Archive for the ‘Portable PC’ category

Samsung Q1 Ultra

July 9, 2007

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

 

Apple MacBook (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz)

June 26, 2007

Now that the high-end MacBook Pro has Intel’s Core 2 Duo CPU, it’s high time the latest processor technology filtered down to Apple‘s more consumer-friendly MacBook line. There are three MacBook models, one with a 1.83GHz CPU and two with 2.0GHz CPUs. The MacBook starts at a mere $1,099, but our review unit is the most tricked-out of the three, offering the faster CPU and a larger hard drive for a still palatable $1,499. These 13.3-inch notebooks, available in the standard Apple colors of black and white, are nearly as powerful as their 15- and 17-inch Pro cousins, and they include a lot of the same features, such as the built-in iSight camera and Front Row remote. If the handful of compromises vs. the Pro model, such as the screen size and the lack of discrete graphics, isn’t a deal breaker, the MacBook is a no-brainer for anyone who wants to step up to an Apple laptop or upgrade their older MacBook.

While the entry-level MacBook is available only in white, when you move up to the 2.0GHz version, black is also an option. Our black MacBook isn’t quite as sharp as the metallic MacBook Pro we looked at recently, but it still has a very distinctive look, with rounded edges and a boxy iPod-like design. The matte black surface is nice to run your hands over and is largely fingerprint resistant. The white 2.0GHz model is $200 cheaper and starts with a smaller hard drive, but it can be upgraded to an identical configuration.

Measuring about 1 inch thick, 12.8 inches wide, and 9 inches deep, the MacBook is small enough to carry around every day and just big enough to comfortably function as your everyday computer. It weighs in at 5.1 pounds (5.7 pounds with the AC adapter), and while the difference is only about half a pound, it feels considerably lighter than the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Opening the lid, you’ll find a minimalist setup, including a power button, a full-size keyboard, a sizable touch pad with a single mouse button, and a built-in iSight camera that sits above the display. If you miss the scroll bar present on many Windows laptops, you’ll find that the two-finger scroll option works well (run two fingers down the touch pad, and it scrolls like a mouse wheel). The keyboard has totally flat keys (a touch we also liked on the Sony VAIO C150P/B), instead of the slightly concave keys you may be used to. It’s matter of personal preference, but we like the cleaner look of flat keys.

The MacBook supplies you with two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 400 port (the MacBook Pro adds a FireWire 800 port), a mini-DVI port (an adapter is required for hooking up a regular monitor), and a slot-loading SuperDrive DVD burner. You won’t find a media card reader, however, which has become a common feature on many laptops. Unlike the MacBook Pro, there’s no ExpressCard slot for adding components later. An Ethernet port, an Airport Extreme 802.11a/b/g wireless card, and the built-in Bluetooth take care of the networking.

At a resolution of 1,280×800, the 13.3-inch wide-screen display is easy to read and offers enough screen real estate for anything short of high-res Photoshop sessions. With a 15-inch MacBook Pro, you’d jump up to 1,440×900, but the difference is minimal to the naked eye. Movie-watching is best as a one-person experience on the 13.3-inch screen vs. the more sharable 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro models.

Our review unit came with 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. You can double the RAM to 2GB for $175, which seems like a smart investment for future-proofing your machine, and you can ramp up the hard drive to 160GB or 200GB models for $100 and $200, respectively. Other than that, the MacBook configurations are mostly fixed, although Apple is happy to sell you a variety of external accessories, such as a USB modem jack ($49) or a mini-DVI-to-VGA adapter ($19).

Apple claims significant performance boosts, up to 25 percent from the move to Core 2 Duo CPUs. In CNET Labs’ Photoshop CS2 and iTunes encoding tests, we found that the new MacBook, with a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and 1GB of RAM, performed admirably, coming in behind the 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro model, but not by huge margins. That’s even more impressive when you consider the MacBook Pro we tested had a whopping 3GB of RAM. As expected, both Core 2 Duo systems easily outclassed an older Core Duo MacBook Pro from earlier this year. We have updated our benchmarks recently, so we can’t compare these scores directly against the last round of Core Duo MacBooks, but the new Core 2 Duo MacBook did show a 26 percent boost over the older Core Duo MacBook Pro, well in line with Apple’s claims.

In many areas, the new MacBook Pro and MacBook systems are very similar, with design, price, and screen size as the major points of differentiation. One important difference to note is in the graphics subsystem. The MacBook Pro has an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600, while the MacBooks are stuck with Intel GMA 950 graphics. So if gaming is important to you, either Windows gaming through Boot Camp or Mac native gaming, you’ll want to step up to the Pro model.

In our battery tests, we got an impressive 3 hours, 30 minutes out of the MacBook–beating the 15-inch MacBook Pro by half an hour. That’s about what you’d expect from a thin-and-light notebook and more than enough for a movie or two or any flight shorter than a coast-to-coast run. If you are bicoastal, Apple has offers a $59 airline power adapter, called the MagSafe Airline Adapter, as an option. It has two different plugs for working with the power ports on different airlines.

