Reviewed November 19, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor
When we reviewed the OQO model 01, the original OQO, back in mid-2005, we were impressed with this handheld Windows machine's ambition and incredibly small size, However, there were plenty of shortcomings-- the digitizer didn't work well, the machine was slow and hot running, and the specs were lacking. We were by no means alone in our complaints and OQO listened: the model 02 addresses most all of those complaints and is finally a handheld computer we can live with, if not recommend. In fact, last year we felt the Sony UX beat the original OQO hands down. This year, it's definitely a tighter race.
The display panel slides up to reveal the large thumb keyboard and pointing device.
Not everyone needs or wants a Windows computer that fits in a coat pocket, nor are they willing to pay for it. If you're reading this, we suspect you're interested in a 1 lb. Windows Vista or XP palmtop computer that costs around $1,700 to $2,500. Hey, miniaturization still costs big bucks. The model 02 line actually starts out with a very basic $1,300 model running XP Home on a 1.2GHz VIA processor with 512 megs of RAM that didn't impress us in terms of performance when tested it for several days. So our hopes weren't too high for Vista which is much more resource intensive than XP. But OQO's new "Best" model 02 with a 32 gig SSD (solid state drive) which costs $2,349 model pleasantly surprised us. Vista Business runs responsively enough, though of course it can't compare with a full-sized notebook running on an Intel Core 2 Duo. OQO tells us that they optimized Vista for a better experience, and they certainly did tweak a few things that count (like turning off SuperFetch which is a resource hog on systems with less than 2 gigs of RAM). The VIA processor used in the OQO isn't exactly a speed champ, but it manages to keep up with relatively little lag in business productivity and Internet apps. Though our "Best" model shipped with Vista Business, we'd expect that Windows XP would really run nicely on this tiny beast.
In the Box
OQO includes a standard 4500 mAh Lithium Ion battery, compact world charger, a pre-installed screen protector, spare track cap, VGA + Ethernet dongle adapter and documentation in the box.
Display and Digitizer
The OQO features an 800 x 480 display with active digitizer, just like the model 01. Despite the same basic specs, there's a world of difference-- the model 02's display is glossy, super-sharp and very bright. It's simply gorgeous and on par with Sony's UX line. Unlike the UX, text is very easy to read because the OQO's resolution is lower-- it's not trying to cram near-standard notebook resolution into a 5" panel. The drawback is lots of scrolling, and occasional dialogs running off the screen (there's a zoom key to help with these). While the digitizer on the model 01 drove us nuts, the model 02's is accurate and responsive. Unlike UMPCs, the Sony Vaio UX and Fujitsu U810, the OQO uses and active digitizer which means you'll need to use an EMR pen rather than a finger or PDA stylus. Active digitizers are generally more accurate and don't pick up spurious input if your hand rests on the glass. In a nearly pocketable computer, we'd opt for the convenience of finger input and the lower cost of passive digitizers. An EMR pen is included with the Windows XP Tablet Edition bundle, otherwise it will cost you an additional $29 (or you can use a Wacom pen or EMR pen from another tablet PC if you have one). XP Tablet Edition will set you back an additional $100, but there's no additional charge for Vista Business or XP Pro, and Vista Business contains all of XP Tablet's pen support and more.
The OQO in its optional docking station with an optical drive in the base. The arm swivels so you can adjust the OQO's angle.
While the model 01 was a bit drab, gray and slabbish, the model 02 is pure eye candy. Slick black (that shows fingerprints somewhat), a brushed metal keyboard surface setting off the much improved keys, and an amazing display that looks like Sony's XBRITE make a good first impression. This looks like the expensive piece of hardware it is. Likewise, the accessory docking stations ($299 for a CDRW/DVD drive and $399 for a dual layer DVD burning model) are piano black, super-slim and beautifully designed with a metal arm that suspends the OQO 4" above the desk. Even the included compact charger is gloss black, with rounded edges, and a contrasting OQO logo.
The model 02's magnesium alloy casing mean the unit is fairly durable, though you'll still have to be careful with the display which is unprotected unlike clamshell designed notebooks and UMPCs like the FlipStart and Fujitsu U810 mini-computer. The slider mechanism is very sturdy yet easy to operate and the display locks into place in the up and down positions.
Design and Ergonomics
The OQO isn't much larger than the HTC Advantage Windows Mobile PDA phone, a device that attempts to replace your notebook but doesn't run full Windows. You won't mistake the OQO for a Palm or iPAQ, but it's significantly smaller than the Samsung Q1 Ultra and somewhat smaller than the Sony Vaio UX380N and Fujitsu U810. It's the lightest ultra-mobile computer with a keyboard on the US market, and at 1 pound, you'll hardly notice it in your bag.
The Nokia N800 Internet Tablet and the OQO model 02.
