Samsung Q1 Ultra

The Samsung Q1 Ultra (Q1U-V) improves on Samsung’s original and much maligned UMPC effort, but it still finds itself caught between two worlds. It can’t replace your laptop as an everyday productivity tool because it’s still too underpowered, and, despite the addition of a small keyboard split across the screen, text input becomes a chore for anything more than typing a URL or the briefest of e-mail responses. So, let’s view it as a portable media player.

The Q1 Ultra’s 7-inch screen is far larger than anything you’d find on a smart phone or other handheld device, but its meager specs struggle to power Windows Vista and even simple tasks such as smoothly playing video. At $1,199, it’s cheaper than other UMPCs we’ve seen, but that price is harder to justify when you see everything the iPhone can do for half that amount. Given its flaws, we found ourselves enjoying the Q1 Ultra when used only as an on-the-go Web-surfing machine. If browsing Web sites and playing media files when out and about is your main priority, the Apple iPhone (or a Wi-Fi enabled PMP) is a better way to go. 

Despite shaving about a quarter-pound off the weight of its predecessor, the Samsung Q1 Ultra is on the large side of the UMPC scale at 1.5 pounds, but it weighs only a few ounces more than the Sony VAIO UX390, the OQO model 02, or the Vulcan Flipstart. It’s a bit larger than these other models, which makes the Q1 Ultra feel lighter than it looks. It’s easy to tote around, either in its cloth slipcase or by the included wrist strap. (The tie for the wrist strap seems suspiciously similar to the one on the Nintendo Wii remote’s wrist strap, however, which is infamous for snapping at inopportune moments.)  

Aside from being a bit lighter, the Q1 Ultra’s overall design hasn’t changed much from last year’s model. A bright, clear 7-inch widescreen display dominates the glossy, black plastic chassis and features a native resolution of 1,024×600, which is higher than the original Q1’s 800×480 native resolution. The screen might be the Q1 Ultra’s most appealing feature; it’s perfectly capable of displaying Web pages properly and giving you plenty of room for the Windows desktop.  

The face of the Q1 Ultra is covered by a sometimes confusing array of buttons and controls, which require a little trial and error to use properly. Half of a QWERTY keyboard sits on each side of the display, positioned for thumb typing, as on a Blackberry or Treo. The buttons are even smaller than the Treo’s–although not by much–and since they’re made of the same slick plastic as the rest of the system, they can be hard to get traction on. Rubberized keys would be welcomed. Typing on the Q1 Ultra is a chore, but it does become easier with practice. But in practical terms, as discovered by writing part of this review on the Q1 Ultra’s keyboard, lengthy text input will never be the system’s strong suit. 

 Fortunately, there are other input methods, including a touch screen with stylus and a ThinkPad-style mouse pointer. The mouse pointer is located under your left thumb, while the left and right mouse buttons are under your right thumb, along with a four-way input that works like the arrow keys on your keyboard. That’s the opposite of the setup on the Sony VAIO UX390, OQO model 02, or Vulcan Flipstart, all of which have the mouse pointer on the right and the mouse buttons on the left. Since we generally use our right hand to mouse, the Q1 Ultra’s setup seemed odd at first, but we quickly got used to it. 

The touch screen works with both the included stylus or a fingertip, and while it likely won’t be your primary input method, being able to reach over with your thumb and click the submit button on a Web form after typing something in a text field is a huge help. As with the other UMPCs we’ve looked at, having multiple input methods is vital to making these machines even somewhat useful. 

 Additionally, a few touch-sensitive buttons sit above the screen, next to a Web cam. These include volume up and down buttons (but no mute control) and a button for bringing up Samsung’s custom onscreen menu, giving you control over screen brightness, the Wi-Fi connection, and other options.

The ports and connections on UMPCs in general, and the Q1 Ultra specifically, are sparse but functional. With two USB ports, a headphone jack, an SD card slot, Bluetooth, and a VGA out, most of your connectivity needs should be covered, save for the occasional FireWire device. In addition to the built-in 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, we think a UMPC should offer cellular broadband for times when you and this highly mobile device aren’t sitting in a HotSpot. A higher-end model, the Q1 Ultra-CMV, is scheduled to arrive next month with a mobile broadband chip from Cingular. 

 While we could see ourselves coming to terms with its various input options, the Q1 Ultra’s deal breaker is its performance. While the Sony VAIO UX390N uses a 1.3GHz Intel Core Solo CPU and the Vulcan FlipStart uses a 1.1 GHz Pentium M, the Q1 Ultra features a relatively new 800MHz Intel A110 CPU. Although specifically designed for pocket-sized devices, the Q1 Ultra’s processor simply can’t keep up with the laptop CPUs in the other UMPCs. 

With its large display and touch screen controls, we thought the Q1 Ultra would make an excellent portable media player, but we found its performance in playing back media files–either streaming online or straight from the hard drive–to be spotty at best, with frequent stuttering, making the system less useful by far. The system also struggled to run Windows Vista–accessing OS menus regularly slowed things to a crawl.  

The new processor, however, did help with battery life. The Q1 Ultra ran for two hours and 16 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using an external DVD player hooked up to one of the system’s USB ports. This is an especially grueling test, so you can expect longer life from casual use. We got a little more than three hours of battery life in our hands-on testing, which is still not acceptable in a device that can rightly be expected to stray from a wall outlet for long stretches. 

Samsung includes an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (EST), seven days a week, through a toll-free phone line, and the online knowledge base has a specific section for the Q1 line of UMPCs.  

Reviewed by: Dan Ackerman
Edited by:
Matthew Elliott

 

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