Pulse 15 Review

Published on 24 Mar 2021 02:44PM / 3233 words

As a long time Linux user (over 20 years), the quest for a perfect Linux laptop experience has been going on for most of those years. I went through a tiny Asus EEEPc back in the mid 2000s, which served me well for the very limited purposes it could manage (the Atom processors were anything but speedy…). For running Linux with a window manager and writing, browsing and listening to music it was fine. It supported Linux well but was far below the level of performances that the contemporary Windows laptops could achieve.

Then a I switched in the mid 2010s to a Dell Inspiron. For many years it proved that running Linux was perfectly doable for generic tasks, with overall good performances (no gaming), decent battery life, a sufficient screen and a not too uncomfortable keyboard. Everything worked out of the box under Linux (running my beloved Archlinux). Yet a few things weren’t on par with the same experience to be had using the same laptop under Windows.

Battery life was half what it could have been. Under Windows I could go on for 5-6 hours between charges. Linux? I was lucky if I could reach 4. Moreover, there was no specific support for Linux from Dell. I mean, everything worked yet if I ever had an issue I would be on my own. Which is not to say that I wasn’t used to, or I wouldn’t have chosen Archlinux as my main Linux distribution. But however good was the Inspiron as a laptop, it was a Windows one over which I could install and use Linux. It wasn’t born to be a Linux laptop. Linux support was a nice plus, not the main thing.

Thus, when the old Dell started to give me issues (namely, a few keys started being wobbly and the battery life became abysmally short), I went online looking for a true Linux laptop, with Linux first in mind.

For reasons of convenience, I reside in Poland, and for the good reviews it was receiving, I chose Tuxedocomputer’s Pulse 15 as the Dell’s replacement. I was mostly looking for a laptop that would support Linux out of the box in all aspects and devices, a cool one during normal operations, portable (that meant mostly a great battery life together with a not too heavy chassis), a decent keyboard (I write and program for a living), and good enough performances to be able to render videos once in a while and play older games.

The Pulse 15 seemed to fit all these requirements. After a couple of weeks of intense use as my main laptop, a review is due. Considering that very few reviews exist of this model, as with many of Tuxedocomputers, hope this helps people in choosing their next or first Linux laptop.

Build Quality

Nothing to complain about here. The case is sturdy, magnesium and metal. It has a smooth surface, that is resistant to fingerprints but not completely immune to them. Here and there traces of your palms will remain.

The Pulse 15 when closed

There are no flexing points whatsoever in the bottom half of the chassis. The top does flex a bit at the top left and top right corners. Nothing that seems to be close to breaking up, and the image on the screen never gets distorted. My past laptop was heavier but didn’t feel any sturdier. Overall the same, but the Pulse 15 is far lighter (1,5kg) and smaller (356.4 x 233.73 x 16.8mm).

The hinges are sturdy as well. Quite rigid, something that we will see is common across this device. I never felt they could be too weak or could break anytime soon (and considering how light the laptop overall is, the hinges don’t need to be very hard to sustain the weight of the screen). The screen opens around 150°, plenty more than I would ever need.

Score: 9/10

Screen

The screen on the Pulse 15 is an IPS 15,6 inches, FullHD with a sRGB covering of 100%. I do little graphic editing so I cannot comment on the last data but will comment on the brightness, as I often travel and plan to work more outdoor with this device and was looking for a screen that could be workable outdoor, ideally even under direct sunrays.

The declared contrast of 1212:1 and brightness of 321cd/m² are average by modern standards and just about right for the price range this model is sold at. The screen is matte, so there are no issues with reflections.

I’ve tried the laptop outside and inside, a few times under the direct, wintery, sunrays and at already 50-60% brightness set it is usable. All the texts on a browser are readable, albeit not as good as when in more shadowy places. It probably is going to hurt the eyes using this for hours under direct sunlight, but it is possible to do some occasional writing or reading when outdoor without having to pay for new lenses.

If you’re a sort of digital nomad or frequently travelling and want a laptop screen that will allow you to continue working while outside, the Pulse 15’s is great. I plan lots of time spent on the balcony when the weather will allow it.

Movies watching and playing videogames suffer a bit from the matte screen. The colors don’t “pop” as with a glossy display, they look more spent, and there were a few moments when I thought that the image didn’t look as impressive as with my old laptop with a glossy finish. The blacks are good enough to not to be called “dark greys” and the contrast in dark scenes is high enough to make me see quite a few more details than on the old laptop. Which is more than sufficient to me.

Graphic editors and movie fans will probably do better preferring a model with a higher color gamut and glossy screen. The Pulse 15 is sufficient for occasional tasks related to photo editing and retouching and watching movies once in a while, but its primary use is not this.

I did not notice any flickering or backlight bleeding and neither visual distortions by flexing the lid.

Score: 8/10 (but 7/10 if you need to work with lots of photos or often watch movies)

Keyboard and Touchpad

I am picky about keyboards. To me mechanical ones are inherently better than any non-mechanical ones, and I was eagerly looking for purchasing a laptop with one. Sadly, there are just a handful of them and all are gaming laptops. The cost was way above the Pulse 15 even for the cheapest of those, so I gave up.

