Tag Archive | "windows 7"

Ocosmos OCS9 Windows 7 Slate, Get $50-off from Dynamism [video]

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ocosmos osc9The elusive company is back with the Ocosmos OCS9 — Ocosmos has tantalized us with awesome UMPC concepts for years, but the devices have always turned to vaporware seemingly just prior to release. Well, it seems Ocosmos is at it again, but this time, we’re certain that they’ll actually be bringing a product to market, thanks to the folks at Dynamism.

Surprisingly, Ocosmos actually showed up at last month’s IDF, only after Chippy, Avram Piltch (of LaptopMag), and I chatted about how unlikely it would be! The Ocosmos OCS9 was on display as well as the Android powered “Smart O-bar” controller. Here’s our hands-on (unfortunately we lost the first 50 seconds of audio to technical difficulties!):

The Smart O-bar has a 3.5” 320 x 480 touchscreen as well as two hybrid D-pads (they move like a joy stick, but have individual directional buttons as well) and shoulder buttons. The Smart O-bar is designed to be complimentary to the Ocosmos OCS9, allowing you to connect it for keyboard input and for use as a game controller.

According to the company, the Ocosmos OCS9 is the world’s thinnest Windows Slate, and at 11.9mm, that might just be true. Here are the specs:

Processor
Intel Atom Z670 (Oak Trail) CPU (1.5GHz)Memory
DDR2 2GB RAMDisplay
10.1″ MVA-TFT LCD Display
1280×800 Display ResolutionIntegrated Ports
2x USB 2.0
1x microSD Card Reader (up to 32GB)
1x HDMI (via Docking Station)Power
Li-Polymer (3650mAh)
Up to six hours battery lifeOperating System
Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
Motherboard Features
Intel SM35 express chipsetStorage
16 / 32GB SSDCommunication
802.11 WiFi b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
GPSInput/Output
Front-facing 1.3MP WebcamPhysical Features
267 x 173 x 11.9mm

There’s also a few accessories available for the Ocosmos OCS9, including a nice looking dock, a keyboard folio, and even a bag. These will run $70 for the first two, and $90 for the latter. The Smart O-bar is optional as well and is offered for $140.

And the price for the Ocosmos OCS9? Actually, a rather reasonable $699. Dynamism is taking pre-orders for the unit and is giving an additional $50 off for those who order before November 18th, bringing the price to $649. They expect the unit to ship on the 30th of November. We’ll have one on hand for review in the coming weeks.

Advance Tech Communications Magic W3 – Pocket PC Phone

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Excitement turned to disapointment yesterday when I took a closer look at this 4.8″ UMPC. The Magic W3.

No it wasn’t the 800*480 screen that disapointed me the most although Windows 7 on that resolution is not recommended by Microsoft. It wasn’t the small battery which would probably only return 2.5hrs in-use battery life and it wasn’t the fact that it’s aiming for a highly niche phone-pc market (read expensive.)

The most disappointing thing about the Magic W3 is that it uses the ‘old’ Menlow platform. Oaktrail technology (that’s the Z6xx series of Atom CPUs) has been sampling for well over a year now and given the clear advantages of Oaktrail in a device like this it’s hugely disappointing to see Menlow. Maybe the price was too high or, more likely, this has been developed over more than a year by a small firm that doesn’t have access to the samples that the big guys do. Intels partner teams should be reaching out to manufacturers like this and helping get their best silicon inside.

Just think about what’s being missed here.

Smaller form factor platform
Lower tdp
2x graphics speed
Hardware video encoder
Faster memory bus
Faster disk I/o
Vastly improved standby times
Longer in-use battery life
New power states
Windows 8 forward advantages
Intel Meego and Android builds which could bring even better battery life.

That’s a list of advantages I would not ignore if I was developing a UMPC product today.

I’m trying to find out availability, price but at this stage, I’m not expecting this to be appearing in too many retailers books. Specialists only? What do you think? Will it even reach the market?

In the next article today I’ll be looking at the Fujitsu F 07 C, a UMPC with a 4″ screen that is built on Oaktrail.

http://www.advancetc.com/index.htm

Posted, possibly while reclining, with the Galaxy Tab 7

Onkyo TW317 Slate Full Review

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IMG_3696

This device was graciously provided by Dynamism for review.

Oh where to begin with this review…

The Onkyo TW317 [tracking page] is a rare breed of soon-to-be-extinct computer known as a “capacitive touchscreen Windows 7 Slate”. What this means is that the TW317 lacks a real keyboard or mouse. Unlike some other slates which add accurate handwriting and mouse-hovering abilities with an active digitizer — which supplement the removal of the keyboard/mouse —  the TW317 relies completely on its capacitive touchscreen for finger-based input.

To put this into perspective, may I ask you if you’d like to purchase a car from me? I’ll give you a great deal, but there’s some caveats… the car doesn’t have a steering wheel or tries. Did I mention that you can find other, more powerful, versatile, and usable cars on the market for less?

Here’s what you need to understand before reading any further: removing the keyboard and mouse from a Windows computer, and not adding an active digitizer, makes it fundamentally harder to be productive (or to just use the computer for anything, really). While the parts of the computer itself may be perfectly well made and put together, you will run into annoying situations (frequently) where your controls on this computer are not conducive to what you actually want to accomplish. For further reading on this, see here.

