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Ultra Mobile PC Review: Samsung Almost Rights the Wrongs with the New Q1 Ultra Series

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In May of 2006, Samsung released the first commercially available UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) that was supposed to change the world. We were told, with various press releases, how the new Q1 UMPC would be able to join us on hiking trips, bike rides, boat trips, etc. and change the way we communicate with the rest of the world. This all sounded good until the Q1 actually started shipping in early May of 2006. While having a computing device the size of a paperback book looked cool (and it certainly did turn eyes), it lacked a thumboard for input, the battery life was incredibly short, the resolution (800 X 480 pixels) was very low, the 900 MHZ Celeron processor was awfully slow (they did release a Pentium unit with a 1 GH Processor), and holding it felt like handling a brick. The brightness level, which I consider very important since I love watching movies on my UMPCs, was low as well, but fixed on later upgrades of the unit.

Just this past week, online retailers such as Costco and Buy.com have been shipping the Samsung Q1 Ultra (I’m not sure why they just didn’t call it the Samsung Q2). Apparently, Samsung has paid attention to the massive complaints the Q1 unit received, because they have fixed a lot of things that make this, for the most part, a usable unit. 

First, let’s start with the newly added split (half the keys on the right of the screen, the other on the left) thumboard. Even though the keys are small and uncomfortable to use (at first), the thumboard comes in very  handy when writing an email, entering an email address, or writing a very short document. Thumboards were never intended to substitute for a keyboard in the first place. If you want to do that, use a regular laptop or buy a Bluetooth portable keyboard. Some may argue that you don’t need a thumboard with a tablet system, especially since the new Vista operating system recognizes handwriting very well. I’ve tried writing two emails with my own handwriting (which is somewhat neat) and there were mistakes with basic words each time I wrote the email. When thumbing in the email, the process went a lot faster, even though, at first, I would type in unnecessary characters since my thumbs are so big.  

Next, let’s go to the newly added “mouse,” which is now located at the left of the screen, while the buttons are located to the right corner, but lower. Having the mouse button and the right and left click buttons parallel to each other would have been a lot more convenient. Even though it’s only been one day, I’m having a hard time getting used to this setup. It’s easier just to touch the screen, which responds very well.

Looking at the screen will make previous Q1 buyers jealous for not waiting for the Q1 Ultra. The 1024 x 600 pixel resolution, combined with the ultra-bright screen, make this the most gorgeous screen I have seen on a UMPC. Watching a movie on this thing is pure heaven, with the video colors crisp and well saturated. The screen looks well even when turning the unit to the left or right. When facing the unit down, the picture quality disappears a little, but that is common with this type of device. At least this isn’t one of those units, like the HP TX1000 “Entertainment” PC, where you have to look at a completely straight angle in order to enjoy the contents.

The biggest criticism of the first Q1 was the battery life. When running Wi-Fi and playing music, this usually lasted me a little more than an hour. So far, the Q1 Ultra has lasted me two to two and half hours while doing the same. It’s a big improvement, but still not the type of device you can take out on the field all day without charging it. Samsung does have an extended battery if you feel like shoveling out a couple extra hundred dollars. 

The Samsung Q1 Ultra is also a lot easier to hold than the Samsung Q1. While the Q1 felt uncomfortable holding in one hand after a while, The Q1 Ultra feels very sturdy. Part of this is due to the unit being slightly smaller, but Samsung has improved the ergonomics of the unit as well. Because the Samsung Q1 Ultra is lighter, it is much easier to Velcro on your dashboard. If you have an audio input on your stereo, or Bluetooth car speakers, you can connect your Q1 Ultra to your speakers. Notice, in the pictures below, how many different uses the Q1 Ultra has in your car: a music player; a portable video player (just be careful when you’re driving), a GPS system (it even comes with the software), or just an Internet browser when connected with a phone or wireless modem.

      Before you think this unit is perfect, there is one important aspect that hasn’t been covered yet: speed! The higher end unit runs an 800 MHz “Genuine Intel” processor. The lower end unit runs a 600 MHz processor. I don’t know how anybody could handle the lower end units because at 800 MHz, this unit is slow. When I say slow, I mean as slow as watching a clock and waiting for a minute to go by. This unit is even slower than the original Q1 unit. Much of this is due to the new Windows Vista operating system, which hogs up a lot more RAM and CPU usage. Perhaps if you take yourself back in time five years, the speed wouldn't be that bad, but we geeks are now used to our laptops running at the same speed as desktops, which are slowly disappearing from the market. Still, the speed doesn’t prevent anybody from doing most tasks and surprisingly, the Q1 Ultra even runs the Aero Interface pretty well. Samsung had to sacrifice speed for battery life and I think most mobile users would be understanding. Just in case you are actually planning to replace your laptop computer with this, just please – and I say this lightly – have patience.

Then again, I still don’t understand why people would want to replace their laptops with UMPCs. Many reviewers still compare UMPCs with laptops, and this is unfair since a UMPC isn’t supposed to replace a laptop; it was made to fill a void somewhere between a Pocket PC and a laptop. A UMPC should be used for taking handwritten notes (which this unit does pretty decently), playing music (which sounds decent on the unit’s stereo speakers), watching movies, and even as a GPS unit. A UMPC is also good for watching digital family photo albums and surfing the Internet in places where you normally can’t take a laptop. UMPCs were never intended for heavy video/photo editing, advanced gaming, web design, etc. Unfortunately, these units will still turn out bad reviews from critics who think they should miraculously run as well as laptops.  

Even if the Q1 Ultra doesn’t become a huge success, it will still set the new standards on how ultra mobile PCs will be built. Samsung deserves a lot of credit for taking a disappointing UMPC and turning it  into a device which may finally make a dent in the UMPC market.

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About Daryl D

  • Liz

    So, where do you get all the money for these computers?

  • daryl d

    I usually don’t keep the computers for more than 2 weeks and buy at a place that doesn’t charge a 15 percent stocking fee. But I’m actually thinking of keeping this one.

  • http://zooid.org davidm

    (reposted from another site, comments are appreciated)

    Thanks for the review of the Q1-U. I have a few uses in mind that would suit this computer – as a travel companion; to store data, access maps and notes, and keep in touch via email, audio and video messages, as well as a “conversation computer;” that can be passed around when people are talking to make notes, capture audio and video, etc.

    With that in mind, did you test the quality of the built in cams? I’ve read a quick glance type writeup that said it was the typical low quality cam, which has low contrast, pixelated, and very slow to update. I’m not asking for miracles, but the Macbook’s built in camera has very decent quality, without any of those issues, something similar would be fine.

    Also, I know Samsung switched to a slower processor for this new model. I don’t care so much about application startup time, but would it be fast enough to run apps like Google Earth, which use 3d video, processing and data streaming?

    Finally, can you give any details on how long the unit lasts in standby mode, and how long it takes to come back from standby and hibernate? I hate to sound like an Apple zealot, and I don’t know why they’re so much better, but Apple models come back from standby immediately, something similar would be ideal.

    Thanks!

  • Android

    This one reminds me of the HTC Shift!