Average user rating
- Compact and lightweight
- passive touch-screen
- integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- Short on USB ports and other features business users require
- lacks an integrated optical drive
- hardware design fails to take full advantage of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition's screen rotation capability
- performance and battery life are both moderate
Samsung's Q1 is an example of a new class of computer -- the Ultra Mobile PC, or UMPC. Dreamed up by Intel and Microsoft, and first seen as real working hardware at the CeBIT show in Hanover in March, UMPCs slot in between handhelds on the one hand and full-size Tablet PCs on the other. Two other companies, Asus and Founder, have announced Ultra Mobile PCs, but the Samsung Q1 -- which will be available from 1 June at £680.81 (ex. VAT; £799.95 inc. VAT) -- is the first to arrive for review at ZDNet UK.
The black and silver Q1 looks like a large handheld or portable media player, or a small slate-style Tablet PC. It has no keyboard, and its screen is surrounded by a bezel carrying various buttons and lights, with three of the four edges peppered with buttons and connectors. The screen surround is nicely shiny when wiped clean, but it does pick up greasy fingermarks rather too readily.
The Q1 measures 22.7cm wide by 13.9cm deep by 2.45-2.65cm high, giving it roughly an A5 footprint (that is, half a sheet of A4 paper). Weighing in at 779g, it's light compared to most notebooks, although Fujitsu Siemens’ miniature LifeBook P1510 Tablet PC isn't much larger and weighs just 1kg.
The screen measures 7in. across the diagonal and delivers three resolutions that show all of the desktop: 800 by 480 (native resolution), 800 by 600 and 1,024 by 600. An Auto Scaler button to the left of the display toggles between these resolutions. Several other resolutions, up to a maximum of 1,600 by 900, are available, but you'll have to pan these to see the full desktop.
A range of ports, connectors and slots sit around the system's edges and on the front bezel. Although you don't get as many options as you'd expect from a regular notebook or tablet, the Q1 is by no means bereft.
The left-hand side houses a USB port, a headphone jack, a volume control rocker and hold switch that disables all the buttons on the device, along with a connector for the optional optical drive. The right-hand side provides a second USB port and an external analogue monitor port, plus the mains power socket.
Along the top there's an Ethernet port, a CompactFlash card slot and the on-off switch. The bottom edge is clear of any ports or connectors as it houses the removable Li-ion battery. Two fold-out stands at the back allow the Q1 to sit on a desk at an angle of either 80 degrees or 20 degrees.
At the front, stereo speakers sit on either side of the screen at the top, while twin array microphones are located at the bottom. The latter should deliver better-quality audio recordings than a single microphone, which should help when making VoIP calls.
To the left of the screen is a flattened and rounded mini-joystick offering eight-way directional movement, plus the aforementioned Auto Scaler button. To the right, there's a quick-launch button that you can configure for four frequently used applications, a select/enter button and a button that calls up a menu of options for system settings such as screen brightness, screen orientation, wireless LAN and so on: (think of the options normally offered by function key combinations on a notebook).
The Q1 comes with an envelope-style carrying pouch and a wrist lanyard as well as installation CDs, a printed getting-started guide, a stylus, power cables and a standard battery. Optional accessories include a keyboard, an extended-life battery and an optical disk drive.
The Q1 runs Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. The screen is touch sensitive, and is passive rather than active, which means that any pointing device -- including a fingertip -- can be used to interact with it. Samsung’s plastic stylus is somewhat lightweight and sits in a housing on the back of the system.
Windows XP Tablet PC Edition allows you to rotate the screen between landscape and portrait orientations, and Samsung has made this possible via its menu of options. However, the Q1 seems to have been designed to be used primarily in landscape mode. For example, the fold-out stands only function in landscape mode, while the front controls are at best awkward to use when the system is in portrait mode.
