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Samsung Q1 Ultra
Editor's rating (1-5):
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Review posted August 8, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor
When we reviewed the Samsung Q1, Samsung's first UMPC-- in fact, the first UMPC available in the US, it showed promise but was hobbled by a few flaws including a low resolution display that was sometimes too small to show entire dialog boxes, the lack of a keyboard (though you could use a USB or Bluetooth keyboard) and the high price tag. We're pleased that Samsung addressed all of these issues, though the price tag for a well-equiped Ultra is still much higher than Microsoft's touted $500- $600 vision of the UMPC.
Last spring, Microsoft created quite a buzz around their mysterious "Origami Project", revealing bits and pieces about this new great and affordable technology that was going to change the way we used computers. Had Microsoft left the hype and mystery to companies like Apple who are much better suited to such marketing techniques, the UMPC might have received a better reception. Though neither earth-shattering nor truly affordable, the UMPC did provide basic computing and a very usable touch screen in a small (but not unusably small) package.
The challenge remains convincing buyers that this little fellow is worth as much money as a decent 15" or 17" notebook. Compared to the HP dv9000 17" notebook with dedicated graphics or an Apple iBook, the Q1 Ultra is underpowered, has a lower resolution display and a much less usable keyboard. Ouch. But the Q1 Ultra can go most anywhere easily and fits into a medium sized purse or briefcase. It has a good touch screen display that might not be up to the iPhone, but it makes for a mostly pleasant touch-screen tablet experience. The Q1 Ultra runs Windows Vista Home Premium, which is both a blessing and a curse. A 1.52 lb. Vista machine is enticing for road warriors, but alas the Intel A110 800MHz processor just can't keep up.
The Samsung Q1 Ultra measures just 9.95
x 4.87 x 0.94 inches, a tad shorter than the Q1 "non-ultra" it replaces, and larger than the OQO model 2 and Sony Vaio UX380N (thought the UX is thicker). At $899 to $1,200 it's considerably more affordable than the Sony and OQO. There are currently 4 Q1 Ultra models, with the more expensive models featuring larger hard drives, integrated cameras and even HSPDA wide-area networking. We received the $1,199 Q1U-V for review.
Design and Ergonomics
The Samsung Q1 Ultra is a two-fisted device given its near 10 inch spread across, though you can hold it with one hand by the middle, preferably resting on the wrist and forearm. The one-handed approach works well for tablet-style use with the stylus and the two-handed approach is a must to use the split QWERTY keyboard and navigation controls. And there are plenty of controls: there's a virtual mouse on the left that doubles as Dial Key input if that feature is turned on; a 4-way directional pad with center action button on the right; left and right mouse buttons on the right (not under the mouse control on the left for some reason); and 4 electrostatic touch sensitive controls above the display for "UDF" (that's the shortcut assignment for application launching using the d-pad), volume down, volume up and Samsung's menu for quick access to brightness, LCD switching, rotation, sound on/off, WiFi, Etiquette mode and battery charge level status. The power slider with hold switch, wrist strap mount (better have a strong wrist) and AV Station launcher are on the tablet's left edge. The camera shutter button is on the top right corner and the stylus silo is on right bottom right edge.
There's an SD card slot up top, along with the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and a USB 2.0 port. The remaining ports are on the right edge: Ethernet, USB, VGA and power. The camera lens lives above the display and the dual array mics are below the display. There's a sturdy plastic fold-out stand on the back, and you'll need to lift that to access the battery release. The battery is essentially the left grip section on the back.
The Q1 Ultra is very attractive, modern and not too heavy for tablet use. It's just the right size for a couch-top tablet: not too large or heavy, but large enough to accommodate a readable display. The split keyboard is better than nothing but the keys are smaller and more difficult to use than the BlackBerry 8800's (and that's a challenging keyboard as BlackBerry goes) and the Treo 755p. The rubbery-surfaced, domed keys have good travel and tactile feedback; but their size, close proximity and split layout made us yearn for even a foldable Bluetooth keyboard. Given how well handwriting recognition works under Vista, we'll take that! Number entry requires use of the Num Lock key, and there's a backspace key but no delete, making Ctrl-Alt-Del impossible on the keyboard (if you could accurately hold down 3 tiny keys on two sides anyhow). That said, we're happy Samsung heard reviewers' complaints and added a keyboard. Likely future versions will evolve into more usable designs.
The Samsung Q1 Ultra doesn't get uncomfortably hot, even when working hard. That's a good thing for a handheld computer, unless you live in Siberia. Air vents on the top and bottom right side edges blow warm air quietly when the computer has been working on challenging tasks for several minutes.
