I've been slowly building up my PayPal mobile device fund as I continue to look at devices that will help me get work done on my daily 2 hour train commute and regular business travel. I keep coming back to the HTC Advantage as a great solution, but until a better web browser is released for Windows Mobile devices (I can't wait to try Opera 9.5 and Skyfire) there is still a gap that could be filled with a full Windows mobile computer. One of the most reasonably priced ultra portable PCs that I had a chance to try briefly at CES was the Wibrain B1. The good folks at Dynamism sent along a unit that I tried out for several days and I am posting my thoughts, a short video, and photos of the device below.
|Image Gallery:The Wibrain B1 UMPC packs a lot of power into a small and reasonably priced device.|
Specs: The Wibrain B1 comes in two configurations, labeled the B1E and B1H models. Both devices have a VIA C7M ULV 1.2 GHz processor, 4.8 inch WSVGA 1024 x 600 pixels touchscreen display, 802.11 b/g WiFi, Bluetooth radio, webcam, stereo speakers (they did not sound very good), single USB 2.0 port, 50-key QWERTY keyboard, touchpad, and 4 cell Lithium Ion battery. The B1E (one I had for a few days) has 512 MB RAM and 30 GB 4200 RPM hard drive while the B1H has 1GB of RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. The Wibrain weighs in at 1.15 lbs and dimensions are 7.56 inches x 3.23 inches x 1.10 inches.
Pricing: With specs like these you may expect to see the device priced over US$1,000 or even as high as US$1,500. However, you may be surprised to learn that the Wibrain B1E is priced at US$699 and the Wibrain B1H is priced at US$849. There is also a B1 cradle accessory available for US$179 that consists of a CDRW and DVD-R drive, 4 USB 2.0 ports, 4-in-1 SD card reader, VGA port, and Ethernet LAN port. I noticed that Dynamism is currently out of stock on these devices so they may just be selling quite well after showing the device off at CES in January.
Usage experiences: I fully charged up the Wibrain and was able to connect to my home WiFi network in a matter of seconds. I loaded up Firefox and SlingPlayer to try out the device a bit more. SlingPlayer played fine after the signal was optimized (as shown in my video above) and it looked good on the display. Web browsing was an enjoyable experience on the device and I thoroughly enjoyed using the scroll functionality on the touchpad right side. I can imagine it would work well as an ebook reader too.
I launched Word and Excel to see how these applications looked on the device and they performed well. The display looks great, but the fonts are quite small and may cause eye strain after extended use. The QWERTY keyboard is a bit awkward at first, but as a thumb keyboard fan I was able to rather quickly come up to speed and get the hang of the keyboard design. By the time I sent the device back, I was entering text with no problems and found the design to be a good alternative to entering text on an on-screen keyboard or through handwriting. The device was loaded with standard Windows XP so there was no handwriting support out of the box. I don't think handwriting is really a viable option on this device with the high resolution and rather small display size.
For some strange reason, it seems the Wibrain kept resetting my wireless connection and I had to reset my router. This did not occur before I used the Wibrain and has not happened since I sent the device back so I think it is more than a coincidence that this was happening. I also tried pairing the Wibrain to my Nokia N95 for access on the go and I couldn't get it working even after trying several settings on the Wibrain. I think this issue was mainly user error, but was disappointed that it was this complicated.
Even though the device has a flip-up webcam, I could not get it to work with Skype after numerous attempts. It showed up as a USB webcam, but an error kept popping up when trying to get it working with Skype.
There is a utility on the device for controlling fan noise and heat generation so you can select from one of three cooling fan scenarios (quiet, normal, cool). In quiet mode, the fan slows way down and does get noticeably warm. I didn't notice much heat in normal mode, but you could hear the fan humming. In cool mode, the fan was quite loud and I don't think I would ever run it in this mode.
The device seemed to hang here and there and I imagine this had to do somewhat with the 512MB RAM. Kevin Tofel checked out the 1GB RAM model, the Wibrain B1H, and if you are interested in the device I highly recommend you check out his thoughts too. I tried to carry it in my gear bag and use it on the train, but I think I have been spoiled by the snappiness, long battery life, and very small form factor of the HTC Advantage and Nokia N800. The Wibrain just seemed to thick and wasn't that comfortable to hold for long periods. The display was also just a bit too small for the high resolution and something in the 6 inch range may be better suited for such a high resolution.
Conclusion: As Kevin mentioned in his review, he has had the chance to play with the OQO Model 02 and said the Wibrain may be a good way to save about US$450 over the "good" model OQO. I was ready to buy one for myself, but after trying it out I think I'll stick with the Advantage and hope for a better browser soon. It is a very capable ultra portable PC and after showing it at my work's monthly Nerd Club meeting there are one or two people who are seriously considering the device because they found the keyboard very functional and liked the high resolution display.