The OQO Model 02 was launched in the first weeks of 2007. In September the range got an upgrade with faster processors, more memory and an SSD option. Finally, at the end of September, it’s available in Europe as the OQO Model e2 range. Through Expansys, the main distributor for the OQO in Europe, OQO agreed to send one over for a 3-week review period. Its a 1.6Ghz model with 1GB RAM and a huge, 120GB hard drive and comes with a DVD RW docking station and an extended battery. In effect, its the same as the OQO Model 02 so what you read here applies to that model too. Total cost of system: 1500 pounds, 2100 Euros. We’re not talking budget UMPCs here so lets see if its got that something special to make it worth the money.
Introduction and Overview
The OQO is marketed as the smallest Vista-based PC in the world and that gives you an idea of the sort of devices we’re looking at here. Its ultra-mobile PC in the true sense of the expression and a simply amazing piece of engineering. It has been designed for the mobile professional as a way for them to keep productive with a full PC while on the go. Its not a ‘mobile Internet’ device although while that’s one usage scenario that the OQO covers perfectly, its far more capable than just running email and a web browser. Full office productivity is the name of the game and in some cases, the OQO could actually replace a low-end desktop PC. Its a unique device in the ultra-mobile PC market.
The First Five minutes
I really should have made an unboxing video because it was a very very nice experience opening the box. The OQO is very well presented and all cables and documentation are neatly stowed in separate compartments in tidy graphite-colored boxes. If you’re spending money on a high-end device, this is the sort of experience you expect. You want that conformation that you’ve bought something special and the packaging gives you that. Holding the OQO in the hand it feels solid and strong. Its a dense package and the, apparently, magnesium shell feels tough. The lack of exposed buttons gives it a very stylish look and you still feel like you’ve got a quality bit of kit in your hand. Sliding the screen up on an almost over-sprung mechanism reveals the keyboard which looks and feels right before you even turn the device on. By taking the numeric row and aligning it to the right as a keypad keeps the aspect ratio sensible. There’s a touch pointer, mouse buttons and a number of second-function keys. The brushed metal keypad frame rounds of a very nice looking package.
From the outside
As I mentioned before, there appears to be a complete lack of anything on the outside of the OQO. The screen fascia is completely covered with plastic and gives an appealing, full-screen effect. On the bottom-right of the screen you find two touch-scroll areas which i’ll talk abouit later. On the base you’ll find a USB port, headphone port a docking/power port and an HDMI port. On the left hand side you find the power button, a Kensington lock slot and the battery release button. Covering the back of the unit is the battery. There’s no stand.
The screen mechanism is very solid, well sprung and is guided by two small metal frames on each side of the device. The keyboard consists of 5x6mm keys, spaced with about 2mm gap giving 7mm pitch which is perfect for a good thumboard experience. The mouse pointer is faced with a very rough surface which feels like sandpaper but its not! The pointer cap is replaceable (one spare was provided with the review model.) Mouse button keys are found under the left thumb and there are additional buttons for zoom in/out and, through the function key, volume, brightness, lock, rotate and others functions. Overall, the keyboard layout is very well thought out and engineered.
Overall, the attention to detail is high. Right down to the ‘breathing’ power cable. Yes, inside the power connector (on the adaptor side) the connector houses a pulsing red light.
- Weight – 450 gm
- Size (w/h/d mm) – 142/83/26 mm
HQ Version at Blip.tv
On the base of the device, as I mentioned, are four ports. One USB2.0 port, a headphone jack (3.5mm) and HDMI port and the docking connector. You’ll also find the mic positioned here. The docking connector can be used with the provided port-replicator to provide a LAN and VGA output but strangely, no additional USB capability. You’ll have to add another USB mini-hub if you need to use more than one USB port.
On the inside
The model review here is the 1.6Ghz, 1GB version. The specs are as follows:
- CPU type – VIA C7-M
- CPU speed – 1.6 Ghz
- Graphics – VIA Unichrome Pro
- Display Size – 5″ 800 X 480 – Digitiser (when used with optional pen.)
