Reviewer's Disclaimer: This device was loaned to me as a review machine. I did not purchase it on my own.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Samsung Q1 Ultra UMPC. It's my first time experiencing a UMPC first-hand, and overall it was a fun experience. You can see photos of my unboxing experience in the Samsung Q1 Ultra gallery here on WindowsNow.
This particular UMPC has the following hardware:
- 800 MHz Intel ULV processor
- Mobile Intel 945 Express graphics card (Shared memory)
- 1GB RAM
- 40GB, 4200RPM Hard Drive
- Atheros AR5006X B/G Wireless
- Broadcom 10/100 Ethernet Controller
- 2 USB ports (one on top, one on the side)
- VGA port
- Built-in speakers
Under the hood, the low-end Q1 Ultra is a little underpowered for my taste. It has a Windows Experience Rating of 2.0, which breaks down as follows:
- Processor: 2.0
- Memory: 4.5
- Graphics: 3.1
- Gaming Graphics: 2.6
- Hard Disk: 3.7
It's kind of irritating that the hardware is all over the map, as I would expect the machine to be a little more balanced than it is. It indicates to me that, though the device sports a "Windows Vista" logo on the front, and Vista runs decently on the machine, it was not actually designed with Windows Vista in mind. For more proof, one needs to look no further than the lack of a multi-card slot on the low end model, leaving the device with no inconspicuous way to support ReadyBoost as a much-needed way to improve performance.
The lack of an integrated Bluetooth module also leaves me pretty frustrated. I don't understand how ANY consumer device these days can ship without Bluetooth, it's just beyond me. The HP Personal Navigator has a Bluetooth connection to let you use the screen as a dialer for your phone, yet I can't use my Bluetooth keyboard with my UMPC. There is just no excuse for it, they make chips with both WiFi and Bluetooth built in.
Because of that, I would NOT recommend buying this device at the lowest $799 price point. At the VERY least, go one step up and get the version with Bluetooth and a MultiCard reader.
The Samsung Q1 Ultra is 4.7 inches tall by 8.8 inches wide, and is about an inch thick. It sports a 7-inch display running at either 1024x600 or 800x600. In place of the first version's speakers, the Samsung stole the keyboard from the i730 smartphone and split it across both sides of the screen. People unused to the smartphone keyboard will have a hard time with it, but since that was my phone for 3 years, I'm used to it. I've been using the various input methods to write this review on the UMPC itself, and so far, my favorite method is using two hands on the Vista On-Screen Keyboard.
In addition, the unit contains a switchable mouse/joystick on one side, and an arrowpad and two mouse buttons on the other. The arrowpad is nice because it is configurable for a bunch of situations, like word processing or web browsing, and the Enter key in the middle comes in VERY handy.
The finish is really nice, but like the iPhone's screen, it is also a fingerprint magnet. If you're really anal about smudges, carry a wipe with you at all times. The shiny black finish is alright, but a brushed-metal finish could have helped to slim-down the device, while reducing the amount of time one will waste trying to keep it clean.
Since this is a Windows website, I would be remiss to not talk about Windows Vista on this device. As I mentioned before, while Vista runs decent on the machine, it would run much better if the hardware were more balanced. The underpowered CPU, lack of a ReadyBoost-capable card slot, and an extremely slow hard drive mean that you'll need patience in order to accomplish just about anything in Vista. Even with SP1's 11% performance boost on the device (more on that in a future post), don't expect to be zipping along for much of anything.
The Q1 Ultra comes with a number of applications out of the box that are supposed to enhance your user experience. I say "supposedly", because it comes preinstalled with McAfee, which slows the thing down to a crawl. It was the first piece of software to get the boot.
Here are some of the software programs that come with the Q1 Ultra:
- Origami Experience for Vista - While the version for Vista is considered a "1.0" version of the software, this is actually the second incarnation of the product. And, while for the most part, it is good, it lacks the visceral animated feedback one comes to expect from the Zune or the iPhone. When buttons are pressed, they don't glow to show they have been pressed, like with the Vista On-Screen Keyboard, which is kind of disconcerting when using it heavily. Microsoft just announced at CES 2008 that Origami Experience 2.0 (it's really 3.0, but who's counting?) will be launching this year, so I'm really hoping that it will provide a more immersive experience along with the new features they are promising.
- DialKeys - This is the keyboard overlay that sits in the bottom corners and lets you type with your thumbs. It's hard to justify this solution when there is a practically identical hardware version built into the top of the device, so either way, you're going to be spending a LOT of brain cycles figuring out which side of the screen your next letter is on.
- Sudoku - A very addictive game that has hundreds of incarnations across the Intertubes. I think Microsoft should release it as an Ultimate Extra. I mean, if Texas Hold-Em can be an Ultimate Extra, Sudoku could be too.
- NavigatoR by Navigon - A steaming pile of crap. While the inclusion of GPS Navigation is a nice idea, since the unit does not come with a built-in GPS receiver, it's a waste of time. On top of that, the software doesn't even enter the realm of "user-friendly". Samsung should go with Garmin's software instead, as their GPS solutions are second to none.