The MacBook’s AC adapter–both Airline and normal models–connects magnetically to the laptop, so if you accidentally trip over the cord, it will simply detach instead of sending your new purchase crashing to the floor. You additionally get Apple’s tiny Front Row remote–the same as the one that comes with the iMac; it controls Apple’s Front Row software for playing back movies, music, and photos from a home-theater-style 10-foot interface.

Many people prefer Apple systems specifically for the bundled suite of proprietary software, iLife ’06, which includes intuitive tools for building Web sites, creating DVDs, composing music, and working with photos.

 The default warranty for the MacBook is one year of coverage for parts and labor, but toll-free telephone support is limited to a mere 90 days–well short of what you’d typically find on the PC side–unless you purchase the $249 AppleCare Protection Plan, which extends phone support and repair coverage to three years.

The Raon EVERUN…

June 25, 2007

Dynamism is pleased to announce the Everun from Raon, makers of the Vega. The Everun offers an array of mobile features in an ultraportable package–all at a great price. The device measures only 6.7 x 3.3 x 0.9 in (170 x 83 x 25 mm) and weighs 1.01-1.10 pounds (460-500g). Prices start at just $699 for the basic spec.  

The Everun is so named because it achieves remarkable battery life of 7 hours (standard battery) or 12 hours (enhanced battery, +0.22 lb / 100g). Even halving these ideal manufacturer times with real-world use in mind, the device offers you a realistic one-charge-per-day experience. It’s a great summer accessory for keeping up on your stocksproperties and checking emails over an iced coffee at the local café. (The Everun has integrated wifi and Bluetooth.)

 One innovation that helps lengthen battery life and protect your data is the solid state hard drive. The Everun can be purchased with a 6gb SSD, 60gb standard HDD, or both. Another cost and power-saver is the low voltage AMD LX900 600mhz processor. (Complemented by 512mb [1gb MAX RAM].) This is not a machine for Quake, but it runs Windows XP Home and Office applications quite sufficiently.  The Everun features a QWERTY keyboard on the right of the screen, and function keys on the left. The device works in portrait or landscape mode, with easy screen rotation. (The keys are labeled at an angle to make them easier to read regardless of which orientation you use.) Navigate using the 4.8″ wide aspect ratio 800×480 touchscreen or the integrated optical touchmouse and navigation key.  The Everun puts the popular aspects of the Vega in a much more elegant package and adds great mobility features like battery life, keyboard, and connectivity while keeping the same low price point. This is a great toy or tool for a mobile lifestyle.

 

The FlipStart

June 25, 2007

The FlipStart is the groundbreaking mini PC, backed by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, that gadget lovers and mobile technology aficionados have been eagerly anticipating. 

 As one of the smallest clamshell-chassis ultramobile PC on the market, the FlipStart literally adds a new dimension to this genre. Consequently, it feels just like a miniaturized PC, save two aspects. First, its power is full-sized enough to run Windows Vista (or XP). Second, the FlipStart features myriad thoughtful and innovative features that make computing on the go as effortless as possible.  

The device measures 5.9″ x 4.5″ x 1.35″/1.6″ (standard/enhanced battery), and weighs 1.5/1.75 pounds. It feels robust and durable. With a 1.1 GHz Intel Pentium M CPU, 30 GB shock mounted HDD, and 512 MB of RAM, it comfortably runs Windows XP Professional or Vista. Utilize the port replicator to have a desktop PC experience at home/office, and enjoy the FlipStart’s 6-hour (3-hour real world) run time using the enhanced battery (included) while you’re on the go.  

Connectivity options include WiFi, Bluetooth, and an integrated Sprint EVDO module so that you can utilize their nationwide broadband service (requires monthly subscription from Sprint). Ubiquitous connectivity greatly enhances productivity — not to mention that since the FlipStart has an integrated VGA camera, you can Skype videoconference with your friends and family from almost anywhere.

Its 5.6 inch wide SVGA TFT (1024 x 600) is extremely crisp, and one of the device’s highlights. In lieu of a touchscreen, there are two additional pointer options: a small trackpad, as well as a pointing stick, lie above the keyboard to the right, with mouse click buttons above the keyboard to the left. This enables you to use the FlipStart on a flat surface or while standing. 

 The FlipStart benefits from a user-centric design philosophy. In addition to the backlit QWERTY keyboard, there are a number of useful dedicated-function keys. Media control keys make it easy to start/stop/navigate through music. Arrow keys are smartly handled by a rounded navigation button above the keyboard. 

There is a dedicated “Control-Alt-Delete” button for those times when you need it, as well as a dedicated “show desktop” button for when you have too many windows open and want to reduce clutter. There is a zoom button that is smart enough to remember which applications are zoomed to which magnitudes. And even when the device is closed and in standby, you can use the jogdial controls on the side to review your latest e-mails (or contacts) on the external 1.8″ display.