The model 02 feels just the right size in two hands and works well for thumb typing (this is not a touch-type keyboard). The keyboard is however very good, improved over the model 01's keyboard and light years ahead of the nearly no-travel Sony UX keyboard. Most keys are exactly where they'd be on a standard notebook keyboard, with double-mapping for controlling volume, rotating the display and Fn keys. There are dedicated arrow keys that act as page up/down, home/end with the Fn key, a tab key and an elongated space bar all of which the U810 lacks. The keys are clicky with good separation and the embedded eraser stick pointer is one of the best we've used-- it's responsive without being flighty. This is a right-handed person's design with the eraser stick on the right and the mouse right and left click buttons on the left side of the keyboard. The keys are backlit and are fairly easy to read in the dark. We'd have liked more contrast on the letter masking to make the keys more readable under normal light. Two touch sensitive scroll strips on the lower right corner of the display (one running horizontally, the other vertically) make for easy and responsive scrolling for those who dislike track point eraser stick pointers.
should you wish to touch type, use a Bluetooth wireless folding keyboard like the Stowaway or a USB keyboard. Likewise, USB and Bluetooth mice work fine but the OQO has only 1 USB port so you'll need a hub or the docking station to use both a USB keyboard and mouse at once. And should you wish to use an external monitor, the OQO can connect to VGA and HDMI external displays (and projectors) with a max resolution of 1920 x 1200. A DVI adapter is available for separate purchase. The model 01's monstrous 1.5 foot long dongle with it's myriad ports has thankfully been laid to rest, and there's no such required snake for the model 02.
Given the unit's small size, there are relatively few ports, and these are: 1 USB 2.0 port, a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, a combined docking connector/charging port and HDMI (all on the bottom edge). A built-in mic lives on the unit's bottom edge as well. The combined Ethernet and VGA adapter (included) plugs into the docking port and there's a jack on the adapter to accommodate the charger as well. Vents on the top, bottom and right side help get heat out, and the model 02 runs considerably cooler than the toasty model 01, with moderate fan noise when the machine is working hard.
The most basic OQO running Windows XP. All OQO model 02 machines look identical from the outside.
Horsepower and Performance
Lay aside those fantasies of powerhouse notebook performance. Like all handheld Windows machines, the OQO is best suited to Office and Internet applications, not high-end gaming, working with 20 meg pre-press images or CAD. At the moment, the recently released Sony Vaio UX490N with a 1.2GHz Core 2 Solo processor + SSD and the UX380N/390N are the top performers in this space, and they are by no means fast. All OQO model 02 units come with a VIA C7M ultra low voltage CPU, with the base model 02 at 1.2GHz, the mid-level model at 1.5GHz and the best model at 1.6GHz. Despite the nominally higher clock speed, the VIA processor just isn't as fast as Intel's Core Solo And Core 2 Solo processors, nor is VIA's integrated graphics as strong as Intel's. We tried the 1.2GHz model with XP and found it slow (Vista would be unimaginable and isn't even a pre-installed option). Our 1.6GHz model was a pleasant surprise as mentioned, and it can handle Vista (with help from OQO's tweaks) and should be even more responsive with Windows XP. For business apps, we give the 1.6GHz model a thumb's up.
The optional EMR pen ($29) and Executive Case ($59).
VIA's VX700 integrated graphics is the OQO's sore point; our 1.6GHz "Best" Vista machine faltered on YouTube videos and had an even harder time with videos ripped above 600kbps and iTunes videos. If pocket multimedia is your thing, the OQO isn't your best bet, at least not under Vista. VGA resolution videos will extend off the bottom of the 400 pixel high screen. another sore point.
The OQO model 02, and the extended battery below the OQO.
The OQO comes with Atheros WiFi 802.11 a/b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR. Those who wish to tether a GSM 3G phone for wireless data will appreciate the high speed Bluetooth connection, especially since there's no US option for an internal HSDPA model, only EV-DO. EV-DO rev. A for Sprint or Verizon is a $149 option and we found performance on our Sprint-equiped model to be excellent and a real improvement over the EVDO rev. 0 modem. Internet speeds were close enough to WiFi 802.11b that we didn't even bother switching to WiFi when in our office. EVDO connections are more secure than WiFi, an important consideration for government and other workers who transmit sensitive data on the go.
Top of the OQO model 02.
As with the model 01, we weren't terribly impressed with WiFi range. Though better than the model 01, it can't compete with the little Fujitsu U810 or most subnotebooks on the market today. It's on par with PDA range and is usable, just don't wander too far from the base station. For those who want to use the OQO at their desk, the included dongle adapter has a 10/100 Ethernet jack as does the docking station.
