Editor's Note: Also read our Samsung Q1 Ultra UMPC review. The Q1 Ultra was released in the summer of 2007.
Reviewed May 21, 2006 by Lisa Gade, Editor
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's not a PDA since it's considerably larger and doesn't run a special mobile device operating system such as Windows Mobile or Palm OS, and it's not just a portable media player like the Archos AV700 though it can do nearly everything that a PMP does except record live TV. So what is it? It's a Windows XP Tablet with a 7" display in a slate form factor. The screen size is recommended by Microsoft as is the 800 x 480 resolution, but manufacturers can decide on CPU, memory and various other features. Basically the UMPC is a well-connected Windows XP machine with a touch screen that can easily fit in a large purse and any brief case. If you're familiar with Windows XP Tablet Edition computers, think of this as the much smaller and more affordable version.
Samsung is the first big name manufacturer to release a UMPC in the US, and that's the Q1 we'll look at today. The Q1 is an absolutely beautiful looking piece of hardware with smooth, modern lines, solid build quality and a gloss piano black finish. It has respectable specs, with WiFi, Bluetooth, 10/100 wired Ethernet, 512 megs of DDR2 RAM and a 900MHz Celeron processor. Not bad for something so small! While Microsoft hinted that UMPCs would sell in the $500 to $1,000 range, it seems those numbers are a year off or more. The current generation of UMPCs, especially the Q1, have some pretty high specs so the price is $1,099. More than your everyday Dell notebook to be sure, but less than full-sized Tablets or most B5 subnotebooks such as the $1,600 Fujitsu P1500D and $2,000+ Sony TX series. Clearly at that price, with lower end specs than a "regular" notebook of the same price, the UMPC isn't for everyone.
Who and what is the UMPC for, then? It's for folks who don't want to carry a 7 pound notebook to do web surfing, email, work with MS Office documents and some light (we mean light) gaming. It's great for those who don't love touchpads or eraser stick pointers: with the UMPC you'll use your finger or the included stylus to navigate on screen. If you need extreme portability but find that PDAs meet all of your needs, want to have your music library with you or a selection of movies to watch on the road, want to do digital sketches or artwork by drawing on the screen, then the UMPC could be for you. If you need to power of Windows XP but prefer the 1.7 pound Q1 which is no larger than a softbound book to a heavyweight, consider the UMPC.
Who isn't the device for? Novice users for one simple reason: some applications and even Windows itself expects at least 800 x 600 resolution. Occasionally you'll run into dialog boxes that run off the bottom of the screen. You'll need to use the hardware resolution switcher button to switch to 800 x 600 mode. Sometimes apps don't redraw the dialog boxes, so you might have to close it using the x button up top and restart what you were doing now that your machine is at a higher resolution. Computer savvy types with figure this out after a grumble or two, but novice users and even intermediates might be lost.
Before writing this review, I lived with the Samsung Q1 for two weeks, and documented some of the ways it might be used and how it fared in a series of posts on our site. You can read those here to get a play-by-play analysis of how the device did and a notebook replacement, movie player, music player, gaming machine and more.
In the box
The Samsung Q1 comes in a really lovely looking box reminiscent of Sony's high end product packaging. Remove the outer sleeve to reveal a gift box which holds the UMPC, battery, charger, 2 software CDs, a neoprene carry case (sleeve style) and a wrist strap (at 1.7 lbs. you'd need a pretty robust wrist). Note that though recovery discs are included, the Samsung Q1 has no optical drive. You'll need to supply your own USB CD/DVD drive or purchase Samsung's accessory for the Q1 for approximately $200. And you'll definitely need a CD drive if you intend to install additional commercial software on the machine.
Everything you get with the Q1
Design and Ergonomics
The Q1 is designed to be held with two hands (one hand on each side), or you can stand it up on a table using the built-in plastic stand which has two positions: one nearly upright and the other nearly flat. Given the Q1's excellent build quality, we were surprised by the flimsy plastic stand: be careful with it or it just might snap if you extend it too far.
The machine is fairly slim at less than one inch thick and doesn't run too hot to hold. The controls are sturdy and easy to operate. To the left of the LCD there's an 8 way flat-headed joystick for navigation (similar to the Sony PSP's) and on the right you'll see what looks like a d-pad but is actually a circular control with 4 quick-launch buttons. By default the move the cursor up and down, and move forward and back when web browsing but you can assign them to do whatever you wish is a given application.
Just below the joystick you'll find a resolution quick switcher button which switches between the default 800 x 480 resolution to 800 x 600 and 1024 x 600. Samsung's menu button is on the right and it lets you quickly change screen brightness, volume, WiFi and wired LAN among other things. Like the Samsung i730 Pocket PC phone, the menu is a bit confusing: rather than showing you the current status, it informs you what pressing the on-screen button will do (i.e. WiFi on does not mean the WiFi radio is on, it means tapping that button will turn WiFi on *doh!*)
Above: the Windows desktop with the Samsung menu open on the right side.