In fact, you’ll find that some of the limitations of a mouseless and keyboardless Windows computer nearly prevented me from bringing you a large portion of this review…

With that fresh in your mind, let’s begin.

Tour

Here’s a quick look around the hardware as well as the specs:

IMG_3713

IMG_3710

IMG_3715

And that’s really all there is to it. Pretty simple, huh? Here’s a full spec breakdown:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • 10.1” capacitive touchscreen @ 1366×768 (16:9)
  • Intel Atom N450 CPU @ 1.66GHz
  • 1GB of RAM
  • Intel 3150 graphics
  • 32GB SSD
  • WiFi b/g/n & Bluetooth 2.1
  • 0.3MP front-facing camera
  • 1000gm

Hardware

IMG_3706The Onkyo TW317 is actually quite impressive when it comes to hardware. Considering that we’ve got x86 internals inside the casing, Onkyo did a superb job at keeping it thin. The TW317 is only slightly thicker than many of the mobile-OS slates currently on the market.

IMG_3721There’s a small fan inside, but it runs quietly most of the time and vents out the top of the device which is good because your hands won’t usually be covering the port, and the heat won’t be venting directly into your lap. Though the back does get hot after continuous use.

When you pull the TW317 out of the box, you know it’s a well-built product. You can feel it all the way around. Shake the device and what do you hear? Nothing. It’s almost as if there are no moving parts (there are probably very few beside the fan).

Design

IMG_3703As a Slate, there isn’t a lot you can do to make the device aesthetically interesting beyond the choice of casing material, but they at least attempted to keep the TW317 from being totally bland.

The glass on the front of the device extends over the bezel which keeps everything on the front on one plane (this is good). There isn’t much to look at on the front except a simple Intel Atom sicker. The black bezel is about 3/4” on the left, right, and top of the screen, while it’s more like 1” below the screen. Though a wide bezel is usually an undesirable trait, when it comes to slates, it’s necessary to be able to hold the device without accidentally pressing the screen.

The corners of the screen are square while the corners of the device itself are round. This creates an unsatisfying aesthetic that could have probably been avoided by making the corners of the device tighter, and then moving the corner of the screen to be aligned horizontally and vertically with the beginning of the curve of the device’s corner.

That being said, the TW317 is quite heavy and it’s also quite a bit longer than it is tall because of the 16:9 shape of the screen. This means that you’ll have a lot of leverage working against your wrist if you attempt to hold it in one hand from the side in landscape mode. Holding it in the center (using the large bezel space below the screen with your thumb) works pretty well, but only being able to use the slate with one hand really limits your ability to input text (which is already limited because the on-screen keyboard is not nearly as fast/responsive as a real keyboard, or other mobile OS OSKs {iOS, Android, etc}).

IMG_3709The back of the device is a rubberized plastic, a material that I tend to like as it won’t scratch easily like aluminum. There’s also a curved line toward the top of the back to make it a bit less boring. There’s almost no flex of the back, even in the center where support is usually the worst. This again attests to the device’s great build-quality.

The back rounds into the front which makes it easier to pick up with one hand than if it were completely flat. On certain surfaces like my desk, however, it’s almost impossible to pick the TW317 up with one hand from the top or bottom, as the static friction is overcome before you can apply enough force to get your fingers underneath the device. Grabbing from the right side of the device, or going for one of the port openings (the left side or bottom dock connector), makes it possible to pick up with one hand because it’s easier to get underneath.

The bezel hangs closely over the USB ports on the right side of the TW137, so if you have any particularly bulky USB plugs, don’t anticipate being able to plug them in without an extension/hub. For instance, the LG LV600 4G USB modem would never fit.

Screen

IMG_3698The TW317′s 10.1” capacitive touchscreen has a 16:9 resolution of 1366×768. The 16:9 ratio makes the tablet wider than it is tall which isn’t preferable with a slate as the center of gravity is further from the edges and there is potential for extra leverage on your hand. This means that holding sessions will become tiresome after short periods, and holding it above you while lying down is pretty much impractical as you’d need to put your palm over much of the screen in order to get enough support to resist the weight of the device.

The viewing angles are poor and you’ll see brightness reduce greatly at 20 degrees or so, with colors beginning to invert around +/- 45 degrees (in this case, looking directly at the screen is 0 degrees). Because the device is heavy, and is used most effectively with two hands, you’ll be prompted to set it in your lap. Unfortunately the viewing angles don’t jive with this as you will rarely be looking directly down at the tablet in your lap (otherwise you’ll be risking serious neck strain).

Tapping items on the screen is definitely a bit easier and more consistent than devices from the resistive-screen era, but if you are imagining the responsive and accurate touch input that we’ve become accustomed to with modern smartphones, don’t get your hopes up. You’re likely to experience a lot of frustrating near-misses when attempting to navigate around the OS. Grabbing windows to resize them, in particular, is a major pain.

One issue with the screen I found was that tapping in the very bottom-right corner was difficult at times. This could be a calibration or hardware issue.