It seems the more mobile a PC is, the worse its battery life is. There are a few exceptions like the Sony Vaio TX line of subnotebooks and the U810; but the OQO, Sony UX, and most UMPCs on the market manage 2 hours with wireless on. The original OQO sometimes didn't manage that, but the model 02 with the 4,500 mAh standard Lithium Ion battery hit the 2.25 hour mark with WiFi and Bluetooth on. The $199 extended battery doubles capacity to 9,000 mAh and doubles runtimes to 4.5 hours. OQO claims up to 3 hours with the standard battery and 6 with the extended, which is possible if you dim the display, turn off wireless radios and avoid taxing the CPU and thus turning on the cooling fan.
Value Proposition and OQO vs. the Competition
The OQO model 02, other than the base model with no upgrades or accessories, is a very expensive product. Only the latest Sony Vaio UX 490N at $2,500 is as expensive (the 390N is considerably less). What does OQO offer for the money that the competition doesn't? Size and form factor. If you want the smallest Windows PC on the market, and prefer something that has PDA-like ergonomics (great for use while walking) then the OQO wins. The Sony UX comes close, but it's a bit larger and heavier and has a poor keyboard compared to the OQO model 02. If you like to accessorize, nobody beats OQO's large line of add-ons, from docking stations to extended batteries, to a variety of cases and more. The drawback is these can easily add $500- $1,000 to your order. Get the dual layer DVD-RW docking station ($399), extended battery ($199), EV-DO option ($149), case ($59), a second charger for the office ($99) and airplane/car charger ($79) and you've just added on $984! OQO does offer accessory bundles that run from $329- $599 (for around $55 savings vs. separate purchase), but these many not include the accessories you want. If you prefer a shrunk-down (really shrunk-down) notebook design and have only $1,000 to spend, consider the Fujitsu U810 mini-notebook instead. If you want a small web tablet format, there's the Samsung Q1 Ultra, also around $1,000 (but slower than the OQO).
The OQO model 02 is a marvel of engineering, and that's going to cost some serious money. OK, we've gotten that out of the way. The OQO model 02 is light years ahead of the model 01, and we applaud OQO for making so many changes so well and so quickly. We love the superb display that's brighter, sharper and just plain prettier than other UMPCs on the market except the Sony UX series which is equally as gorgeous though harder to read because of its extremely high resolution on a 4.5" screen. The model 02's thumb keyboard is excellent, the track point had me almost liking the IBM eraser stick design for the first time ever, and EVDO in a package this small means you can stay connected most anywhere in the US. Lastly, the OQO model 02 offers the power of Vista and XP and the wealth of applications that run on Windows, literally in the palm of your hand.
Pro: Incredibly small yet usable. Extremely good looking-- even the accessories are eye candy. Runs full Windows. Durable magnesium alloy casing (but be careful of the display), wonderful display and excellent wireless connectivity built-in (though we wish OQO would add an HSDPA option for world travelers and AT&T customers in the US). The Best model with SSD has acceptable to a bit better than average performance by UMPC standards and the solid state drive doesn't care how much you jump, bump and shake while using the computer.
Con: Quite expensive. Like most UMPCs, battery life is so-so with standard battery. No built-in card reader or VGA port (must use the included dongle for VGA and most projectors use VGA connectors). Low resolution display relative to screen size is easy on the eyes but it makes for a lot of scrolling and occasionally dialogs run off the screen. Inherent to the tablet design, the display is vulnerable and the unit really requires a good case for transport in bag or briefcase.
Price: $2,349 for the Best model with SSD, $2,498 as tested with a Sprint EV-DO rev. A modem. Base model starts at $1,299.
1 year warranty (OQO sells extended warranties as well)
Display:5" color display with active digitizer (uses EMR pen). 800 x 480 resolution. Supports external monitors (with VGA, DVI and HDMI ports) up to 1920 x 1200 resolution in mirrored or extended desktop modes. VIA VX700 with integrated GPU (uses shared memory).
Ion rechargeable and removable 4,500 mAh. Optional extended battery is 9,000 mAh.
Performance:1.6GHz VIA C7M ULV processor (also available with 1.5GHz and 1.2GHz). 1 gig 533MHz DDR2 RAM (base model has 512 megs). 32 gig SSD drive (traditional hard drives available from 40 to 120 gigs).
Size:5.6"(W) x 3.3"(H) x 1.0"(D). Weight: 1 pound with standard battery.
in speaker and mic. AC97 audio, HD audio support.
Atheros WiFi 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR. Optional WWAN Sprint or Verizon EVDO rev. A modem. 10/100 Ethernet (requires included dongle adapter).
Vista Business. Also available with Windows XP Home (on base model only), Windows XP Professional, Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005, Vista Ultimate.
Ports:On unit: 1 USB 2.0 port, docking connector, HDMI, charging port, 3.5mm stereo audio out. On included adapter: VGA, charging and Ethernet. DVI adapter sold separately.