The unit's piano black gloss finish is beautiful but shows fingerprints, making us thankful for the included cleaning cloth which you can use on the screen and casing. Holding and using the Q1 is like crossing the experiences of using a Pepper Pad, Nokia 770, OQO and a Windows XP Tablet Edition slate design notebook. It doesn't feel like a PC, yet it is one.
The device has a USB 2.0 port on each side, a proprietary connection for the yet to appear optional optical drive, a wired 10/100 Ethernet port under a door, a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, a VGA port under another door (yes you can dock this thing at your desk and plug it into a keyboard, mouse, monitor and DVD drive). I put a few videos on a CF card and a microdrive for playback on the Q1 (why clutter the hard drive), which made me feel like I was using a Pocket PC! This is the same thing I did with my Palm T|X (only on and SD card) and Dell Axim X51v, but the playback performance and wide screen resolution on the Q1 rock. The device has a lock switch much like PDAs and MP3 players which prevents it from accidentally turning on when carried in a bag with other gear.
As you've probably noticed, the Q1 has no keyboard: it's a slate design machine which means you'll use the on-screen software keyboard or Windows XP Tablet 2005 Edition's excellent handwriting recognition. That doesn't mean you can't use a keyboard as some reviews might lead you to believe. You can purchase Samsung's pricey keyboard in matching black (also buy their roll-up case to keep it all together) or use any USB keyboard, or a Bluetooth folding keyboard to keep things compact and light. I use the Q1 with a $18 compact USB keyboard from the local Fry's Electronics (it's not much bigger than the Samsung) when at home or work and Think Outside's Universal Bluetooth keyboard when on the road.
The low stand position. The upright position is shown above.
Horsepower and Performance
Though some have complained about Samsung Q1's specs, namely the 900MHz Celeron, the machine handles Office 2003 applications, Photoshop (working with image files under 20 megs), Dreamweaver, ActiveSync, Palm Desktop and sound editors with no problems. It is certainly faster than the 2x more expensive OQO and invaluable if you need to run Windows apps on the go but don't want to haul a full-sized notebook. The thoroughly modern Intel 915GM motherboard and chipset with its 400MHz FSB is no slouch, and the 512 megs of DDR2 RAM keep the unit buzzing along nicely. For the kinds of things you'd likely use this machine for (web browsing, email, word processing, spreadsheets, light gaming, watching movies and listening to music), the CU and memory are up to the task. Even if you plug it into a monitor, keyboard and mouse for desktop use, it won't disappoint for these tasks. With a fully loaded machine that had lots of background processes and system tray apps running including the include Norton Anti Virus 2005, QuickTime, Real, all of Samsung's system tray apps and more, the Q1 stayed responsive and usable and boot times were under 80 seconds (that means the point at which you could actually start using the computer, not the point at which the desktop first appeared).
Look ma: Adobe Photoshop CS2 running on the Q1!
We benchmarked the Q1 using PCMark05, and it did better than we expected given the 900MHz CPU, and certainly well for one of the smallest subnotebooks on the planet:
Hard Drive: 2382
Size Comparison with Pepsi and the i-mate Jasjar (HTC Universal).
The machine is upgradeable to 1 gig of RAM, but Samsung has yet to release information on how to do so. There is a single DIMM slot in there somewhere but there's no easy-access memory door, so you'd need to open up the machine by removing all the phillips head screws from the back. Will this void your warranty? We hope not! Since this isn't the kind of PC you'll be using to do heavy duty video editing or CAD work, 512 megs really is adequate, even with the graphics card sharing some of that system memory.
The underside of the Q1 (that's the stand mechanism in the middle).
The battery slips into the bottom and runs the length of the UMPC.
The Samsung has a 40 gig hard drive (also not readily accessible). Samsung tells us it's a 1.8" shock mounted drive which is a good idea since the computer is small enough to carry with you everywhere, taking some bounces in the process.
Display and Multimedia
Compared to other Windows XP Tablets, the Q1's is excellent, with rich colors, very good brightness, contrast and clarity. Unlike some tablets, you won't feel like you're making a compromise (the otherwise lovely Fujitsu P1510D comes to mind). The viewing angle is fairly wide, which means you can use it to run a slide show or PowerPoint presentation with onlookers surrounding you, and they'll be able to see clearly. Unlike the OQO whose digitizer drove us crazy, or even the decent P1510d, the Samsung Q1's is spot-on accurate and doesn't require a hard touch. It's responsive and easy to use. Samsung's software offers several levels of calibration and you can even do 9 and 24 point linear calibrations to further increase accuracy (though ours worked well out of the box).