Speakers

The stereo speakers on the bottom of the device actually weren’t as bad as I was expecting. They are completely lacking bass which isn’t unexpected, but they sound much less tinny than I was anticipating.

Software

win 7 logoIf you’d like a good laugh, you should absolutely head to this page and watch the brief “Windows Touch” video from Microsoft. The irony (and awful acting) contained within couldn’t be more hilarious. To be fair, they are talking about using a device that actually has a keyboard and mouse, most of the blame here should be placed on Onkyo and any other capacitive touchscreen slate manufacturer that thinks that keyboard and mouseless slates running Windows 7 are a good idea.

Remember how I was telling you at the beginning of this review that you’ll run into issues operating a Windows slate because it lacks a keyboard and mouse? Well it turns out that I’m currently experiencing this, and it nearly inhibited my ability to bring you much of this review.

It turns out that the BIOS has rudimentary cursor support with the touchscreen, which I wasn’t actually expecting. However, portions of the BIOS/pre-boot environment do not have any touchscreen support, which means that if you don’t have a USB keyboard on you, you won’t be able to use your computer. And as it turns out, I didn’t have a USB keyboard on me, so the Onkyo TW317 was an unusable paper-weight for quite some time. Fortunately I’ve managed to get one and was able to break out of the BIOS in order to continue reviewing the device.

This is just one of several examples of how a keyboardless/mouseless Windows computer is a total joke when it comes to usability. It’s not just the fact that entering text on the OSK is far slower than with a real keyboard, or that the inability to float the mouse renders plenty of programs hard or impossible to use, but could you imagine taking your Onkyo TW317 on an important business trip and having to tell your boss: “Sorry, I can’t send those vital reports because I forgot to pack a USB keyboard, and the computer is stuck in the BIOS”? That’s just insane; no normal user should have run into such a stupid situation because the computer lacks the basic tools necessary to interact with it.

Sumocat, resident tablet PC expert from Gottabemobile.com, has informed me that Microsoft had once-upon-a-time set up some slate-device guidelines which specified that slate devices such as the TW317 be fitted with D-pads to ensure that they are fully compatible with the OS and the BIOS. It’s not clear whether Microsoft is still publishing such guidelines, but what is clear is that Onkyo decided not to equip the device with a D-pad, and users will suffer because of it.

As with the Asus R50A of old, I found redundant built-in utilities. Two different utilities that would run automatically both wanted to control the brightness and wireless radios of the device.

Automatic rotation of the screen orientation absolutely would not work on the Onkyo TW317 even though it was supposed to. No amount of playing with the utility that had the auto-rotate option seemed to help. Not sure if this is a software or hardware problem, but you can at least manually change the orientation.

I’ve got a video that was taken a little while back that will give you a decent idea of what the touch experience is like on the TW317:

Keyboard

keyboardThe keyboard brings new meaning to the phrase “hunt and peck.” Each key-press must be very deliberately placed which is a real pain. There’s extremely rudimentary predictive-text, but in a world of great OSKs (on-screen-keyboards) being offered from Android, iOS, and even WP7, the OSK on the TW317 simply doesn’t stand up. This keyboard is hardly good for entering URLs, let alone writing notes. You’ll have to manually call the keyboard up, and usually dismiss it manually which is bothersome if you’re used to rarely having to think about the keyboard on modern smartphones.

In a select-few applications, a keyboard button will pop-up when you click inside a text field. Tapping the button will open the OSK. Unfortunately this box pops-up inconsistently even where it is supposed to. In the vast majority of applications, the box will not even appear automatically, so you’ll have to launch the keyboard manually from the button that hovers on the side of the screen. Inconsistency is a big no-no in interface design and this is a great example of what not to do; having to look in one of two places for where to launch the OSK is worse than simply relegating it to the side of the screen every time.

Aligning your cursor for editing text without a real mouse is awful and very frustrating. Sadly, this problem has already been solved on Android, iOS, and even Microsoft’s own WP7.

Scrolling & Snap

Scrolling and Snap are some of the only things found in Windows 7 that actually feel natural with the touchscreen. Scrolling within any explorer window can be done anywhere, rather than attempting to grab the tiny scroll bar. It’s got inertia and generally scrolls smoothly. There’s even a rubber-banding effect shown by the whole window to indicate when you’ve hit the top of the bottom of the list. It’s unfortunate that this great scrolling implementation doesn’t make its way into third-party applications.

“Snap” is the term that Microsoft uses to describe the window size gestures that are done by grabbing the window’s title bar. If you grab the bar and push it to the top of the screen, the window will maximize. If you grab the bar and pull it away from the top, it’ll restore to a smaller size. You can also make the window occupy half of the screen by pushing the bar against the left of right sides of the screen (good for looking at two things at once). It’s very natural to do, and is way easier than trying to hit the relatively small buttons at the top-right that are normally reserved for maximizing/minimizing windows.

You can also use the “Peek” function which involves shaking the window from the title bar which cases all other windows to be minimized. This works fine through touch but I don’t ever really use it.

