After spending years in the tech space I may not always get excited for new gear, but occasionally a device comes out that makes me completely nerd out. As a Linux enthusiast, I find those random moments are fewer and farther in between. While it’s the largest software project in the world, actual dedicated hardware for the Linux desktop is scarce. HP hopes to solve that with the new Dev One laptop.
Dell tipped its toes in the same field a few years ago, partnering with Ubuntu, but HP has gone a different route with a Denver-based company we’ve covered before: System76. This new co-op has yielded a surprisingly compelling device for Linux users.
System76 has been making hardware for over a decade running Linux, but a true first-tier OEM like HP simply ups the stakes here. The Dev One stacks up against any other laptop in HP’s portfolio. The chassis is made out of magnesium alloy giving it a light but sturdy construction. You get no unnecessary creaks or flimsy moments when carrying this laptop around.
On each side, you have an array of ports along with a headphone jack and power port. To the right, the HP Dev One contains two USB-C ports capable of both fast transfers but also charging. Also on the same edge of the laptop is a full-sized HDMI out and the mentioned power port.
On the opposite side, the HP Dev One houses two USB-A inputs and the headphone jack. You can also secure your laptop in certain environments with the included Kensington lock.
HP didn’t hold back on the screen on the Dev One. It’s a glossy full HD display with 1920×1080 resolution. You might want to see a 4k screen that many new laptops are getting, but honestly, on a 14-inch screen, I don’t think it’s a worthy upgrade. Linux struggles with super hi-res and I’d much rather have better battery life.
Otherwise, the screen is fantastic. The colors and text look great and I’ve had zero issues with transitions or bleed. One knock may be the glossy finish. Personally, I prefer a matte display that will give you better viewing angles, especially outside or near windows.
HP really nailed this keyboard even with a unique layout. The keys have a nice easy travel and clicky response. You can easily knock out quick emails or write code without issue.
The one delineation from normal layouts is the navigation keys. The End, Home, Page Down/Up, and delete keys are shifted to the far right of the keyboard.
One unique positive that I feel was a deal breaker for System76 is the missing “Windows” key. Other manufacturers that offer Linux as an option usually don’t swap these keys from whatever Windows laptop the device shares a platform with. Thankfully, the HP Dev One comes with a generic super key instead. It’s little details like this that will really stand out to Linux faithful in making the purchase.
Flanking the keyboard is a pair of upward-firing speakers on each side. These are surprisingly good. Like, some of the best speakers I’ve ever heard from a laptop good.
I know HP has a Bangs&Olufsen contract on many of the Windows laptops, and even though these aren’t branded as such, whatever tuning HP has done here is really well done.
HP has included a glass trackpad with the Dev One. This makes for a great user experience with easy maneuvering around the OS with no resistance. It is one of the better trackpads I’ve used on a laptop recently. It’s not the biggest but it’s well built.
HP has also decided to make sure “legacy” users are represented here as well with the Thinkpad-inspired rubber mouse found just above the “B” key. Paired with the dedicated left and right mouse buttons at the top of the trackpad and old-school laptop nerds will feel right at home with this alternative mouse setup.
The software powering the HP Dev One is called Pop!_OS. We’ve covered this before with the Lemur Pro review, so I won’t go into stringent detail, but it’s worth a refresh to mention some new things.
The last time we covered it, System76 had just started development and it borrowed heavily from the existing Linux desktop environment GNOME. Pop! has since evolved into something much more unique.
The OS is now very much a product of System76. During the setup and after logging in the first time, you have a much more robust and extendable environment than found in GNOME. You have dedicated settings for gestures, how the docks are presented, whether you want to minimize and maximize buttons, and so much more.
System76 has made sure that both novice users and experts are represented with very granular controls of Pop!_OS.
It can be a little overwhelming but System76 has done a great job of balancing that expert to intermediate experience. If you want to turn on tiling windows and all the bells and whistles to be a developer you can. You can just as easily go with all the defaults and have a solid experience as well.
Battery life might be the one spot I struggled with the HP Dev One. In my mind, any modern laptop not capable of 10 hours is a missed opportunity. Here the Dev One simply falls short. I saw a range of results, but never more than eight hours of endurance. During most of my sessions, it was less than this at somewhere between six and maybe seven hours of battery life.
With devices like the new M-series Macbooks being the closest competitors for the HP Dev One, this needs to be better. Those new models are all above 10 hours of total usage with battery to spare. Even something like my older Dell XPS or Latitude consistently surpasses the battery life HP has here.
HP and System76 have done a marvelous job of partnering on the Dev One laptop. The companies have created a top-tier hardware experience truly powered by the Linux community and Pop!_OS. Despite some of the shortcomings, I can’t think of a better combination for Linux users at the moment. The Lemur Pro, also from System76, is the only thing close in my mind, but you don’t get quite the build quality HP has in the Dev One.
Even pricing is pretty damn good. HP only offers one SKU option at the moment with the same 16GB of RAM and 1TB of hard drive storage. I had zero issues with performance with this package, but the RAM can easily be upgraded later if needed. The entire package can be had for only $1099 from HP’s dedicated website for the Dev One.
If you are in the market for a laptop and you want a first-tier Linux experience, the Dev One has to be on your shopping list.