- RAM – 1024 MB
- Hard Disk – 120 GB
- Battery capacity – 17Wh standard battery, 33wh extended battery)
[pagebreak Software and Performance]
Pre-installed on the OQO e2 is Microsoft’s Vista Ultimate. Also included are the Origami Experience pack, two OQO programs – the Wireless Dashboard and the OQO setting panel and Microsoft’s Office viewer programs for Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
Running Vista on low-end PC’s is often a recipe for disaster but in this case, the 1.6Ghz processor gives enough support for a reasonable Vista experience. There wasn’t the lag that I’ve seen in other UMPCs and after optimising Vista [using this list], the experience was even better. This OQO can handle a handful of concurrent applications with no problem at all and I even used it as a desktop PC with the docking station and found it to be about as fast as a Q1P 1Ghz Pentium-M based UMPC. You do notice the limits fairly quickly though and if you’re planning to use the OQO as a desktop replacement, which is certainly possible, then you’ll have to take these limits into consideration by keeping the number of running applications to a minimum.
The test results show good 2D and hard drive performance in comparison to other UMPCs.
Bootup, standby, hibernate
- Boot-up (post optimisations): 60 seconds to welcome screen.
- Resume from standby: 4 seconds to login prompt.
- Hibernate: 35 seconds
- Resume from hibernate: 23 seconds
An average to good set of results for the OQO Model e2 compared to other UMPCs. Return from hibernation being one of the better results compared to other UMPCs.
The standard battery is an extremely small 17Wh capacity part. Its about half the capacity as one you would find on an Eee PC for example. Obviously this has been chosen to keep size and weight down but it has the downside that under normal, WiFi-on (50% screen brightness, balanced mode), browsing use, it will only return about 2-2.25 hours of life. Turning the WiFi off, dimming the backlight and using the OQO in battery saving mode for entering text will give you nearly 3 hours of use. At the other end of the scale, running a video with a full backlight and WiFi-on in high performance mode will return just under 2 hours of life. In efficiency terms its possibly the most efficient PC in the world. If you were to run it on the battery from a Portege 700, a device that’s claimed to be one of the most efficient notebook PC’s around, you would be seeing over 10 hours of battery life. 30-40% mroe than the Portage. Unfortunately a 60Wh battery would render the OQO too heavy to use so OQO have made a 33wh battery which seems like a reasonable compromise. It makes the device thicker and heavier but pushes the battery life into a very useable 4-5 hours range. Having said that, I’d prefer two of the smaller batteries because for less than the price of an extended battery you can buy the standard size battery and a charging adaptor that allows you to charge the battery standalone. I wish other manufacturers offered such an option and its another indication that the OQO design team have put a lot of thought into the complete product package.
Audio from the Sigmatel audio chip is of acceptable quality through headphones but the built in speaker really is quite poor. Good enough for a Skype call perhaps but not for any sort of entertainment. There are no hardware tone controls but there are settings for loudness and other ‘corrections’ available through the control panel. I’m not sure if these are hardware or software functions but enabling them didn’t seem to affect processor usage by any noticeable amount.
The screen is very nice. 5″ 800×480 giving a comfortable 180 pixels per inch. Its LED back-lit, has great contrast and brightness. has a gloss finish and doesn’t include any ‘shimmer.’ It’s got a slightly colder color temperature than other devices around me here (Q1 Ultra, SH6). This is likely due to the lack of touch layer which is one of my big disappointments about the OQO.
What OQO have done is designed a screen with an active digitiser layer. That is, if you have a special pen (available at extra cost) you can ‘write’ on the screen. Windows Vista has great support for handwriting and touch enhancements but, to me, having to take a special pen with you to use it goes against the theme of mobility. Holding the device in one hand to get a pen from a jacket pocket or bag is both time-consuming and puts the OQO at risk of being dropped. It might be useful for desk-based note-taking but then, if you’re at a desk, a real tablet PC would be far, far more useful. Maybe there are some requirements out there for running specialised software that require accurate handwriting input but to me, a touch-screen capability would been far more useful. It would mean that you could used the device when its closed and may have enabled OQO to add a small stylus to enable inking. Perhaps we’re looking at a situation where OQO wanted to make the outside of the device as rugged and stylish as possible. A touchscreen would not have been the best choice if this was that case. Overall though, the screen quality is top-notch. Definitely comparable with the best (Q1 Ultra, SH6) screens found on UMPCs today.
