifi; the owner's WEP secured wifi used an entirely numeric passphrase, and the VPC wifi couldn't properly manage the WEP decryption (a problem that I had on my Kubuntu laptop as well). We might have fixed that problem but the VPC had other ideas.

It froze. Locked up completely. And on the "Loading..." screen that hides the boot messages at that. Neither soft reset nor the hard reset button would fix the problem. And, with a fully charged battery, it stayed in that "Loading..." screen for a day and a half.

Fidelity publishes a 1-866 number for problem resolution, that leads to someone's voicemail. Since Fidelity was closed for the holidays, we didn't get anyone when we called. And so, instead of resolving the problem (that shouldn't have been there to begin with), we bundled the VPC back up into it's box and returned it to Zellers for a refund.

It may be that the VPC is a great little device. I'll never know. Certainly, the timing was bad; either the VPC needed a "recovery" option of some sort (even written instructions, rather than the pictogram that came in the manual), or Fidelity needed to have someone manning the phones. I don't even blame Fidelity; Zellers should have timed their sale better, and not sold the VPC at Christmas.