Reviewed December 18, 2006 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Handheld PCs have been around for a while, but they were mostly running Windows CE rather than the full version of Windows. OQO broke that tradition and produced a handheld PC that’s not only small but runs Windows XP. This year we saw a great micro PC whose size is close to OQO, the Sony UX 180P/ UX280P, which has some modern updates including a cellular data connection and ultra-light notebook specs. Across the Pacific Ocean in Korea, Raon Digital has released a Windows XP handheld PC that’s a lot cheaper than both the OQO and the Sony and it’s called Vega. It looks like one of Creative ZEN PVPs, comes in at a similar size as the Sony PSP (albeit thicker and more rectangular) and it runs full Windows XP. Throw in a AMD Geode 500 MHz processor, a 30 GB hard drive, a 4.3” XGA display plus three USB 2.0 ports, audio out and mic in ports, you’ve got the raon Vega. The Vega is sold overseas and only available in the US through importers such as Dynamism but it comes with English Windows XP OS, and applications and menus are all in English as well.
Since the Raon Vega has a touch screen display and a slate design, it’s easy to confuse it with UMPC products based on Microsoft’s latest technology. There are some major differences between the UMPC machines and the Raon Vega. The Ultra Mobile PC (code named Origami) is the result of Microsoft and Intel's collaboration to create a new kind of computing platform. It's not a notebook, though it can do anything a notebook can do. It must run Windows XP Tablet Edition and the touch screen is recommended to be 7” (or less) with 800 x 480 resolution and it should have both WiFi and Bluetooth. The Raon Vega doesn’t run Windows XP Tablet Edition (it runs Windows XP Home Edition), it does have a 800 x 480 resolution touch screen and non-integrated WiFi (via USB WiFi adapter in Vega’s case) but no Bluetooth. The biggest similarity between the Vega and UMPC is the price. While the Sony UX sells for $1,999 list and OQO sells for $1,200 to $1,400, UMPCs are generally sell for approximately $1,000. The Vega is priced at $879 by Dynamism, a price that’s competitive with UMPCs such as the Samsung Q1 and the Tablet Kiosk eo V7110.
Raon Vega at a Glance
The Vega has a sleek design that fits in today’s modern gadget world. Other than the CPU speed, it has decent specs on paper and considering the size and mobility of the machine we think it will find admirers from those who want the smallest possible PC for use on the road or use on a sofa. The Vega features a 500 MHz AMD Geode processor, 512 MB DDR RAM, Toshiba 30 GB hard drive, 3 integrated USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port and audio jacks. It lacks the integrated WiFi and Bluetooth that the Samsung offers, but it does come with a WiFi USB adapter that works flawlessly on the WiFi networks we’ve tested.
In the box
Like the Samsung Q1, the Raon Vega comes in a nice black presentation box that includes the UMPC, enhanced battery, A/C charger, a very stylish silver protective case, USB WiFi adapter, VGA dongle adapter, stylus, USB cable, a pair of Cresyn earphones, a printed thin User Manual and Windows XP Home edition CD and a companion CD with drivers and user manual.
The Vega, carry case and box
Design and Ergonomics
When we say it has similar size to the Sony PSP, we weren’t kidding. In fact, the PSP is actually wider than the Vega. It’s slightly taller than the PSP and thicker, though not by much, than the PSP. Measuring in at 6.3 x 3.1 x 1.1 inches, the Vega feels good in hand. At 1.06 lbs, it will take a long time before you feel the fatigue. It’s a bit longer than the OQO but shorter (the OQ measures 4.9 x 3.4 x .9 inches and weighs 14 ounces). The unit comes in smooth white with black cover the front and it looks modern with an “Asian flare”. Most of the ports are on the left side of the Vega including two USB (an A and a B) ports, mic in and headphone out jack and the charging port. There is only one port on top of the unit which is an additional USB (A) port. The VGA port lives on the left side of the Vega along with button lock switch, reset button and power button. The reset button is a little too “conveniently” accessible and there is no slot to store the stylus though you do get a lanyard. There are no buttons or ports on the bottom of the unit. Half of the thickness on the Vega comes from the extended battery (the compact battery is smaller). Two latches secure the battery to the unit. You will also find the stereo speakers on the front up top which sound quite decent when you play music through them.