With this in mind, the keyboard of the Pulse 15 is sufficiently good. As with the hinges, the main issue with the keys is that they are rather stiff. You get a clear pressure point, knowing precisely when you have fully pressed a key and when you haven’t, which is one of the main advantages that mechanical keyboards have. Pulse’s keyboard is not mechanical, though. It is a membrane-based one, with a white backlight (non-adjustable). The keys are on the large side: my big thumb can nearly always press a single key without pressing the nearby ones as well. Size is good then. No key is noisy. Only Enter and the Space bar are louder than average.

Key size is generous

The stiffness of the keys is my chief concern. While they were clearly designed to provide a good typing experience, preventing instances of “did I press that?”, I feel like the engineers went a bit too far in the stiffness. Typing with your main fingers, the index and middle, is easy enough, with rarely any mistyping. The keys are too hard to be comfortably pressed with pinky finger, though. I often find myself pressing again the same key with the ring finger as the pinky didn’t mange to press hard enough to trigger the character appearance on screen. I never had such an issue with any keyboard before, because all were either mechanical ones or much softer than the keys on the Pulse 15.

I wouldn’t say that this is a deal-breaker as the keyboard provides an overall nice typing experience. But I wish that the keys were like 10% less stiff, yes. Perhaps in a future revision.

The touchpad is of a standard size. Not huge like in a MacBook, but rather normally sized for a Windows/Linux laptop. It supports multitouching (2 and 3 fingers), which had to be configured under Archlinux. The surface of the touchpad is smooth and doesn’t seem to be prone to staining or getting scratches. Buttons are not included, with the top left and right corners acting as pressing areas. Again here the main issue is excessive stiffness. It is nearly impossible to press by chance these buttons as they are hard and with a clear pressure point. But on the negative side, when you need to click hundreds of time per day, they can prove tiresome. The right “button” is particularly hard to press, with a few time per day that I found myself thinking to have done it correctly, but the laptop didn’t catch the pressing.

A pleasant feature is the possibility to disable the touchpad altogether by double tapping the top left corner of it.

Here as well a 10% increase in softness would have done a great deal in making the whole experience better.

Score: 7/10

Webcam

In an era of zoom calls, the webcam is increasingly important. The one included in the Pulse 15 has an average quality, supposedly 720p, with a distinct blueish tint. Some calibration at the source would have benefited the webcam, but it is easy to do on our own. There is no way to cover it up when not in use, so buy a small sticker for that.

Score: 6/10 (but I would not give any laptop webcam over 7 anyway)

Audio

I mostly use headphones with any laptop, so I wasn’t interested in the quality of the speakers. The Pulse 15 has a rather ok set of speakers. One advantage is that they are relatively loud. With the TV on in the room and noises from the street below, playing a video at 40% volume was perfect to hear all the dialogues and background music. Raising the volume over 60% causes some distortion. It shouldn’t be needed to as it is loud enough for many environments and surely plenty of volume for your own room.

I am not particularly fond of heavy bass-leaning speakers so the Pulse 15, with its medium/treble settings and low basses, was fine to me. As a classical, jazz and rock fan, the default settings of the speakers on this laptop suited me, but for others I know this can constitute a let down. Surely I wouldn’t consider a speaker “bad” only because the bass are barely audible, but that is my personal opinion and I know many reviewers think otherwise.

Using headphones of course improves a lot the quality. The volume is high as well, I’ve been playing all sorts of music, YT videos and movies at about 20-30% and not once felt the need to raise it higher.

As this laptop is meant to be an all-around, cheap but with good performances device, the audio quality is sufficient for most uses. Don’t expect superb quality and you won’t be disappointed.

Score: 7/10

Performances, Hardware and Software included

The laptop has a Tuxedo Control Center to handle the fans, cpu speed, backlight brightness, and webcam. A driver for the keyboard called tuxedo-keyboard is available as well. The Control Center comes with 3 profiles that as you can expect go from the best performances to the powersaving extremes. I admit not having spent much time playing with the software as I wanted to use the laptop in its default configuration before tweaking it. Only thing I noticed was that the webcam status on the Pulse 15 cannot be changed. Whether this is a known issue or not, I am not able to say.

When run your custom Linux distribution, make sure to have installed both polkit and lxsession. Otherwise, the Control Center won’t prompt you with a password request when you attempt to make changes. Learned it the hard way. See issue n92.

I would have liked a DisplayPort and all USB3 ports instead of one being USB2. For the price range I can’t complain, and surely an USB2 can still be used for an external mouse or a not bandwidth-hungry device.

More importantly for my use case, an ethernet port is included without having to make use of an USB dongle. As I plan to travel a lot once the pandemic is over, such a port can be a lifesaver in poorer countries with lackluster wifi signal. A Kensington lock for security is personally the bare minimum any laptop should have, especially the most expensive ones. Glad the Pulse 15 has not cheaped out on it.

The HDMI port can power an additional UHD monitor at 60Hz or 2 FHD ones at 120Hz. Other laptops can do more but for more money too. Considering my rare use of this feature, a single monitor will be the most I am going to attach, at the most.