This thing is loud! The Q1 has 2 watt stereo speakers surrounding the display and while they won't compete with a Bose SoundDock, the volume is impressive and sound quality is pretty good. The unit uses SRS Surround sound and you can really hear it, even though the speakers are only 7" apart. For even better sound, plug in a good set of headphones or high quality speakers when at your desk or coffee table (the unit has a standard 3.5mm stereo out jack).
Should you wish to record sound, use VoIP or use the voice dictation and command system built into the tablet OS, the Q1 has array mics which improve sound quality and do help voice recognition.
Gaming (serious games, not board, puzzle and card games) aren't the Samsung's strong point. Certainly we're going to try F.E.A.R. on a machine with these specs, but most other modern games require at least 1024 x 768 resolution (they're so busy telling you about graphics card requirements on the box that they neglect to mention minimum monitor resolution). I tried Age of Empires II since that works at 800 x 600 (remember you can use the res switcher button to get into that mode and I've gotten it to work on the 800 x 480 OQO model 01 and the Vaio U50). But no go— the graphics drives won't allow apps to change the resolution of the machine and AoE wasn't happy with my attempts to manually put the machine in 800 x 600 mode. Well, there goes one of the least demanding but still popular games I had on my shelf. Definitely a good machine for those retro laptop collections that will run at VGA or Bejeweled (which was cut off a bit at the bottom but was still usable).
Warning: Do NOT try using the standard Windows display control panel rather than the res switcher button or the Intel software to change the LCD's resolution. You'll end up with a panning screen and a screen-to-stylus misalignment of 1 inch (very hard to interact with the screen!).
This doesn't mean that you can't game at all with some cool titles, but you will need to do it with an external monitor attached. Then it's a piece of cake and the machine supports external monitors nicely.
AVS and AVS NOW
The Q1 ships with AVS, actually two components: a Windows application called AVStation Premium and an app that runs without booting Windows, called AVS NOW.
AVStation on Windows is a pretty nice app with a fairly intuitive interface that can play all sorts of video and audio formats (it handles more than stock Windows Media Player 10). It does MPEG, AVI, MPEG4, MP3 and many, many more. Of course, there are way too many MP4 variants and encodings out there, so most should run but don’t blame me if they don’t. That said, since this is Windows, you can download and install codecs to your heart's content, thereby expanding AVS' repertoire. I played WMVs, MPEGs and AVIs and was quite pleased with the interface and playback. You can play movies from your hard drive, CF card, USB flash drive, USB external hard drive or optical drive. The same is true of AVS NOW: it can access media on any drive.
What about DVDs? The player supports DVDs and VOB files but the catch is it uses Cyberlink’s PowerDVD decoder to do the job. If you’d bought the Samsung Q1 accessory DVD/CD drive, you’d get a copy of PowerDVD with the drive. However, slim and clever as that drive is, it’s not yet available and some folks have their own external optical drive which they wish to use. If that’s you, whip out your credit card or CD archive and get a copy from www.cyberlink.com.
The music player is good, with support for playlists and all the usual bells and whistles. While you might prefer to use iTunes when running Windows, it does a nice job when using the Q1 as a portable multimedia device sans Windows.
Likewise, the photo viewer does a great job of showing off your photography skills and the machine’s excellent display. The slide show feature is great for sharing those exciting vacation photos with friends and family or doing a business presentation.
While video playback, MP3 music and photo slide shows aren't anything uncommon for Windows machines; doing all this without booting Windows is a special treat. AVS NOW runs on Windows XP embedded. What does this mean? Move the Q1's power slider switch to the left to boot up the computer in AVS NOW mode, or push it to the right to boot up Windows. AVS NOW boots in about 20 seconds. It's much quicker since you don't have to wait for Windows XP to boot up (the embedded version of Windows is much more streamlined). You'll see basically the same user friendly AVS screen as you do in the full Windows version, with large buttons for movie playback, music and photos (easy to operate with a finger). AVS NOW uses just a bit less power than Windows, and when you're done with it you can simply turn the machine off or close the app button to have it shutdown. The only drawback with AVS NOW is codec support: if a media type isn't natively supported by the application (say some DIVX variant) then it won't be able to play it. The codecs you add to Windows for video support aren't available to AVS NOW since it's not running from your full Windows installation. This won't cause problems with DVD playback, nor WMW but if you burn a lot of videos into MPEG4 variants you might not be able to play them with NOW.