Horsepower and Performance
Handheld computers and UMPCs running full versions of Windows aren't speed demons with top specs. Cost and the current state of technology mean that fast (and thus very hot) CPUs, capacious hard drives and optical drives don't make their way into tiny PCs. Despite that, we've reviewed a number of very usable Windows XP ultraportables over the years. The bad news is Windows Vista, and OS we like just fine, but not in these kinds of machines. Vista is very demanding, even with Aero turned off. A 1GHz ultraportable can run XP fine, but it's a slug with Vista. Unfortunately, the first crop of Windows Vista UMPCs are running intel's new A110 800MHz CPU, designed primarily for UMPCs. The processor isn't up to the demands of the OS, and thus most tasks run slowly in Vista. The slower 1.8" hard drives used in these machines don't help, and as a result installing software takes several times longer, applications launch slowly and Windows itself seems to take an eternity to boot. Turn on the Q1 Ultra and you'll see the beginnings of the desktop in about a minute. Ah, but it's not really ready to do anything yet: tray icons are still loading as are bits of Windows. Don't bother trying to launch Internet Explorer, open the Start Menu or even bring up Samsung's lightweight settings menu for another minute. Sleep mode avoids this problem, but you'll need a charger close and some changes to power management to keep it in sleep rather than hibernate mode. Waking fully from hibernation is also a long, tedious affair. To make matters worse, we had consistent problems with WiFi not resuming properly after 4 or more hours of sleep and hibernation, required a dreaded reboot. If you need an instant-on device consider the Windows Mobile HTC Advantage instead. If you want a more responsive machine, pick up the Q1 Ultra with Windows XP (model Q1U-XP), the last generation Q1 UMPC running XP or a Sony Vaio UX390N with its faster CPU (or an older Windows XP UX for a speedier experience).
Once you do get IE, MS Office 2007 and Outlook running, speed is slow but definitely usable. Quicktime works well, sites that use heavy dose of Flash load slowly and Samsung's own user guide, a very attractive Flash-based document, runs quite slowly. Thankfully, Samsung avoids the bloatware slathered on full-sized notebooks, so no additional slowdowns there.
The Q1 Ultra has 1 gig of 400MHz DDR2 RAM and SODIMM slot. It uses the Intel 945GMS chipset with a 400MHz front side bus, and Intel integrated GMA950 graphics with 128 megs of shared memory. As you might guess, this machine is best for the most casual of gaming only. Our model shipped with a 60 gig, 4200 RPM 1.8" hard disk, and there are 40 and 80 gig models available as well. There is no internal CD/DVD drive since there's no room for one. You can use a USB external optical drive to install software, watch DVDs and the like. There's a recovery partition on the hard drive, so you need not lug an external DVD drive on the road in case you need an OS reload. Ports are at a minimum: 2 USB 2.0, VGA and 10/100 Ethernet.
Display and Multimedia
The Samsung Q1 Ultra has a fairly sharp touch screen display with very good color saturation and brightness. It measures 7" and 1024 x 600 native resolution and calibration is consistent and accurate. You can scale down to 800 x 600 and 640 x 480 if needed, though we found the native resolution readable. That's a much more usable resolution than the original Q1's standard 800 x 480 resolution, and excessive scrolling or desperate measures to interact with a partially off-screen dialog box are no longer required. Actually, a few dialogs still run off the screen, but there's enough real estate to drag the window and hit the required on-screen button. You can use the stylus or your finger to interact with on-screen items, with the stylus being a better bet for small things like hyperlinked text. In fact, the first generation Q1 was actually more finger-friendly thanks to the lower resolution display and resulting larger icons, text link and close boxes.
1.6 watt stereo speakers are built into the tablet, with slit-like grills on each edge just beyond the keyboards. They're not terribly loud and don't expect lots of bass from the small drivers, but sound is clear and not sibilant. They're perfect for system sounds and short web-based Windows Media and Quicktime movies. For music and full length movie playback use headphones or powered external speakers.
Samsung once again includes their AV Station software which is a one-stop app for DVD playback (if you connect an external DVD drive), music playback and photo viewing. The finger-friendly application is intuitive and supports all sorts of removable media included USB drives and SD cards. This is a Windows-based application; gone is the version from the Q1 that had a boot straight to AV Station rather than Windows feature for a quick multimedia fix.
The Q1 Ultra is well-connected, with WiFi, Bluetooth, wired Ethernet and even HSDPA in one model. We didn't receive the HSPDA model, since it hadn't yet been released when our unit was sent out. Standard for all models is Atheros AR5006 WiFi 802.11b/g, Broadcom 10/100 Ethernet and Bluetooth 2.0. You can use a Bluetooth phone as a wireless modem for the Ultra, for a great Internet anywhere experience. In our tests, WiFi had less range than standard notebooks, but better than most PDAs and smartphones. Connections were reliable other than the previously noted failure to connect after long sleep and hibernation periods. The Samsung uses Microsoft's Bluetooth software and driver, which is a reasonably robust solution under Vista that supports most common profiles including headset for Skype calls, serial port for GPS and A2DP for stereo headphones.