Score: 8/10 (performance and hardware as expected, just some minor issues)

Battery Life

Notebookcheck cites 14 hours and I can see how this would be totally possible. By default, without any optimization and with general use (browsing, writing, watching YT and occasionally compiling software), I consistently get at least 11 hours of battery. If I stretch it to the very end of the battery life, charging only when it is below 2%, I would surely get 1 hour more. Considering some optimization (which I didn’t) it is perfectly reasonable to expect the 14 hours that Notebookcheck has registered.

While not putting the Pulse 15 on top of every laptop out there (a handful manage 17-18 hours), it is plenty of juice to work for a full day without worrying about where you left your charger. A long flight between continents is doable with this laptop, also thanks to the possibility of charging the Pulse 15 through USB-C. Be aware that not all charger will manage to charge the laptop. Mine did not.

In any case, as long as you don’t forget to charge the Pulse before departing, it will surely last you through any type of trip.

The battery drops considerably faster once you reach 15% or so. It should still give you 1 hour/1 hour and a half but I actually measured 46 minutes once and 41 minutes another one.

2 hours at maximum load are on par with most gaming and content creation laptops. The screen isn’t so bright as to cut the battery life in half or worse. I don’t see how anybody could use this laptop at 100% brightness unless working all the time under direct sunlight. Still, I assume the battery runtime will be around 7-8 hours still, even in these conditions.

Tuxedo claims up to 20 hours of battery runtime without any wifi & bluetooth, minimum brightness, no backlight, in idle mode. That might amount to 15-16 hours of light usage while completely offline. Perhaps useful during long trips, but otherwise a moot point.

Recharging from close to 0 to 100% takes a little more than 1 hour. Not particularly fast, but neither slow.

Score: 10/10

Various things I noticed

Outside of the proper review, a few aspects of the Pulse 15 are worth noting. Small things that make the experience of every laptop unique, in a way.

The led lighting under the keys of the keyboard is uneven. Depending on the degree your eyes make with the keyboard, some led lights shine brighter than others, hitting your eyes sharper than those under other keys. As the keycaps are sitting relatively high above the underlying lights, there’s a lot of space through which the light can pass through and escape the nearest keys. Especially keys on both sides of the keyboards, like the ones under Q A Z and between the column of Enter-Backscape-Right Shift and the symbol keys can catch your attention more than they should. This is noticeable in many laptops, yet perhaps slightly more here.

Keyboard layout

During gaming and recharging, the bottom right side of the laptop, next to the touchpad, becomes noticeably hot. Here “noticeably” means “hot enough that I feel it but can keep my hand on it without pain”. As it is the area where you put your right wrist when typing, it is something that can disturb you while normally using the laptop.

Some users found the backspace to miss some keypresses, but I did not experience that. Instead, the central keys, like G and H and T, especially, are more prone to me to missing a keypress once in a while. I believe it has to do with the stiffness of the keys in general and the angle at which one personally hits the keys.

There’s a constant “scratchy” sound that can be heard in a silent room with the ear near the keyboard. It is barely audible though, and should never disturb you while using the laptop.

Conclusions

The specs I chose were:

  • Full-HD (1920 x 1080) IPS non-glare | 100% sRGB
  • AMD Ryzen 7 4800H (8x 2.9-4.2GHz Eight-Core, 16 Threads, 12 MB Cache, 45 W TDP)
  • 16 GB (2x 8GB) 3200MHz CL22 Samsung
  • 1000 GB Samsung 970 EVO Plus (NVMe PCIe)
  • US ANSI layout with backlit with TUX super-key
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 & Bluetooth 5.1 (up to 2400Mbps)

No Linux nor Windows pre-installed. Archlinux and another Linux yet to choose alongside it only. The grand total was 1175€. Delivered in less than 2 weeks. Only issue was a few mislabelled keys on the keyboard, probably because of the confusion between the ISO and ANSI layouts, both available at the moment of purchase. Tuxedocomputers has already offered to send me the corrected keycaps, so that is fine.

Who should buy this laptop then? Those looking for a Linux laptop that is light, can be used outdoor and while travelling, has a good but not exceptional screen and has more than enough power to carry any but the most intensive tasks. At a moderate price, this is an overall better laptop than a Dell XPS 15 or a ThinkPad P15. Not because these are worse than the Pulse 15 but because the advantages that they have over this laptop are not justified by the increase in price. Unless you must have a superb screen or better speakers or can’t do without the keyboard of a ThinkPad, there are very very few use cases that would make spend 4-500€ more for those models over a Pulse 15.

Namely I can think of content creators that need a larger AdobeRGB coverage or will need to use the speakers for a prolonged time or want to game with their laptops, will surely do better looking elsewhere. But these are either specific use cases or a target that this Pulse 15 isn’t aimed at (gaming). Anybody else would do good at comparing the Pulse 15 with the other similarly priced options out there for their next laptop.

I am definitely satisfied. I knew the shortcomings of the Pulse and was aware of the target use, which 100% matched mine.

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