- PlayStation AV - Another steaming pile of crap. This is a poorly-designed knock-off of the Origami Experience software, and I have absolutely no idea why it was included. I really hate it when companies re-invent the wheel, and this particular piece of code is about as useful as AMD's new Live Explorer software, which is AMD's feeble attempt to replace Windows Media Center on new quad-core systems. Yet one more example about how some hardware companies should avoid the urge to write software... most hardware companies suck at it.
So the verdict here is, the core "Origami" experience (Windows Vista and the Origami Experience program) is great, anything else that Samsung slaps in there to "add value" could be removed to cut costs and improve the core experience.
While I'm still struggling to find *seriously* compelling uses for the device for everyday users, I have found some niches where the device proves extremely useful:
- Lifecasting: At CES, I had the pleasure of demoing the Q1 Ultra to several videographers on the BlogBus, including the people from Mogulus, and the camera crew for CNBC. The Mogulus guys were all carrying big heavy laptops to do their streaming, when the Q1 Ultra, with its 2 USB ports (one for the camera and one for a mobile broadband modem), WiFi, and battery life would have been well-suited to the task.
- Real Estate Agents: In one of my previous lives, I was the technical director for a small real estate firm. One of our projects was to enable e-signing on real estate contracts using TabletPCs. The form factor of the Q1 Ultra makes it perfect for reviewing and signing documents of any kind, and the size would make it perfect for the real-estate professional on the go.
- Medical Professionals: Just as TabletPCs are useful for doctors to me able to look at X-rays and such, the Samsung Q1 Ultra, with the integrated strap on the back, would be perfect for dentists, x-ray technicians, record clerks, and other medical staff. With the Q1 Ultra starting at $799, it's also much cheaper that most of the other Tablets out there.
- Frequent Fliers: Before left for San Jose to get on the BlogBus, I loaded up the UMPC with several episodes of "Chuck" & "American Gladiators" using Amazon Unbox. The widescreen aspect ratio was PERFECT for watching shows filmed in high-definition formats, although there were several points during the show where the video began to drop every other frame for several seconds, which was kind of annoying. I was able to watch 4 episodes before the battery died, which was way more than I could have gotten out of my laptop. And the built-in fold-out stand makes it perfect for setting on your tray-table and watching television or ripped movies.
- Digital Picture Frame: With the "Pictures" screensaver turned on, this devices makes a great picture frame when not in use.
There are also several ways that I would love to use this device, but either the hardware of software limitations make the Q1 Ultra fall short:
- Personal Communicator: During the day, I would LOVE to be able to use this device as my e-mail and Windows Live Messenger screen, and leave my other two screens for the software development I do every day. However, the lack of a Bluetooth module means that one way or another, I would have to monopolize of of the USB ports for a wired keyboard or a Bluetooth dongle, which is far from ideal. I have yet to see how well this scenario would work with Stardock's Multiplicity, but when I do I'll update this review.
- Portable TV: I have a server in my house with two Digital Cable Tuners, so I use it to record a lot of television. But those tuners also add DRM to all my recorded shows (that's a Cable Company thing, not a Microsoft thing). Because most software-based streamers (like Orb and WebGuide) respect the DRM flags (d@mn them!), and Windows Media Center cannot act as an extender to another Windows Media Center computer, I cant watch any of the TV I record on my Q1 Ultra. Which is a shame, because I would also use it to watch TV while I work during the day. Hopefully 'Fiji' will solve that problem, but Microsoft hasn't even told Media Center beta testers when that update is due out yet so I'm not holding my breath.
- Videophone: This device would make a great videophone if it had a webcam in the front. It has a little dot in the center where something like that should go, but since the device does not support IrDa, I don't know what that dimple is for. But making mobile videophone calls would be a really cool way to show off the power of the Q1 Ultra, if only it had one built in.
I can see the Q1 Ultra really working well for certain verticals, it still lacks the features that would make it truly useful to me personally.
This was my first experience with an Ultra-Mobile PC. While the form-factor shows promise, the execution thus far still leaves much to be desired. Even if the hardware was up to snuff in terms of what people expect from a mobile device, ISVs have a LONG way to go to get their applications ready for a touch-enabled world. With a plethora of new PCs hitting the market that have some kind of touch capabilities (including HP's outstanding new TX2000) software needs to be adaptable enough to let you switch between keyboard, pen, and finger inputs.
Anyone looking to build that type of software should look to the PADD from Star Trek: The Next Generation for inspiration. Holding the device in one hand while typing on the screen with the other is, IMHO, the most fun way to use it. I hope that a new generation of ISVs will come about to build software that brings intuitive experiences like PointUI to programs that are useful to everyday people.
I've seen some other really cool UMPCs while researching my review of the Q1 Ultra. I hope to get my hands on some other incarnations that might provide a better experience.