Web Cam and Camera
The Q1 Ultra has a front-facing web cam and a rear-facing 1.3MP camera. You can use either for video conferencing, though the front-facing 0.3 megapixel web cam is the more likely choice for face-to-face interaction. Video taken with the front camera is dark, muddy and blocky, not too much of a surprise given the unusually low resolution. The rear camera takes lackluster photos; your 1.3MP camera phone takes images as good, if not better. There is a model sans camera, for those with corporate restrictions.
How about Skype? Yes, it works, though Skype's CPU demands really slow down the Q1 Ultra: don't run other applications in the background while video-Skyping. For video conference calls, we had to use the Samsung "Play Camera" application to select the front-facing camera before starting Skype. Skype seems to pick up the last camera used by Play Camera, and doesn't see the two cameras as separate devices. Sound quality using the built-in array mics was surprisingly good, and we didn't have to resort to a headset with mic, as is often the case with other notebooks.
Software Extras: GPS and Origami Experience
Though there's no internal GPS, Samsung includes Navigon Navigator 2.0 mapping and navigation software. You can of course supply your own Bluetooth or USB GPS to make the most of Navigator. This is well-done piece of software that's been well customized for the touch screen. You can scroll, zoom and more using your finger on a map. Buttons and icons are finger-friendly (large) and our only complaint is that some icons weren't intuitive (but you'll figure it out). Navigation was accurate with good routing and the Navteq map data was up to date.
Origami Experience is a Microsoft product designed for UMPCs. It's a launcher that's been optimized for touch screens, so you need not whip out the stylus. It provides a program launcher, a quick way to get to settings and network connections and a media player front end for Windows Media Player.
Battery life has been improved from the original Q1, and we got an average of to 3.5 hours on a charge with WiFi on and the screen set to 75% brightness (the default power management setting is much lower, and was too dim for us). The 29.9 mw Lithium
Ion Prismatic battery is removable and comprises the machine's right rear section (as viewed from the rear). Given the lower power requirements of the slow CPU and relatively small display, we'd like to see a Windows handheld PC or UMPC with significantly longer runtimes, but alas designers reduce battery size and thus capacity in their efforts to keep these beasts tiny.
Certainly an elegant and feature-rich device that addresses the first generation Q1's shortcomings. But for this price, I want more speed! Even simple tasks are annoyingly slow on the Q1 Ultra. But for those who need an goes-anywhere full Windows PC that fits in a roomy purse or briefcase and doesn't cost $2,000, the Ultra is worth considering.
Pro: Full Windows in a very portable format. Screen resolution is high enough for a near-notebook experience and the touch screen is accurate and responsive to finger touch. Good networking with Bluetooth, WiFi and even HSDPA on one model. Navigation software is a plus.
Con: Quite slow. Interacting with small on-screen elements like Start Menu program lists, hyperlinks and close boxes take a precise hand (and use of the stylus rather than a finger). The tiny keyboard is better than nothing, but not by much.
Price: Q1E-EL $899 (basic model), Q1U-CMW (HSDPA) $1,499, Q1U-XP (business model running Windows XP) $1,149, Q1U-V (our review unit) $1,199
Web Site: www.samsung.com
Where to Buy
Display: 7" color touch screen with 300 nit brightness running at 1024 x 600 native resolution (scaling to 800 x 600 and 640 x 480 also supported). Intel GMA950 graphics with 128 megs shared memory. Can drive an external monitor up to 2048 x 1536 resolution.
Ion Prismatic rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
29.6mw. Claimed runtime 4.5 hours. Extended battery available with claimed 8.5 hour runtime.
Performance: 800MHz Intel A110 with 400MHz front side bus. 1 gig DDR2 (400MHz) RAM, 1 SODIMM socket. Intel 945GMS chipset with 400MHz FSB.
Drive(s): 1.8" hard disk, 4200 RPM. 40, 60 and 80 gig capacity, depending on model purchased.
x 4.87 x 0.94 inches. Weight: 1.52 pounds.
Camera: Front facing video chat camera (1/3MP) and rear still/video 1.3MP camera (one model is available without the camera).
in 1.6 watt stereo speakers, dual array mics and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder, voice command and dictation built into the Windows XP Tablet Edition OS. HD Audio, SRS Surround Sound.
WiFi 802.11b/g (Atheros AR5006), Bluetooth 2.0 and 10/100 Ethernet (Broadcom 4400x). HSDPA available on model #NP-CMV(HSDPA).
Software: Windows Vista Home Premium operating system. Microsoft Touch Pack which includes the DialKeys on screen keyboard, Origami Experience. Navigon Navigator 2.0 mapping and navigation software. MS Reader. Samsung software for managing the device, Samsung updater, AVS and AVS NOW!
Ports and Expansion: 1
SD/MMC card slot (except base model), two USB 2.0 ports, VGA port, 3.5mm stereo out, Ethernet port.
Security: Biometric fingerprint scanner included on some models.
Optional Accessories: Available for purchase are a docking station, GPS package, extended battery, dual layer DVD drive, USB keyboard, portfolio case, car DC adapter, stylus pack and USB data cable.