With the Q1 in landscape mode, you can move the cursor with your left thumb on the mini-joystick while holding down the menu button with the right thumb. This is reasonably ergonomic, although cursor movement is painfully slow. However, to click and double click you need to combine these two buttons with the Auto Scaler button beneath the mini-joystick, which is awkward. In practice, we abandoned this system pretty quickly and resorted to prodding at the screen with finger or stylus.
An alternative text input method is provided by DialKeys, an on-screen keyboard in the form of two semicircles of keys at the bottom left and right of the screen, where they can by easily accessed by the thumbs. The regular Tablet PC soft keyboard and handwriting recognition system are also available, of course.
DialKeys is part of Microsoft’s Touch Pack for Tablet PC, another feature of which is the Program Launcher. This groups applications by function and presents them in an interface characterised by large -- finger tappable -- icons. It is customisable, but only via the standard Tablet PC interface. Also, you're only allowed 9 program categories and 12 shortcuts within each of them, which some users will find restrictive. Keeping up with the times, the Touch Pack also includes a Sudoku game.
Samsung adds a version of the AVStation software previously seen on the company's notebooks. This allows you to use the Q1 to watch movies, listen to music and view photos without first launching Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. You run the AVStation software via the system's on/off button, which is actually a slider. Pushing it to the right boots up Windows, while sliding it to the left runs AVStation (you can run AVStation from within Windows XP Tablet PC Edition too). Samsung also bundles a copy of Norton AntiVirus, along with version 2.0 of the Skype VoIP software.
As far as hardware is concerned, the Q1 is powered by an Intel Celeron M ultra low-voltage processor running at 900MHz. You get 512MB of DDR2 RAM in the system's single SODIMM slot, while graphics are managed by the GMA900 module integrated within Intel’s 915GMS chipset. Our review model had a 40GB hard drive, although options range from 20GB up to 80GB. As well as wired 10/100Mbps Ethernet, there's wireless connectivity in the form of 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Infrared, however, is not provided.
Performance & battery life
As presented for review, the Q1 has a distinct consumer feel to it -- witness the array of pre-installed multimedia applications. However, Samsung's supplied video presentation suggests that the Q1 also has potential in the office (where the example is giving a presentation), in your car (where the example is navigation), and in other locations ranging from classrooms to hospitals.
We are dubious about Samsung's claims of universal appeal for the Q1. There are certainly business scenarios in which a device of this type and size might be employed successfully -- showing presentations to clients on a one-to-one basis, or mobile data capture, for example. However, the Q1 offers nothing that can’t be achieved with an ultraportable notebook and, despite the various methods of text entry, the lack of a keyboard is a serious drawback.
There are other missing features that business users may rate as critical: no PC Card support, no support for flash memory other than CompactFlash, only two USB ports, no modem, no wide-area wireless connectivity (such as GPRS, EDGE or 3G), no GPS connectivity and no infrared.
As far as performance and battery life are concerned, we were unable to get the Q1 to complete our standard MobileMark 2002 benchmarks at the time of writing. Using the Q1 for mainstream tasks such as Web browsing, email, spreadsheets and presentations, this 900MHz ULV Celeron M-powered system was reasonably responsive, but you wouldn't want to use it for anything particularly demanding. Battery life from the standard three-cell 2,600mAh battery is claimed to be 3.5 hours, with 1.4h of DVD playback (if you have the optional optical drive). Our impression is that this claim is a touch optimistic, but we'll report back when we get a proper benchmark result.
Overall, it seems to us that the Samsung Q1 falls between two stools for mobile professionals: it lacks the ultimate portability of a handheld and falls short of the functionality of a notebook. Unfortunately, it doesn't add anything that would compensate for these failings.
Since this review was written we have learned that Samsung has decided to include its Travel Pack for the Q1 with the device at no extra charge. Importantly, the Travel Pack includes an external keyboard. We haven't seen this, so we can't comment on its quality or usability.
The presence of a keyboard will obviously make data entry easier, but it could also exacerbate the problem of battery life: if users are encouraged to think of the Q1 as a replacement for a fully fledged notebook, they are even more likely to find the current battery life wanting. An extended-life battery option is urgently required.