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The Kubuntu Focus Ir14 is an upcoming Linux laptop worthy of powering the KDE Plasma desktop

The latest Kabuntu laptop marries security-first hardware with its Linux-based operating system. Here are three features in particular that stand out.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Kubuntu Focus Ir14 Liux laptop
Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Kubuntu Focus focuses on laptops that run the Kubuntu operating system. For those that aren't aware, Kubuntu is an official spin of Ubuntu that uses the KDE Plasma desktop in place of GNOME. 

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KDE Plasma offers many of the same elements most users are accustomed to (panel, system tray, desktop menu, clickable desktop icons, etc). It's similar to the Windows desktop UI, only with more flexibility and customization. And given how elegant KDE Plasma is, one would expect a laptop to power that desktop to be equally so. 

What Kubuntu Focus is set to offer is exactly that. 

View at Kfocus

According to my contact at Kubuntu Focus, the laptop "...is stock Kubuntu 22.04 LTS with Focus hardware integration, optimizations, and tools delivered on top. We felt building a separate distribution and ecosystem is the last thing anyone needed, and instead focused on working and supporting Kubuntu, Ubuntu, and KDE directly. We are a KDE Corporate-level patron, for example, and we perform and share substantial testing with KDE and Kubuntu. This not only benefits our customers, but also all users of Ubuntu, KDE, and Kubuntu, where we have up-streamed many enhancements."

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Okay, before I get into telling you what I like about the Kubuntu Focus lr14, let me list out some of the specs, which were taken directly from the hard info tool I installed (which can be added with the command sudo apt-get install hardinfo -y): 

  • CPU: 12th Gen Intel i5-12450H with 8 cores and 12 threads
  • RAM: 32GB
  • Graphics: Onboard Intel running at 1920x1200.
  • Storage: 1TB SSD

Clearly, this isn't going to outperform a flagship laptop, but the company is aiming at the $1,000 (or less) price point, so this is about on par with what you would expect. Even though the specs don't scream "performance," the lr14 punches above its weight. 

After receiving the review unit, I installed Microk8s and Docker, deployed Portainer, and then added some containers. To my surprise, the lr14 didn't blink. And running the typical applications (web browser, office suite, image editor, etc.) proved to me this 14-inch laptop has what it takes to keep you productive and entertained. 

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For new users, there's plenty of information to be accessed directly from the desktop. You'll find links for Curated Apps, Guided Solutions, Help, and a Welcome Guide. You'll also find a KDE Plasma widget (called "Hint Widget") that offers hints on how to work more efficiently on the desktop.

The default Kubuntu Focus lr14 desktop.

The Kubuntu Focus desktop is primed for new users.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

On the sides of the laptop, you'll find an HDMI port, two USB type B ports, one USB type A port, an SD card reader, a headphone/mic jack, a micro HDMI port, and a power jack. As far as software, there's Firefox, Chrome, LibreOffice, GIMP, Thunderbird, KDE Connect (for syncing your phone to the desktop), VLC Media Player, Webcamoid, Audacity, and more. 

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But what about the laptop? Is there anything that stands out? Of course, there is. Let's break it down.

1. The display

First off, the lr14 display isn't going to best the Apple Retina. But it's no slouch. The screen is a crisp matte that shows off KDE Plasma to perfection. It's bright and clean and offers a fairly minimal bezel (about one-quarter of an inch on the sides and just over a quarter of an inch on top). That means you get a 14-inch display on a laptop that is just slightly larger than that of a 13-inch MacBook Pro

Also: How to simplify Flatpak app installation on the KDE Plasma desktop 

The Kubuntu Focus lr14 webcam cover.

For your privacy, you can obscure the webcam with this handy flap.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

2. The keyboard

I write words for a living. Because of that, I can immediately judge a keyboard after a few clicks. And in keeping with my MacBook Pro comparison, the lr14 keyboard makes Apple's keys feel like toys. 

This keyboard has a very solid feel that allows me to type at speed with accuracy. Each press of a key feels satisfying and reliable. This is a keyboard that can withstand a lot of typing and never miss a stroke.

A closeup of the lr14 keyboard.

The lr14 keyboard is a delight to use.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

As far as the touchpad goes, it's more than large enough and feels smooth under the finger. Even better, the response is fantastic. There's zero lag and the cursor moves about with ease. 

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Again, this is hardware to rival the MacBook Pro -- which is saying quite a bit. One thing to keep in mind is that, out of the box, tap to click is disabled. You can easily enable it in Settings > Input Devices > Touchpad. I do wish this feature was enabled by default on all Linux laptops, but that's just a personal preference. And given how easy it is to enable, it's not really a nit to pick.

3. Performance

As I said earlier, the lr14 performs well enough to take care of nearly any task you need. No, you won't be crunching massive numbers or rendering full-length films with this laptop, but for everyday usage, it's outstanding. Every app I ran performed as well as they do on my System76 Thelio (which is generally what I use for performance comparisons). The lr14 is powerful enough for most use cases. Whether your primary use is social media, entertainment, or productivity, the Kubuntu Focus lr14 will do the job.

The only caveat

I had to work hard to find something negative to add; that's how much I enjoyed testing this laptop. However, the one issue I found was that the chassis is a fingerprint magnet. If you're like me and prefer things to be on the cleaner side, you'll want to keep a cleaning cloth in your laptop bag.

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But that's the only strike against this otherwise gem of a laptop. I'll confess that I liked the lr14 so much, I'll be tempted to purchase one when it finally arrives on the market. The official release date of the Kubuntu Focus lr24 is Tuesday, April 25, 2023, and the price, according to Michael Mikowsky, General Manager for the Kubuntu Focus Project, looks like this: $895 for the base unit with 8GB 3200MHz RAM and 250GB 3500MBit/s SSD. 

Upgrade costs are similar to the XE GEN 2 and are very reasonable. For example, bumping to 16GB of RAM and a 500GB disk is just $995.

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The review unit I tested was the "Developer Plus" option, which is more than what most people will need, but is an excellent choice for developers on the go at $1,335. Upgrades on the Develop Plus model include 32GB RAM ($170), 1,000GB disk ($125), and a hand-polished deluxe emblem ($45). You can order a Kubuntu Focus lr14 from the official order page.

Kubuntu Focus works in conjunction with Carbon to deliver systems that are carefully selected for features, reliability, manageability, and price required for fleet sales and management. Carbon supplies the hardware and the Kubuntu Focus teams ensure it works to perfection with the Kubuntu Linux operating system. This combination results in a fantastic portable device that would please any user type. 

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