Soon after I got my hands on the Acer Switch Alpha 12, I decided to put Linux on there. Being a Fedora fan for quite a while, I chose the new Fedora 25 Beta release which was already available at the time.
Soon after, the full version of Fedora Workstation was released, and I was in the mood for a fresh reinstall. Mind you, everything was still working just fine. I just got bored.
Here’s a walkthrough of me installing Korora 25 on this laptop.
I decided that this time, I was not gonna install the same Fedora desktop. I was going to try out a remix, Korora Linux. Korora is a remix of Fedora Workstation. Installing Korora gives you the same Fedora distro, but with some nice default settings and additional repositories.
The default wallpaper and themes are changed, and the desktop looks much more gorgeous. By default VLC is installed. Non-free Fedora repositories including RPMFusion and google-chrome repo. Most packages that I need are already installed, and anything else can be pulled from the included repos using the included Yumex (for DNF) package manager. Basically, Korora is Fedora, but more usable out of the box.
Again, I did not do an install video or walkthrough. My apologies. I’ll just describe what I had to do and what works.
Enter BIOS/Firmware screen. After switching on the laptop, spam F2 key until we get to the bios screen.
There is an option that enables F12 key to be used to select device to boot. I enabled this to allow choosing a boot drive at boot. There is an option to select between Legacy BIOS boot, and UEFI boot. I had to use Legacy before this, but this time, I wanted to experiment with UEFI. So, I changed the setting to UEFI boot.
The live session boots successfully on UEFI mode. According to the Fedora wiki page https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Unified_Extensible_Firmware_Interface the bootloader will look different when booting on UEFI, and I was able to confirm this.
The live session works as you might expect. Things like audio, graphics, inputs using keyboard, keypad and touchscreen will work out of the box. Wifi works too without any need to fiddle with drivers and firmwares.
Apps would launch a bit slowly because everything has to be loaded from the USB stick. Otherwise, they launch just fine. Keyboard attach/detach connects the keyboard back to the laptop as expected.
UEFI vs Legacy BIOS
I enabled UEFI boot in the BIOS screen, and the live session botted correctly as hoped. However, I tried installing using UEFI mode and my install would not boot. This is what stopped me last time. This laptop will boot the Fedora Live USB just fine, but will simply refuse to boot the bootloader installed by Fedora.
During boot, pressing F12 key would bring up list menu to pick a boot option. However, the new Korora install would not be listed there.
In the end, here is what works for me. I wiped my disk clean, enabled UEFI and do a clean install. After the installation, while still in live environment, the trick is to run the following (source: http://forums.fedoraforum.org/showthread.php?t=303678)
efibootmgr -c -L “Windows Boot Manager” -l “\EFI\fedora\grubx64.efi”
I am not familiar with this topic, but I guess this renames/registers our fedora bootloader with the name “Windows Boot Manager”, against the laptop’s uefi firmware. If I tried with a different name, this would not work. I think, this firmware behavior is a problem, and I hope Acer would fix this.
Another issue that I could think of is, what if we want to dual boot with Windows 10? I don’t know if we can share the same name between the 2 boot loaders. I’m glad that I don’t use Windows 10 right now, so I don’t have to find out.
Usability and such
After all that toiling with partitions and boot loaders, I was greeted to the familiar GDM login menu. Here, it is possible to select the new Gnome (on Wayland) or Gnome on Xorg.
After logging in to the desktop, we are presented with a nice and beautiful desktop environments. Korora comes with a nice default themes. Gnome Dash-to-dock is installed by default and is nice to use.
Wayland vs XOrg
This is going to be interesting. If I boot into a Wayland session, most things will work just right. If I limit to using just keyboard and mouse/touchpad, everything works.
However, the touchscreen support is still far from perfect. Some extensions on the gnome top bar would not respond to touch, and sometimes, if I activate a top bar component, and click on a window, the window just closes. What the fuck? I know it’s weird. But, when playing videos on youtube or VLC, there are no glitches or screen tearing whatsoever. So the Wayland and Gnome devs have definitely delivered on that promise.
Window scaling is also automatically detected. Logging in to Wayland session, automatically scale the window to 2x. This works great on my hiDPI screen.
Wayland seems to be getting better towards a polished product. I have high hopes for it in the future. For now though it still has some weird bugs to iron out.
XOrg session is not that much better though. While touchscreen seems to work better on XOrg, it suffers from some mild screen-tearing during video playback. Window scaling also has to be adjusted manually using the included gnome-tweak-tool.
Bluetooth works out of the box. I tested using my Stereo Bluetooth Headset, using A2DP profile. It works, somewhat. However, if I move around a bit, there is frequent interruption to the signal during playback. I’m not sure if this is Linux specific, an issue with the headset I use, or if there is something in my room causing interference. Additionally, each time the playback is interrupted by 1 sec, the bluetooth headset signal gets delayed by 1 sec, AND it accumulates over time. I have to run the following to clear the delay
This is a serious issue in my opinion, and somewhat negates all the mobility and flexibility of using bluetooth.
The included type cover also has a weird annoying issue. If I suspend the laptop, and while suspending, I close the type cover over the laptop, there is a chance that the next time I use the laptop, the type-cover keyboard won’t be detected. This can be easily cleared by detaching and reattaching the keyboard, but again, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
The one thing that finally works this time for me, is the ambient light sensor and gyroscope (orientation) sensor. Working out of the box. The screen brightness will automatically adjust according to ambient brightness, and the screen may orientate itself if we rotate it around. Pretty neat. This is provided by iio-sensor-proxy driver, an excellent work by hadess (https://github.com/hadess/iio-sensor-proxy) I eventually disabled the auto-brightness, because I wanted to save battery.
Update: After several Linux kernel updates, this no longer work out of the box for me (Link). There are a couple of workarounds right now. One workaround is to continuously cat the sensor files in background, so they get updated.
watch -n 0.1 cat ‘/sys/bus/iio/devices/iio:device’*/*raw*
It seems to be related to a minor issue in the kernel. Supposedly, a fix will be coming down the line in future kernel versions.
Update2: Well, this has been a real roller coaster ride for me. As of kernel 4.11, it works again (Link). Yeay!
The stylus pen included by Acer with this laptop also works quite well. If you intend to use it with GIMP or something, it should help. I don’t use the stylus much so I cannot say much about it. As previous, the stylus can be used as a replacement of a mouse click.
Update: The front camera works just fine. I tested with Cheese app, and online video conference call using https://appear.in/ service. It also works when using with Skype for Linux, but the image appears to be cropped/zoomed-in a bit. So I needed to use a wide-angle lens for so that my face would appear correctly.
Update: The back camera does not work for me. I am not able to detect its presence, let alone use it. A reader has commented that it is the same when running Arch on this device. What a shame.
There are some features/issues that I am not covering here, but have mentioned briefly in a previous Fedora review. You can take a look at that. They still apply to this Korora release.
When I first set out to buy a laptop for putting Linux, I did not know what to expect. I went with the Acer Switch Alpha 12, because of its fancy screen, form-factor, and fanless design. While running Linux on this machine is still a bit quirky at best, I still managed to get a fancy Linux laptop, that also serves as a media consumption tablet at the same time.
I am still hoping for some better Linux support in the future. Some operations such as Wayland and touchscreen, UEFI boot sequence, and Bluetooth audio delay issues could use some improvements. One can hope.
All in all, this was a good Linux buy. Cheers.