Multitouch

Multitouch in Windows 7 is currently (and for the foreseeable future) just a buzzword that Microsoft likes to toss around. The only place you’ll find multitouch implementations is in paint, Internet Explorer, and the default Windows Photo Viewer (and maybe a few obscure programs). It’s up to third-party application developers to add multitouch support to their applications, and pretty much no one is doing so.

This makes the multitouch capability of the device essentially useless. Unless of course you want to draw two things at the same time in paint:

smileys

Touch Pack

Touch Pack is a group of programs and games from Microsoft that are optimized for touchscreen use, presumably released because no one else is making them. I would have loved to have given it a try, but… well I’ll let this photo speak for itself:

touchpack fail

Performance

IMG_3700“Painfully slow” is the best way I can describe the overall performance of the Onkyo TW317. I will say that I was wholeheartedly impressed that the device handles 720p video from YouTube with no issue, if only because the performance in other parts of the device were in no way indicative that it would be able to play-back HD video.

Microsoft wants you to use Internet Explorer for your web touch-based web browsing as they’ve built in a lot of little optimizations for touch. Inertia scroll is there by default, so is multitouch zooming. Unfortunately, both perform horrendously. When attempting to browse a site like Engadget, I’d see regular lockups that would last for several seconds. Simply trying to scroll up and down the page to browse stories was incredibly sluggish and almost unusable. If you weren’t already using Chrome or Firefox, you will be shortly after using IE on the TW317.

Chrome helps keep the scrolling lock-ups at bay, but it’s by no means smooth. Part of this is hardware/performance based, and the other part is that scrolling in Windows is quantized, meaning that it has set increments in which it can jump, leading to unsmooth scrolling.

You’ll need to supplement the missing inertia-scrolling with addons/extensions in Firefox and Chrome.

Benchmarks

Flash
The Man in Blue flash bechmark runs more slowly on the TW317 than on the Motorola Xoom which is a bit sad considering the difference in price. You’ll see around 20-24 FPS on the TW317 and 28-30 FPS from the Xoom. For some context, my laptop (several years old) pushes around 50 FPS with several applications open.

CrystalMark
The TW317 scores worse in CrystalMark than one of the very first devices that I ever reviewed here on UMPC Portal, the Acer Aspire One.

onkyo tw317 crystal mark

Back in 2008, the Acer Aspire One scored 27k, and it didn’t even have an SSD. The TW317, which gets a 2k bonus from the SSD, still only scored 25k in CrystalMark. This is only slightly better than my five year old Sony VAIO UX180 which scores around 23k.

Sunspider
The Sunspider javascript benchmark is very browser dependent, but it gives us a way to compare cross-platform performance. I ran Sunspider on the TW317 and found a score of 2122.4ms (using the latest public release of Chrome). It turns out that the Xoom outperforms the TW317 in Sunspider by scoring 2045.9ms in the default browser. I’m not sure if I should be impressed by the Xoom or ashamed of the TW317. For context, my Windows 7 laptop scores 567ms in Sunspider.

Video Playback
As mentioned, playback of 720p YouTube content actually worked with no issues. I was also happy to find that local 720p content played fine through VLC. I tested the same 720p content encoded with AVI, H264, and OGG. All of them played smoothly through VLC.

If you push the resolution up to 1080p with H264, you’ll actually find relatively smooth video with the occasional freeze. It’s not entirely unwatchable, but I would prefer smooth 720p over 1080p with occasional freezes.

Video encoded with OGG in 1080p tends to freeze much more often, while AVI/MPEG4 1080p actually sees better performance than H264 and plays with no lockups.

Battery Life

Battery life on the TW317 wasn’t all that bad, but the lack of removable battery makes power options on this slate less flexible than with other devices. Using the classic BatteryEater benchmark, which runs the computer at 100% CPU until the battery discharges, the device ran for 2 hours and 45 minutes. This figure indicates approximately the least amount of time that the slate can be run on battery power, so normal use would likely see around 4 or 5 hours of use. The discharge graph was very uniform so you can expect consistent battery run times.

Conclusion

Aside from some unexpectedly good video handling, the Onkyo TW317 is a joke. On paper, the device might not sound so bad, but when you remove vital components (mouse/keyboard) from a computer running an OS that is designed from the ground-up to take advantage of those components, you shouldn’t be surprised when things go wrong. There’s no way that I would ever recommend this device over a convertible tablet PC, or a slate with an active digitizer , or even a consumer tablet (iPad/Xoom, etc.). Sluggish web browsing, near-complete lack of finger-touch-optimized applications, and horrible end-user usability make my recommendation for this device an easy one: don’t buy one. Ever.

P.S. I’m fully aware that there will be at least one person out there who thinks that I’m out to give slates a bad name. This couldn’t be more wrong. If this was a product that worked well and was actually useful, I’d be happy to report that. Unfortunately I can only go on the true usability/practicality of the device, and that’s exactly what you’ve read above.