Unlike the OQO and Sony VAIO UX series approach, the Raon Vega doesn’t come with a built-in keyboard. You will either need a USB keyboard or use the on-screen soft keyboard as input methods on the Vega. To make things easier without the Tablet Edition’s utilities, the Vega provides Raon’s own handwriting recognition software to help make better use of the stylus as input method for notes, email and Word files, but it’s not very handy for entering text in non-text centric applications such as web browser fields. While Samsung seems to have taken the simple hardware button control approach, the Raon Vegas has a large number of controls and input buttons that seem to take the skills of a NASA engineer to understand and memory of a maestro to remember. Of course, if you can use an external USB keyboard and mouse, you will bypass these buttons and go about your business as usual. But if your heart is set on not carrying one more peripheral in your bag, you should take some time to get acquainted to the buttons layout and controls. With some patience and the help of the stylus and the round cursor control to the left of the display, you should get used to using the Vega eventually.
The Vegas provides 3 USB ports, but no flash memory slots nor PC card slot. Although 3 USB ports sounds like plenty, one is a mini USB port intended for syncing the Vega to a desktop Windows PC and one of the standard USB A ports is occupied by the WiFi adapter. So if you want to use WiFi, an external keyboard and a USB flash drive or USB CD drive, you’ll need to get a hub (powered hub recommended). The Vega doesn’t come with a CD/DVD drive, but it works with standard external CD/DVD drive via USB connection.
Horsepower and Performance
While most handheld Windows XP and UMPC machines run on 900MHz to 1.2GHz processors, the Vega takes the low road. The Vega has a 500MHz AMD Geode LX processor that’s designed as lower power, single board computer form factor x86-based processor. Despite the low CPU speed, running Windows XP, MS Office applications, browsing the web and doing email did not faze the Vega. Windows XP starts at a reasonable speed (52 seconds with a fresh machine), applications load reasonably fast and there’s no noticeable delay loading web pages, opening files and application menus. Application installations are slow on the Vega compared to a standard notebook (the 1.8” isn’t fast compared to standard 2.5” notebook drives) and you wouldn’t want to run demanding applications like Photoshop, but it does well with standard business apps. The machine has 128MB of L2 cache and 512 megs of 400MHz DDR RAM. For the intended tasks (web browser, office works and music), the processor and memory on the Vega are certainly adequate. It can also drive an external drive monitor, keyboard and mouse for desktop use.
Though we didn’t expect the Vega to be a speed demon, we put it through PCMark05 to see how it would fare. As expected, many of the benchmark tests couldn’t properly finish thanks to the device’s novel architecture. The Vega scored 287 in the CPU benchmark, which is dreadfully low number, especially if you are a gamer. But with the Vega’s resolution, 16 meg graphics processor and 500MHz CPU, one does not buy it for gaming. The unit runs quite hot compared to UMPCs and the Sony Vaio UX280P but it’s cooler than the toasty OQO.
The Vega has a 30 GB Toshiba 1.8” drive that runs at 4200 rpm. The drive should suffice if you work mainly with office files, emails and etc. and you can connect external USB hard drives and USB thumb drives if you need more storage.
Display and Multimedia
The Raon Vega has a 4.3” display, same size as the Sony PSP and smaller than the OQO’s 5” display, and it has a default resolution is 800 x 480 (same as UMPCs). The screen is quite bright and has accurate colors. The viewing angle is very wide which means it’s great for showing off photos or slides while you are surrounded by a group of people. The default resolution is the best setting for the Vega: even though windows and dialogs sometimes extend off screen, menus and fonts are much easier to see. You can crank up the resolution on the Vega but be prepared to work with very tiny text and buttons. While the 800 x 480 resolution yielded the best balance, it has the UMPC problem: menus, dialog boxes and windows may not fit on screen. The result is you can’t see or press the “OK” and “Cancel” buttons. If you can’t live with this flaw, you can change the Vega’s resolution to 800 x 600 and squint as needed. Be aware however, there isn’t an easy way to change back to 800 x 480 however. If you have very good eyesight, we’d recommend setting the resolution at 800 x 600. One caveat: once we’d set the display to 800 x 600, 800 x 480 disappeared as an option. We had to delete the driver, reboot then re-install it to get it back to the default resolution.
