If we gently ease Apple into an out-of-mind drawer then it becomes fair to say that the award for most anticipated hardware of the year goes to the UMPC, March’s Origami campaign for which persuaded some, at least momentarily, that Microsoft was hip. Since then, as first-gen models grace reviewers’ hands, the mainstream computer press have been trying to find a use for them, while the loyal Tablet faithful have in most cases defended their existence. There comes a time when every reviewer must spurn the fence they sit upon and, with only a minor pause to pluck splinters from delicate places, decide whether a UMPC is something to heap cash or derision upon. Hence the Samsung Q1 in my slightly sweaty hands.
Arguably the poster-child for the whole UMPC concept, the Q1 is nevertheless typical of its breed. At casual glance it falls somewhere between high-end PDA and sub-notebook, far greater in functionality than the former but, by virtue of space and battery constraints, lacking the power of the latter. In theory it’s a terrific idea, perhaps only hamstrung by technology not yet being there to realise the dream.
The Q1 features an Intel Celeron M ULV processor running at 900MHz, 256 MB of DDR2 RAM, a 7″ 800 x 480 touch screen, 40 GB HDD, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, and Bluetooth, and is available through Best Buy and CDW only for $1,099. Sitting snugly in the hand, it’s a comfortable beastie and demands little investment in operational style once stabbing bluntly at the touch-screen becomes habitual. Unlike the UMPCs older siblings, full-sized Tablet PCs, the Q1 and its ilk use passive touch-screens which will respond to any old pressure rather than specific styli. One can only assume that it’s this fashionable promiscuity to touch that led Samsung to bundle the appalling standard stylus, which is an insult to both users and ergonomics in general.
[flv]http://www.slashgear.com/videos/q1umpc.flv[/flv]SlashGear unboxing the Samsung Q1
Most reviewers have spit the majority of their bile at the UMPCs lack of physical keyboard. Instead users have a variety of touchscreen-based methods. Aside from handwriting recognition, which can cope with a surprising degree of scrawl thanks to Microsoft’s significant Tablet PC development, there’s an on-screen QWERTY keyboard and DialKeys, a split keyboard laid out in two semicircles on the lower portions of both sides of the screen. The keyboard is a good idea, in theory, but the lack of tactile feedback made the device very difficult to get used to, at least for me. Also, if your aim isn’t precise, you run the risk of hitting multiple keys at once; which throws off your whole typing stride. Samsung has a compact USB keyboard available as an accessory, but it effectively kills the portability advantage as now the Q1 works more like a traditional laptop than a UMPC.
The Q1 has some other nifty features. Samsung had the foresight to include two USB 2.0 ports on the device, making connections to accessories and external devices easy. A full-sized VGA port on the side allows the device to be hooked up to projectors and external monitors, meaning that people who frequently use their computers for presentations aren’t going to be left unsatisfied. While the screen is clear enough to watch movies and work with the simplest of documents, the low 800 x 480 resolution makes it difficult to do a lot of things that require more screen real estate, such as spreadsheets and the sort of tiny type you see on the bottom of contracts, NDAs and pre-nups. There’s also a scroll button that allows you to scroll the screen horizontally and vertically, and the Q1 supports two “virtual” resolutions – 800 x 600 pixels and 1024 x 600 – which are simulated larger resolutions on the device’s screen. The problem inherent here is the blurriness due to using a non-native resolution on the LCD screen, making the resolutions good for certain situations but overall too blurry to use all the time.