The VIA-C7 / VX700 combination is not renowned for its sparkling video playback performance but the 1.6Ghz processor is able to handle videos that provide an excellent viewing experience on the small screen. DivX over 4mbps and WMV over 2mbps is more than enough for the small screen and good enough for projection or viewing on an external display. The only thing to watch out out for is that battery life!
Heat and Noise
Designing the smallest Vista-capable PC in the world, dropping a 1.6Ghz CPU in and keeping the thermals under control must have been a major tasks for OQO. Yes, the device gets warm but its certainly not uncomfortable and you can tell that the case is acting as an efficient heatsink because the heat is spread all over the case and not concentrated in one area. To assist the casing a fan is installed and its not exactly the quietest one on the block. At times I found it annoying and although on a train, plane or even in an office, it wouldn’t be a problem, it does annoy when used in quiet environments. Don’t use it in bed next to a sleeping partner. (Tested. Duration 2 minutes 20 seconds until first moan ;-) )
During the three weeks of testing I experienced a drive error message. Running a scandisk fixed that issue and there where no other issues to report. The drive has a fall-protection mechanism that locks the drive when a fall is detected. It does work and it emits a terror-movie-like scream when it triggers.
Windows XP / Vista
Always a taking point is the discussion over Vista installations on low-end devices. Vista demands CPU, disk and memory in a way that just doesn’t happen in the XP operating system and as I’ve said with many ultra mobile PC reviews, if there isn’t anything you require from Vista (which would mainly center around the handwriting and pen input features for most) then take the XP option. Yes, you lose the Media Center and some nice graphics but for productivity, i’d take XP professional or tablet edition on an OQO. Fortunately the OQO is available with this OS option.
[pagebreak Applications and keyboard]
It is unlikely that you’ll have any problems running software on the OQO Model e2. The processor and chipset are capable of supporting modern software although you might want to think twice about gaming. The graphics co-processor just isn’t up to it. It’s worth mentioning that the co-processor on the VIA chipset is capable of some quite speedy encryption support. The VIA Padlock and Strongbox programs were written for this chipset and are interesting if you require some additional security on your files.
I tested a number of applications with the OQO Model e2.
- GOM Player
- Google Earth (reasonable response but not as fast as Intel-based UMPCs)
- Skype. (Audio only.) V3.5
- Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to install Office 2007 but having tested this on a 1.2Ghz VIA based ultra mobile PC in the past, I don’t see that there would be any problems at all with it. Optimising the default layouts for a smaller screen would be the only issue one would have to deal with.
Now we get onto one of the most important aspects of this UMPC. It’s keyboard. I mentioned a few things about layout above and here I want to talk about its efficiency because after three weeks I’m still having a few issues with the layout. Admittedly I’ve been using other device in between but the question mark, backslash and even the mouse buttons keep catching me out. I’m sure that the problems will go away after while but users should be prepared to have to put a little more effort into learning the keyboard layout and FN-key shortcuts. If we disregard the learning curve though, its one of the best thumboards I’ve used. Not only is it fast (I timed it at about 53% of my normal typing speed. That’s as fast as any thumboard I’ve tried) but its comfortable and reliable. The key-click is almost perfect – just hard enough to prevent multiple key-clicks. If I compare it to the Pepper Pad 3, which had similar sized keys, I’d say that the OQO’s requires much less concentration…assuming you can master the punctuation!
On the keyboard you’ll find two more very useful features. Firstly the automatic backlight which provides a very even backlight across all keys. Secondly, a two-stage sticky-keys feature on the shift, FN, CTRL and ALT keys. On first press, each of these keys sticks ‘on’ for one key press thus avoiding a two-thumb simultaneous key press. On second press they stick on permanently. A small pulsing or continuous light by each key shows the status.
The mouse pointer is responsive and accurate and a good choice for the OQO. Thumb pads are sometimes easier to start with but in the long run, a mouse pointer is quicker and more accurate. Unfortunately there’s no tap-to-click function as found on other track-sticks but with the mouse buttons easily available under the the other thumb, this feature wouldn’t add much.