Size comparison: Motorola RAZR, Vega and Sony PSP
Another setting change one should not make lightly is changing the display orientation. While Windows Tablet Edition makes switching screen orientation a breeze, Windows XP doesn’t deal with this gracefully, at least not on the Vega. You can change the orientation in the Display settings, but if you rely on the stylus, as we’ve come to, then you will be surprised to see your stylus is wildly out of calibration with the screen once the orientation is changed and there isn’t an easy way to re-calibrate it again. You can however use the round d-pad to control the cursor in this state.
Unlike UMPCs that runs Windows Tablet Edition, the Vega runs Windows XP which lacks customizations and some utilities (such as Windows Journal and the floating virtual keyboard) that are good for pen-based computers. The Vega’s touch screen supports stylus (any stylus) and your finger, unlike the special EMR pens and active digitizers used on most Tablet PCs. It has an on-screen keyboard and a handwriting recognition software to support using the stylus as input.
Playing music is a breeze on the Vega. You can download music from your desktop via the USB cable, load songs to USB drive or visit Internet radio stations to play music on the Vega using Windows Media Player. The front facing stereo speakers are decent for music and they’re surprisingly loud. The Vega package includes a pair of excellent Cresyn earbud headphones and the sound through them is great. Video playback is better than on PDAs. We tested a feature film ripped at 964 kbps on the Vega and it played it well with no noticeable frame drops or loss of sync. Then we threw a much more challenging test movie at the Vega, a 1450 kbps encoded WMV which no PDA, not even 624MHz Pocket PCs could play decently. The Vega handled it well, with only a few frame drops over the course of 5 minutes. The Vega’s 16MB of video memory doesn’t afford much for gaming (if your gaming titles include F.E.A.R or Battlefield), but Solitaire games play just fine.
There isn’t a lot to talk about in the wireless networking department for the Vega as it doesn’t come with any cellular data option (as does the Sony UX), integrated Bluetooth or Ethernet port. What it does have is a WiFi USB adapter that looks like a USB flash memory drive. You can plug in the adapter to use 802.11b/g (the driver is pre-installed and also supplied on a CD). Speed and reliability are both good using the USB WiFi adapter.
Raon Digital offers two Lithium-Ion battery options for the Vega: the enhanced pack battery which is 3300 mAh and the compact pack battery which is only 1100 mAh in capacity. The Vega that Dynamism sells has the enhanced pack which is a very wise choice given the Vega’s meager run times. The Vega comes with a nice battery application called Vega PM that allows you to see much more info than just the percentage of juice remaining. It provides battery calibration, alarm settings for the low battery warning, volume control and more. The battery life is short compared to the Samsung Q1 which has only a 2600 mAh battery. In two hours it loses half of its charge when playing Internet Radio music via the built-in speakers (with WiFi on and browser running) and screen off. Standby time isn’t that much better, using about 50% of its charge in 2.5 hours. Battery life is surprisingly short given the low speed CPU, lack of cellular and Bluetooth radios and more beefy graphics processor. Dynamism does sell the enhanced battery pack as an optional accessory. If you plan on using the device away from A/C for long, it’s wise to get yourself a spare battery.
Back of the Raon Vega
As mentioned, the Vega runs Windows XP Home Edition, not the Tablet Edition. While it's great to have full Windows XP, Tablet Edition would have been better since it’s designed to work more effectively with a stylus, and also offers voice notes, speech recognition and the excellent Windows Journal application. To learn more about Windows XP Tablet Edition read our Tablet PC Introduction. The Vega does offer a virtual keyboard which you can launch either by going to the Windows Start menu (you will see the keyboard shortcut) or use hardware buttons (two key combo). You can move the virtual keyboard around on the screen, but you won’t get the floating input area found in Windows Tablet Edition. The Vega also has ritePen handwriting recognition software for those who like to write on screen as if they are writing on paper. The handwriting recognition software did a very good job of digitizing handwriting into text even when we intentionally tried writing with untidy letters. If you are writing Word/Text documents or email, ritePen works well. If you are entering URLs or login names/passwords, you are better off using the virtual keyboard.