A UMPC would 't be much without connectivity and the Samsung Q1 has everything except an EDGE or EVDO card. The tablet has WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 and a wired 10/100 Ethernet port. WiFi has good range and offers reliable connections which Bluetooth is handy when using a Bluetooth mouse or keyboard. If you have an EDGE, UMTS or EVDO capable phone with Bluetooth (or USB cable) you can use that as a wireless modem for the Q1, giving it wide area networking capabilities. We tested it with EDGE enabled phones such as the Nokia 6682 (over Bluetooth) and the Samsung A920 Sprint Vision phone (using the phone's USB cable and Sprint's Windows software) and both worked well.
Samsung estimates that the Q1 can go up to 3 hours with the included standard battery. The unit ships with a 2,600 mAh 11.1 volt smart Lithium Ion battery. They sell an optional long life battery which lasts twice as long but also increases the size and weight of the UMPC. In our tests we managed about 2.5 to 2.75 hours running Windows with Bluetooth on, WiFi active and screen brightness set at 66%. We were using business applications, web editors, email and browsers throughout that time. If you dim the screen to about 40% you can get 3 hours and turning off WiFi will also increase runtimes a bit. That's not bad for a very portable package with limited space for a battery pack (it's much longer than the Pepper Pad and similar to the Fujitsu P1500d).
The Q1 made it through a 2 hour movie with juice to spare. That movie was on a CF card, so the hard drive presumably wasn't spinning much and using lots of power. Brightness (you can control brightness even in AVS NOW mode using the Q1’s menu button) was set to 50%. Temps were reasonable, the device was warm but still comfortable to hold.
Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 is the heart and soul of the Q1. This is the same operating system and related software that run on other current convertible and slate tablets. It offers customizations suited to touch and pen-based input and comes with the excellent Windows Journal app, where you can take freehand notes and later turn them into text.
The Samsung Q1 has the same handwriting recognition as other Windows XP Tablets. You can write in print or cursive and the machine will do an amazingly good job of recognizing even fairly poor handwriting. It also has a writing system that's similar to Pocket PCs and other PDAs for those who are accustomed to those input methods. There's the old standby on-screen keyboard for those times when you're entering unusual terms and DialKeys which Microsoft has added as part of their "Touch Pack" for UMPCs. We've seen this software bundled on other devices such as the P1510d, and it's been fairly popular. It's an on-screen keyboard that has two quarter circle input areas, one on the left and right lower corners of the screen. You can hold the device with both hands and use your thumbs to enter letters. It takes a few days to gain proficiency, but once you do, it works well. Our only beef is that it covers precious screen real estate when maximized for use.
There literally is pretty much nothing like it! it's gorgeous, it's cool and it functions well in a variety of rolls, from ultra-portable notebook to media player to digital note taker (and more). The hardware is of impeccable quality other than the integrated stand and the machine is powerful enough to replace a basic notebook. Is it worth the price? Only you can decide: if you want or need a super-small and incredibly light device that can run full blown Windows, then yes. As a journalist on the go and webmaster of an online site, I find it invaluable. Windows XP Tablet shoppers will find the Q1 much more affordable than most tablets. But for the average consumer, it will likely be a hard sell until prices come down to $500 or $600.
Pro: Incredibly portable yet usable Windows machine. Windows XP Tablet Edition and the excellent touch screen make the most of the device. The display is vibrant and responsive. Good built-in stereo sound with SRS and dual array mics. Intuitive and easy to operate controls. Very attractive device that turns heads. Well connected with WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0 and wired Ethernet. Works with standard USB keyboards and mice as well as monitors.
Con: The resolution isn't consistently supported by 3rd party or even Microsoft's own software: dialog boxes will sometimes run off the bottom of the screen, requiring user-prowess and judicious use of the res switcher button. Price is high when the device has to compete with higher spec-d traditional notebooks (that's the price you pay for miniaturization). Pen is a little cheesy.
Display:7" color touch screen with 200 nit brightness running at 800 x 480 resolution (supports scaling to 800 x 600 and 1024 x 600 using the hardware resolution switcher button). Intel GMA900 graphics with 128 megs shared memory.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
2,600 mAh at 11.1v. Extended battery available for purchase.
Performance:900MHz Intel Celeron M (ultra low voltage) with 512 megs of DDR2 (400MHz) RAM expandable to 1 gig (has 1 SODIMM slot). Intel 915 chipset with 400MHz FSB.
x 5.5 x 1.0 inches. Weight: 1.7 pounds.
in 2 watt stereo speakers, array mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder, voice command and dictation built into the Windows XP Tablet Edition OS.
WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 and 10/100 Ethernet.
Software: Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 operating system which includes Windows Journal. Microsoft Touch Pack which includes the DialKeys on screen keyboard. Samsung software for managing the device, Samsung updater, AVS and AVS NOW!
Ports and Expansion:1
CF type II slot, two USB 2.0 ports, VGA port, 3.5mm stereo out, Ethernet port and connector for Samsung's optional DVD drive.