Edit: A little clarification in the comments –

I’m not dissing touch on Windows. I’m dissing slates WITHOUT keyboards or mice (active digitizer is an acceptable replacement for keyboard/mouse). I OWN a tablet PC and I love it. The different between a slate and a tablet PC is that slates do not have keyboards or mice, while tablets are convertible. I love the ink input. I even love the occasional touch input (it’s resistive however so I use it less commonly). The issue is that touch only works effectively for a SMALL portion of the overall Windows OS. This is why it makes sense to have a convertible which still has a keyboard and mouse so you can switch between the different input methods as needed. As soon as you remove those two components, you are forcing the user to use crippled input that Windows was not designed for. The fact that the user can get stuck in the BIOS without a USB keyboard, or the fact that some applications are rendered nearly unusable when you only have touch input clearly shows that touch-only is not a good experience and was not well thought out by the people who are creating slates.

Acer Iconia Tab W500 – Specs Look Good. Weight and Battery Life Don’t

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The product page for the Acer Iconia Tab W500 is now live and populated with links, specs, gallery and videos.

Acer Iconia Tab W500

I’ve been through the details with a fine toothcomb and on one had I’m quite excited about a sub 1KG tablet with an acceptable CPU, good GPU, hi-res wide-view screen, UMTS and docking station for 599 Euro (current average online prices, Germany) but when you look at the weight / battery life ratio, it isn’t that good. Acer have only managed to squeeze in a 36Wh battery which means you’re looking at 3-4hrs usable battery life. Add the dock (which doesn’t look like it’s built for the road!) and you’re up over 1.5KG.

Taken as a tablet only, it actually looks like an interesting proposition. With CPU power up at the top end of the netbook range and GPU that blows away anything based purely on Intel netbook platforms it should perform smoothly. 2GB of RAM and Windows Home Premium give it media serving capability. Throw in the UMTS/HSDPA and it gets even more exciting.

W500_stand_up.jpgW500_tab_lft.jpgW500_Keyboard.jpg

See the W500 gallery for more.

At the end of the day, and specifications list, I’ve a feeling that this is going to work well as a hot-desking solution. It should serve well as a home desktop for anyone not getting involved with hundreds of browser tabs or video editing and the grab-and-go capability means it can be used in a more casual manner now and again. It looks fun too!

For UMPC fans though, it’s just too heavy. An upgraded 1.25KG Asus 1015PN with 6hr battery would be a much better choice for true mobile computing.

Mobile Computing at CES – X-Over 2011

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IMG_6364 This is not the first time we’ve discussed the crossover between pro/productive/full-os mobility and the continuing threat/opportunities offered by mobile operating systems.

See: Mobile Changover – What’s Your Plan? for more from June 2010.

CES 2011 was an absolute whirlwind of crossover products and after a week of note-taking, I’ve put together a report. Following the crossover theme, I’ve published it over at Carrypad!

Report: Mobile Computing at CES 2011 – The X-Over Year

Don’t forget, Meet:Mobility Podcast 62 covers a lot of this ground too and includes perspectives from JKKMobile and Netbooknews.

Asus Get Official With Four New Tablets

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Chippy is working hard over at CES 2011 and yesterday live blogged the Asus press conference in which Asus announced four new tablets.

Eee Slate EP121 [product tracking]

asus-eee-slate-241399The Eee Slate is the only Windows based product of the bunch but comes packed with a 1.33GHz Intel Core i5-470UM processor, 2 or 4GB’s of memory and either a 32 or 64GB SSD drive. The 12.1” (1280 x 800) IPS display is capacitive multi touch but also includes a Wacom digitizer for pen input using the included stylus. For a svelte 1.1kg it certain packs a punch and should move Windows 7 Home Premium along nicely.

Eee Pad MeMo [product tracking]

asus-eee-pc-memo-241396

This 7.1” Android 3.0 aka honeycomb tablet packs a 1024 X 600 capacitive touch display and also includes a stylus. The dual core 1.2GHz Qualcomm 8260 processor is capable of pushing out full 1080p footage through the devices mini-HDMI port. Front and rear cameras grace the device, the later with a flash.

Eee Pad Transformer [product tracking]

asus-eee-pad-transformer-241397

The Eee Pad Transformer comes with a neat detachable keyboard for use as a tablet or a netbook style device. Packing Nvidias Tegra 2 processor, it too is capable of 1080p output via a mini-HDMI port and the 10.1” 1280 x 800 IPS screen is capacitive multi touch. All this combined with 16/32/64GB storage options, front and rear cameras and Android 3.0 should mean this could be quite the convergence device.

Eee Pad Slider [product tracking]

asus-eee-pad-slider-241398

The Eee Pad Slider is specification wise, much the same as the Transformer, although only 16/32GB storage options will be available. What could be a great form factor for you tablet lovers who demand a keyboard, this comes with a slide away keyboard for the best of both worlds. Weighing a little heavier that the transformer its still well below 1kg and again comes packing Android 3.0.

All the products are now in the database and more images will be added soon.

Samsung N350 Dual-Core Netbook Mini-Review+Video. 10/10 for Fast Start. 3/6 for Battery Life!

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It’s time to say good bye to the Samsung N350 that I’ve been using for the last 2 weeks and to round-up my thoughts. Rarely does a device slot straight into my workflow as easily as the N350 did. I was able to switch from my XP-based Gigabyte Touchnote (with SSD and 2GB upgrade) to the N350 with no issues whatsoever. Even Windows 7 Starter Edition was flexible enough that it didn’t limit me in my normal work. Picking up the Touchnote today reminded me how heavy it is and as the N350 is my first ‘transparent’ Windows 7-on-a-netbook experience, I don’t want to go back to XP either.