You will get the standard software package that comes with Windows XP Home Edition including Outlook Express, MSN messenger, Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer and the standard accessories, applications and game. For power management, you get the afore mentioned VegaPM. Our device also has Windows Movie Maker which requires at least 1024 x 768 resolution to run.
Is it for you?
Any decision on purchasing a particular device should start with your needs and requirements, unless your pocket is as deep as the Mississippi. So let’s begin by asking: could the Vega replace your notebook? The answer is largely a “no”. Even though the Vega runs full Windows XP, it lacks the processing power and higher resolution display to run some more processor-intensive applications and games. And if you wish to use an integrated keyboard and trackpad, the Vega doesn’t provide that. Could it replace your PDA? The answer is “maybe, maybe not”. The Vega is small enough for those who are generous on the “small form” requirement but enjoy running Microsoft Office apps, Windows Media Play, Outlook and Internet Explorer on their device. And the Vega’s USB WiFi will keep you connected to home and office wireless routers. So if these are your requirements, the Vega is a strong candidate for a PDA replacement. What you will give up by using this device vs. a PDA is the instant on (you don’t have to wait for Windows to boot up on a PDA), longer battery life (most PDAs can last you for a couple of days) and a smaller form factor at a lighter weight. Who would want to use the Vega? Those who prefer or need Windows XP and Windows applications, those who like a sleek and cool looking device that’s small enough to carry easily around the house or on the road, and those who like using a stylus to write on the computer screen.
A novel handheld PC that’s cheap enough for gadget lovers to enjoy. Its good looks, smaller form factor and full Windows XP experience will turn heads. OQO and Sony UX series fans who can’t pull the trigger because of the higher prices should check out the Vega. The device isn’t as powerful as those higher end machines, but it’s a good starter device for handheld PC admirers. We only wish the unit had longer battery life given its slower CPU and reduced feature set.
Pro:Very good looking machine that’s not much bigger than a wide screen portable video player. Real Windows XP experience and applications in a smaller package. Nice screen and the unit is well built. Has USB ports and VGA out. Adequate performance for Office applications, email, Internet tasks and even video playback. It’s the cheapest handheld PC available in the US.
Con:Windows Tablet Edition would have improved the pen-based computing experience a ton. Short battery runtimes and the unit gets very warm. Not powerful enough for CPU intensive applications and higher resolutions. As with the UMPC dialogs sometimes run off screen, but the Vega lacks the UMPC’s quick and reliable resolution switcher button to work around this. No Bluetooth and you must use the USB adapter for WiFi. No expansion slot(s).
Where to Buy: www.dynamism.com , one year Dynamism warranty included and unlimited support
Display:4.3" color touch screen running at 800 x 480 resolution (supports scaling up 920 x 1440 when connected to an external display). AMD GeodeLX chipset, 16M graphics memory.
Battery:Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. Enhanced battery 3,300 mAh at 10.8v. Spare enhanced batteries are available for purchase.
Performance:500MHz AMD Geode LX800 with 512 megs of DDR (400MHz) RAM.
Size:6.3 (W) x 3.1 (L) x 1.1 (H) inches. Weight: 1.06 pounds.
Audio:Built in stereo speakers, 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack and mic jack.
Networking:USB WiFi 802.11b/g adapter included.
Software:Windows XP Home Edition operating system. Microsoft Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player and all standard Accessories and games are included. Also Windows Movie Maker (requires to run at higher resolution) and MSN Messenger. Vega offers VegaPM and ritePen applications.
Ports and Expansion:Two USB A 2.0 ports (standard USB), 1 mini USB B connector, VGA port, 3.5mm stereo out and mic in. No flash memory slot, no PC card slot and no Ethernet port.