The scroll-bar functions on the frame of the OQO’s screen are there to provide a quick up/down left/right capability. I haven’t found myself using them much due to their responsiveness. They don’t feel physical enough (the response doesn’t coincide exactly with the finger movement as it should do with any touch feature) and speeding up your strokes doesn’t return a corresponding increase in on-screen scrolling speed. What I would have liked to have seen is an optical mouse pointer on the center point of the frame. It could potentially work through the screen plastic and would provide scrolling and a control feature for when the screen is closed over the keyboard. It would also work when the screen is open. I’ve only ever seen an optical mouse on the Raon Digital Everun but its a fantastic piece of hardware and something I’d recommend that OQO consider for future projects.
One key that I wanted and couldn’t find was the Windows key. A sticky windows key would have been great. Windows-D (Desktop) Windows-E (Explorer) and using the Windows key when applications are in full-screen mode gives you direct access to a menu system and the taskbar.
[pagebreak Accessories, target customer and comparison.]
Supplied with the OQO are the power supply, again a stylised part of the overall OQO package, and a port replicator for Ethernet, VGA and power. I was really surprised not to see a soft case in the package. A display stand would have been useful too.
I’m a big fan of docking stations. I believe they add a huge amount of value to a ultra mobile PC and the OQO docking station is no exception. I don’t use CD’s or DVD’s though (or when I do, its to install software at home and I’ve always got my $70 USB DVD-R/W device to hand) so I felt this was adding unnecessary cost. Of course, if you don’t have a USB CD drive then its fine but I would have loved to see a docking station with no CD. I was even thinking that a docking station with integrated battery charger (in place of the CD drive) would be a nice alternative. Having said that, the port replicator achieves the basic functions of a simple docking station, is much smaller and actually easier to plug in and out.
The docking station provides VGA and Ethernet (as on the replicator) along with HDMI, audio out and two USB ports on the back. In the slim casing at the front there’s another USB port (good for a keyboard/mouse combo) and a slot-loading CD or DVD (depending on model) drive and a very nicely designed docking arm that swings up and out from the rear of the casing. Its not that easy to slide the OQO in and out of it (and at one point, a piece of plastic finishing popped out of the holder when I removed the OQO) but its a great addition.
I connected a 1440×900 monitor to the analogue port, a small keyboard to the front of the dock and used the OQO for a day as my desktop PC. In extended desktop mode I left my Meebo session running full-screen on the OQO while I worked with other applications on the main screen. If you’re a low-end user of applications as I am (I do most of my work without the use of any client-side office app’s) its possible to use the OQO Model 02 as a desktop replacement but many users might find that their usual desktop practices (load everything possible!) don’t work well on such a low-end specification. If you’re lucky enough to have two offices, buy a dock and make your OQO-life a lot more productive.
I like what OQO have done with the battery solutions on the OQO. As standard, you get the 17wh battery which is good enough for 2 hours of hard work. Its small, light and efficient. If you demand a lot more mobile life from the device, the double-capacity battery is ideal. It does add wight and depth to the device but its not a bad trade-off. In comparison with the extended battery solution for the Raon Digital Everun, its a more practical solution. However, be prepared for a big price hit. Over 160 Euros for a 34W/hr battery is one of the most expensive Li-Ion batteries I’ve ever seen! Both batteries feature a ‘fuel guage’ which lets you check their capacity at any point. On, or off.
The standard 17wh and extended 34wh battery.
What no 3G? The OQO desperately needs a built-in 3G option. I understand that its an engineering feat in terms of size, heat and battery life but the OQO is a high-end device and if I was a mobile professional, I would only buy the OQO if it had built-in 3G. I’m thinking of real-estate agents, traders, security managers, high-end salespeople, mobile journalists and the huge list of other people that not would only benefit from a mobile PC if it had mobile connectivity. Fortunately, I know that OQO are working in this and we could see a solution announced as early as the end of November. I wonder if carriers will be offering discounts on the OQO!
There are one or two other points worth mentioning. Firstly, why no hard disk activity light? I have a feeling that this is might be a cunning design feature. I use the disk activity light a lot to check that a PC is actually busy doing something but I’m also one of those people that always gets frustrated when the disk light is thrashing around. Maybe there’s a psychological reason behind leaving it out. A Wifi/radio on indicator would be useful though. WiFi drains battery and an indicator is always a good reminder that it might need turning off.