For me, it’s the dual-core that finally makes Windows 7 transparent. Finally I can use Windows 7 on a netbook without having to optimise and without noticing hangs and delays as disks and CPUs race to keep up with the behind-scenes activities. As a bonus, the dual-core also boosts Web-based work nicely too. No, unfortunately, dual-core doesn’t mean its twice as fast but it’s noticeably faster and bringing no noticeable penalties in battery life. In fact, I would argue that you can get a lot more done on the dual-core in the same battery life. Why would you choose a single core Atom netbook now?

Build , keyboard, mouse, screen and disk seem to be high-quality and the weight really helps. The only problem here is that the weight is kept to 1KG by going back to the original 3-cell setup of early netbooks. Add the 6-cell option (a shocking 139 Euro) and you’re up to 1.2KG just like every other netbook out there. Battery life becomes the main concern and if you want more than 4hrs of worry-free working without plugging in, the N350 is probably not for you.

Samsung N350 Netbook (3) Samsung N350 Netbook (14)Samsung N350 Netbook (10)

More images in the Gallery

Having said that, the N350 is an efficient build with a good quality 3-cell battery (33Wh) and in my usage last week, a mix of web, writing and email at a 3-day conference, 5 days in a hotel, I was regulalry reaching 5 hours. I kept the screen fairly low, worked a lot in power saving mode and got myself into the habit of closing the lid when waling away from the device. This kicks-in the ‘fast start’ mode.

Fast-start is some form of hybrid standby and hibernate mode. You get minimal battery drain (I measured 16% drain in 48 hours) but a 5-second boot. You’re connected to the internet in well under 10 seconds from lifting the lid and imporantly, it works reliably. I haven’t seen any hiccups and although this isn’t the ‘always on’ I’d like to see on Intel platforms soon, it’s something else i’ll miss when I go back to my personal netbook.

Video playback from disk gets a good boost with the dual-core CPU. Probably one of the biggest measurable improvements in all. A 4Mbps Divx played out of the box on Windows Media Player without  the CPU at about  20%. H.264 should play up to about 5Mbps and WMV at 720p resolution and 7.5Mbps is no problem at all. While not quite 1080p capable, it’s a smooth and acceptable video experience. Expect about 3.5 hours from the battery in this mode. Unfortunately, YouTube at 720p is still not reliable enough to be said to be working. You’ll see a couple of examples in the video below. One works, the other, a dynamic video, doesn’t.

Samsung N350 Netbook (12) Samsung N350 Netbook (13)

More detailed ‘first impression’ notes are in the article: Samsung N350 First Impressions (Post Live Review. ) These notes were based ona 3hr live testing session. Unfortunately, the videos from that session failed due to technical problems.

In the video below you’ll hear me talk about two other interesting netbooks that fall into the same price bracket as the N350. The first is the single-core Samsung N230. It uses the same design and includes the fast-start feature but here’s the reason you might actually opt for a single-core over the dual-core – the N230 includes a 6-cell battery (check capacity – there are different qualities of 6-cell pack out there) which is likely to take it all the way up to 10 hours. The choice is a simple one between performance and battery life. Alternatively, there’s the new Asus EeePC 1015PN which is 1.2KG, has a 6-cell battery and the dual-core CPU. It also has the Nvidia ION2 graphics inside which means you get full HD performance, better gaming capability, some video editing capability and an HDMI out. If you don’t need the ION2, you can turn it off! For the same price as the N350 it’s a tough choice.

While the N350 is a premium netbook and a great starting point for a good performing, lightweight device, if you don’t want this ‘fast-start’ option and you need more battery life, you might want to be taking a closer look at the 1015PN. If that fast-start and 1KG starting point interests you though, the N350 is an excelent choice. Look out for offers and 6-cell variants. If you can find the high quality 6-cell variant (64Wh capacity) on offer for under 400 Euros, buy it!

Also expected – 3G version. There’s a SIM slot and 3G model space on the motherboard.

More information, specifications, links and videos in our Samsung N350 information page.

Samsung N350 First Impressions (Post Live Review)

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Although the technology behind our live review on Friday evening wasn’t too stable, I’m happy to report that the N350 is. Apologies to all those that experienced the dropouts. With a free video streaming service I guess there’s not much we can complain about but we’ll do our best to improve it next time.

We’re testing the Samsung N350 because it’s one of, if not the lightest netbook on the market. Not only that but it’s a dual-core Atom netbook using the N550 processor at 1.5Ghz. For those who already have a netbook and are looking to upgrade without having to increase the weight, the N350 has to be at the top of the list. Not only is is running the N550 CPU but there’s easy access to the DDR3 RAM for an upgrade and a standard 2.5” SATA drive that can be replaced with an SSD if you want to improve ruggedness. (Disk upgrade will void the warranty though.) Unfortunately there’s no 3G in this version but there’s a covered SIM card slot and space on the motherboard so clearly there are plans to release a 3G-capable model. The only thing you have to think carefully about is the battery life. More about that below.

