Microsoft created a ton of fuss with the launch of a version of Windows tuned for palmtops and other keyboardless PCs. But the devices that utilized it—code-named Origami—couldn’t live up to the prelaunch hype. The initial Windows XP–powered Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPCs) suffered from a tacked-on user interface, goofy or unusable input mechanisms, poor performance, and an absurdly high price. Although Samsung’s second-gen Q1 Ultra fixes some of these problems, many others remain.
The fundamental issue is input. Although UMPC devices include touch screens and a pimped-out version of Vista’s Tablet PC support, the Windows user interface simply isn’t finger friendly. People’s fingers just aren’t pointy enough to accurately press a standard Windows-size button. While the UMPC version of Vista includes a couple of apps that are designed to work with fingers on the touch screen, those apps let you play media—but not control the vast majority of tasks that you’d use a PC this size for. The addition of a keyboard is a good decision, but the buttons are smaller than those on most smartphones. They’re simply too small to press easily without peeking at them. Worse, sometimes pressing the proper buttons results in random characters appearing onscreen. Boo! Hiss!
This leads us to the big question—what would one use an Ultra-Mobile PC for? Although the formfactor is perfect for watching video in a car or on a plane, the CPU and integrated graphics are serious underperformers, rendering the device incapable of playing even standard-definition video captured using a cheap point-and-shoot camera. The screen would be perfect for photo viewing, but insufficient system memory and a very slow hard drive make photo renders run extremely slowly, especially with high-resolution photos.
We do dig the front-mounted videoconferencing camera. At .3MP, it’s very low resolution, but it is more than enough for quick Skype videoconferences. The integrated mic worked well, picking up our conversation without a ton of background noise, even in a noisy airport environment. However, the 1.3MP camera on the other side of the device feels like an afterthought. It’s roughly equivalent to what you’d find in a typical cameraphone, but the UMPC lacks the always-on convenience of a phone cam.
Because it lacks a full-size keyboard, the UMPC won’t be replacing our business laptop. We can imagine a ton of uses for a rig like this in industrial settings, but the software isn’t fully baked enough for most consumers to use. Instead, you’d be better served by a full-blown laptop.
With a 7-inch 1024x600 LED backlit display and a digital pad that’s perfect for scrolling pages, the Ultra is a competent web-browsing platform. However, we can’t justify spending $1,200 on a machine dedicated solely to web browsing when we can get an actual laptop for a lot less that does everything this machine does, minus the nifty touchscreen functions. The hardware is designed to balance battery life and performance. In our tests, the battery lasted between four and six hours, depending on backlight brightness and Wi-Fi usage. We couldn’t help but think that the machine could benefit from a little more oomph under the hood, either with a GPU that features dedicated video processing or a little more CPU juice. In its current configuration, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually be able to watch decent-quality video on this little number.
We remain optimistic that Microsoft and its hardware partners will turn the UMPC tide and deliver a compelling touch-screen experience. There were marked improvements in battery life and input (when using the stylus instead of a finger) with this generation, but we think the Q1 Ultra represents generation 1.5 rather than a true second-generation product.
Great screen, good battery life, and improved stylus input.
still bad for the fingers; slow performance in media apps.