Stand. I know that building a stand into a consumable part of the OQO, the battery, isn’t the best idea but it needs something, if only for standing it up on a shelf or desk to show it off. Maybe a fold-up stand that goes in a pocket in a soft case?
No case! This bugs me a little. Its a lovely, shiny, expensive bit of kit and yet there was nothing to protect it and nothing to clean it with.
Its a slippery little tike! Like many handheld PC’s its a dense device. When you pick it up its heavier than the mind expects. Its also got a very smooth finish to it. I think the battery should have a rubberised finish to it. Like the Raon Digital Everun which still has a nice finish but is far more tactile and safe to hold.
One last point; Where’s the removable media slot? I’m always disappointed when I don’t see an SD card slot because both my camera and mobile phone use them but I guess a good looking USB-stick with mini-SD slot could be a solution here.
Comparison to similar devices.
Raon Digital Everun, HTC Advantage, Fujitsu U810, Sony UX and Gigabyte U60. If you’re considering the OQO Model e2, the chances are that you’ve also looked at these devices. Nearest competitors are the Raon Digital Everun, Sony UX and Fujitsu U810 in terms of size. The Everun is a similar sized device that returns longer battery life but lower processing power. The Sony UX is sightly larger and one of the most powerful ultra mobile PC solutions but has a very hi-res screen and a lower-quality keyboard. The U810 is also slightly larger and comes in convertible notebook form – one that’s not so ‘on-the-go’ capable as the OQO. The HTC Advantage is a Windows mobile device that is lighter and cheaper but can not offer the office desktop experience that the OQO can. The Gigabyte U60 is a budget slider that is not only much bigger but also only available in 1.2Ghz form. Its certainly not as stylish and certainly won’t fit in a jacket pocket.
In terms of stylish, office-capable, handheld PCs, there really is only one solution on the market and that’s the OQO Model e2. While the Everun runs it a close second for portability, its disk space, processing power, keyboard and overall style are in a much lower league.
By now, you’ve probably worked out the target customer for the OQO Model e2. Its for mobile professionals who need a productive out-of-office solution for an overcoat pocket or the briefcase. In its 1.6Ghz form it delivers an acceptable office experience and near-perfect mobile Internet experience. Were it not for the missing 3G it would have been the best mobile Internet experience I’ve ever had. To all the Web2.0 company exec’s out there, the city property dealers, day traders, in Europe, the OQO model e2 is something you must have but if you too value your mobile time and can exploit it through the use of a totally mobile PC, take a close look at the e2. Unfortunately, as a pure mobile Internet device it’s too expensive and in this case, something like a Raon Digital Everun with HSDPA would provide much better value for money. Prices drop over time though and I’m sure that next year, as Intel’s Menlow-based devices enable smaller designs, there’s going to be some competition. it really depends if you can afford to wait another 6-12 months.
[pagebreak Pricing, summary, further reading.]
Availability and Pricing
The OQO Model e2 comes in various flavors starting with the Windows XP-based, 1.5Ghz models with 60GB drives at under 1000 pounds (around 1350 Euros) through to 1.6Ghz, 1GB devices with 32GB solid state drives (quieter, cooler, more rugged, faster and more energy efficient) and Vista ultimate at over 1500 pounds (2100 Euros.) All models are available to order through Expansys. My recommended model would be the Model e2 1.6Ghz XP Pro at 1038 pounds or around 1500 Euro.
It’s stylish, well engineered and, like any object of desire, you want to show it off in public. The 1.6Ghz processor is powerful enough for light desktop duties and provides enough power for all Internet-based work and play. Built-in 3G is badly needed and I would recommend anyone considering the OQO as a business purchase to wait for this version. It could add 300 Euro to the cost (my estimate) but it will be worth it.
A touchscreen would have been nice, especially as there’s no way to use the device when the keyboard is closed, and the battery life needs careful consideration. Its an efficient device but the battery is extremely small. You will want to invest in a case for the OQO and finally, should check your insurance policy for accidental damage and theft. Its a smooth and desirable bit of kit!