The matt  screen and good build quality – I’m typing stress-free and almost silently on my train journey to Duesseldorf this morning – add to the quality package and it looks like Samsung have once again done a great job. You’ll pay 20-50 Euro more for the N350 than for other, similar netbooks but for mobile use, it’s worth it.

Samsung N350 on Train 141120103247 141120103248

When Intel introduced the Dual-Core Atom this year they demonstrated high quality video playback. Sure, the performance is better but don’t get too excited about very high-end video. For one, you’ve only got a 1024×600 screen with VGA out. Secondly, that all-important benchmark of 720p YouTube is hit-and-miss. In our tests we didn’t see smooth playback at all. Offline videos do work well though with 720p at high bitrates possible. We saw a 4mbps DivX playing with just 25% CPU load, an H.264 at 2mbps playing at 40% load and a 7.5Mbps WMV at 40% load. All this is happening through the CPU and not through dedicated video hardware.

In our CrystalMark test we saw an impressive 36000 which the highest we’ve ever tested on a stock netbook. The CPU score and memory speed was impressive. An SSD could push that score up a lot higher though as we’re only seeing average disk performance. In practice the disk seems quite  good though with a boot taking just 40 seconds. We got from cold boot to Wifi-On in just 55 seconds. Return from standby is quick too with Wii available in 10s. There’s a ‘quick boot’ option which we worked our way through but despite the 10 minute set-up, it did’t bring any huge improvements in cold boot. Maybe we need to look further into that because it sounds like a good idea, at least.

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Easy access to RAM upgrade.

Battery life could be an issue on the N350. With 80% of the battery left we’re seeing an impressive 5hrs left but that’s the good side of the story. The range of battery drain on the N350 ranges from an impressive 3W, (again, the best we’ve ever seen on a netbook) up to well over 10W. 12W is probably the limit but with Wifi connected, screen level to 50% (brighter than most people will require) and a few Flash-enabled browser tabs open while you do some web work, you’ll see an average 10W drain. It’s no worse than any other netbook but it will drain the battery in about 3.5hrs. Fortunately the device idles down well. We’re typing away happily at 25% screen brightness, Wifi and BT off in power saving mode and 5hrs seems possible. For those just wanting to do some word processing, it’s a good result from a 33Wh battery.

So what is the Dual-core CPU bringing? We mentioned the better video performance above but one of the main things we’ve noticed is the smothness of the Win 7 experience. We’ve experienced a certain amount of lag in previous Windows 7 netbooks that we’ve tested but this build seems to match the requirements of Windows 7 very well. OK, were only running Windows 7 Starter edition here but that doesn’t deter from the fact that the N350 is a product that works smoothly. The other advantage we’ve noticed is the speed and smoothness of browsing. We’re using Firefox 3.6 with Flash enabled and there’s a definite improvement over previous generation and single core Pinetrail netbooks. Although we haven’t tested it, we suspect a 2GB RAM upgrade and an SSD would turn this into quite the performer for both speed and multitasking although don’t expect to render those videos in much less time than on a normal netbook.  As a reference point, we’re seeing about 20% improvement in the SunSpider result under Chrome. 1300ms isn’t too bad and that 20% figure is what you should expect as a general improvement over-all. Dual-core doesn’t directly translate to 2x performance!

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The N350 is delivering a smooth, quality and highly mobile netbook experience and one we’re very happy with. The battery life is definitely something to think about and most mobile workers are going to want to invest in at least a second three-cell battery.  Those wanting a high-end Flash video experience will want to evaluate requirements tightly too. At 1060gm and with RAM and SSD upgrade possibilities, the N350 is one to take a closer look at if you’re wanting a highly mobile full computing experience.

We’re using the N350 at the MeeGo Conference in Dublin this week so check back for more long-term thoughts soon. This review written on-the-go using the N350, the  Nokia N82 for photography and a Samsung Galaxy Tab as a 3G access point.

Viewpad 10 available for Pre-Order in UK – £429

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Viewsonic Viewpad 100 - _5_ We’ve seen that the consumer-focused Viewpad 7 is now available for pre-order well those of you with a productivity slant might be more interested in the Viewpad 10 which is now available for pre order at Amazon in the UK.

At 429 pounds from Amazon UK it looks like a good price but WATCH OUT, that N550 and 2GB specification is WRONG as far as I know. (Perhaps you should try ordering and demand the free upgrade – we suspect even the price is wrong) Look at the Maplin page for more accurate specifications (1GB, N450, 16GB SSD) and a price of 499 pounds.

There’s an obvious comparison with the Tega V2 here and it could cause Tegatech some issues although don’t forget, those guys at Tegatech are set up with a long history of Tablet knowledge and will be able to advise corporate customers better than Viewsonic. Also don’t forget that the Tega V2 really does come with 2GB of RAM along with 32GB of SSD, car charger, simple stand, screen cleaner and VGA dongle, for a special offer price of about 570 pounds. There really isn’t much in it if you take the (more likely) 499 price of the Viewpad 10

As with the Viewpad 7, there’s a press event on Thursday that we’re trying to get to. You’ll hear full RRP details then I’m sure and hopefully, the online channels will sort themselves out!

More Viewpad 10 information available here.

HP Slate 500 Thoughts

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Windows 7 is a great operating system but never really felt at home on low-end mobile hardware platforms in my opinion. The disk, memory and CPU requirements were just above what a netbook could offer and it wasn’t until the dual-core Atom CPUs became available that I was finally convinced that Windows 7 would run smoothly on a netbook. 2GB of RAM is still an advantage though and to squeeze the best out of a low-end platform, a fast SSD is a must-have.  I’m currently testing the Tegatech Tega V2 which doesn’t quite have the dual-core CPU specs but manages to keep up by having 2GB of RAM and a reasonable SSD. It’s just about working smoothly enough to be called a serious device. Taking a look at the HP Slate 500 that was launched last week leaves me with a similar feeling that they’ve specified the device well enough to be able to offer enough performance, memory and storage along with some good battery life potential. At 1.5lbs this is definitely one to look out for in the Tablet PC department

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Updated: Our HP Slate 500 Information page. Includes comparisons. Forum too!

The 1.8Ghz Z-series Atom CPU should be good enough to give a reasonable Win7 experience and to improve the pinch-to-zoom response, a quick and useful real-world usage test with low-end CPUs. It will also provide video acceleration out of the box although the additional Broadcom video accelerator does highlight that the built in video support in the Intel Menlow processing platform isn’t quite man enough for the job of video decoding! 2GB RAM – Check! 64GB SSD – Check (as long as it’s fast) and at 1.5lbs with an 8.9” 1024×600 screen, it seems optimal for some serious mobile productivity work. Throw in a capacitive screen with active digitiser, a 3.0MP ‘camera’  and an HDMI-capable docking station and you’ve got a tasty tablet that I would have estimated at over $1K. The price: $799.

Based on what we’ve seen with other Menlow-based tablets, the 30Wh battery on this should give it a true 5hr battery life. Again, not bad. (Note: I’ve read claims that a 2-cell battery is less capacity than 3 or even 6-cell batteries – Ignore them. It’s all about Watt-hours, not cells. 30Wh is about half the capacity of a good quality extended netbook battery.)

The only reservation I have is about 3D and 2D graphics performance. It’s not a strong-point of the ‘Poulsbo’ chipset and my first tip would be to turn the Aero UI elements off to improve the UI experience.

Not included and worth thinking about though are a number of features that are common among mobile computing devices:

  • Auto rotation(unconfirmed)
  • GPS
  • 3G Option
  • Optical mouse pointer
  • VGA Out
  • Ethernet port
  • Built-in stand

Having said that, the $799 price seems very good value and we’re looking forward to getting hands on to see if our predictions about performance and battery life are correct. The HP Slate 500 is available for pre-order now and should be with customers in about 3 weeks. (U.S. only)

Extra: Mobile Barbarian, a long-time reader of UMPCPortal has written a blog post on the Slate 500. He’s ordered it and explains why here.

Tega V2 Windows 7 Tablet to launch in US, EU, AU on Oct 12th

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12 We’re waiting for a price on this productive tablet from Tegatech but if it’s anywhere near what Viewsonic are proposing for the equivalent (we assume same OED) Viewpad 10 – around 550 Euros for an entry-level version-  it will be well worth checking out.

Update: The launch is postponed untilt he 15th due to global Windows Phone 7 launch events.

We tested the Viewpad 10 at IFA last month so we’re already fairly confident that the performance and responsiveness is  acceptable and with Windows 7 Pro, 2GB of RAM, a 32GB SSD and 3G option, it really would make an interesting modular PC. Take it from me, someone that has been using a UMPC and netbook exclusively since March, you will be able to use this as a desktop PC for most day-to-day scenrios.

As with all Windows-based tablets, I tend to look immediately for a docking port and unfortunately, it’s missing on the Tega V2. (and Viewpad 10.) I can not overstate the usefulness of a docking port and docking cradle on a productive tablet, especially when you’re looking at having to charge during the day and with the possibility that 10” in portrait mode makes a superb second screen.

We’ve added the Tega V2 specs, links and images to the database.

With a confirmed (we checked out the hardware at IFA) 4hrs of battery life possible, it’s not bad for an 800gm PC with a 10” screen.

Our only issue is that if you’re using the 16GB drive version, there won’t be much storage space left after Windows has gobbled up most of it.

As for the included Android Open Source build, well, it’s interesting. You might find some use for it. A sideloaded Amazon Kindle app comes to mind if you fancy holding an 800gm book but we don’t see Android as being a key feature here.

As we mentioned, we don’t have prices for the Tega V2 yet but we do know that Tegatech have now expanded operations into Europe and US which is perhaps a sign that the pro-mobile segment is benefiting from the consumer tablet craze.

Our hands-on with the similar (unconfirmed but we suspect the two devices are coming from the same production line) Viewpad 10 is shown below.

Dell Inspiron Duo – Close-Up Demo Video

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The Duo is looking very very close to production so official specs should be out soon. 1024×600 capacative screen, docking station, N550 Atom CPU and other specs should be confirmed soon. Here’s another video (see a demo of the swivel mechanism) I got of the Duo this afternoon at the Intel AppUp Elements event in San Francisco.



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