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The Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) made its first appearance back in March 2006, in the shape of the Samsung Q1. We <a href="http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/notebooks/0,1000000333,39256659,00.htm">previewed the Q1 from its CeBIT launch</a> and followed up with a <a href="http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/notebooks/0,1000000333,39267952,00.htm">full review</a> in May. Also present at CeBIT — in prototype form at least — was the R2H from ASUS, but it has taken the rest of the year for this device to reach us in a reviewable state.
The Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) made its first appearance back in March 2006, in the shape of the Samsung Q1. We previewed the Q1 from its CeBIT launch and followed up with a full review in May. Also present at CeBIT — in prototype form at least — was the R2H from ASUS, but it has taken the rest of the year for this device to reach us in a reviewable state.
The R2H looks like it means business, and it certainly would not seem out of place in an office. The system unit is a landscape-format slate-style tablet measuring 23.4cm wide by 13.3cm deep by 2.8cm high. It weighs 830g, which is not far off the lightest ultraportable notebooks — although, of course, notebooks include the weight of a built-in keyboard.
The screen measures 7in. from corner to corner and has a native resolution of 800 by 480 pixels. You can display up to 1,024 by 600 pixels if you don’t mind looking at very small and not entirely clear on-screen information.
The screen nestles in a metal surround, with a range of buttons and other controls flanking it. We will discuss these in more detail later, but as far as design is concerned, they are well positioned, convenient to access and look good.
The generous bundle of accessories supplied with the R2H includes a folding USB keyboard, similar to those available for handhelds. It's a fairly high-quality unit with full-sized QWERTY keys, and we found it comfortable enough for a limited amount of touch typing.
However, if you intend to do a lot of typing then some features will take a little getting used to. For example, the bottom row of keys, which includes the space bar, is quarter height, while the space bar itself is split in two by the hinged section of the keyboard and quite difficult to hit; the remaining non-QWERTY keys are generally small in size. The keyboard connects to the R2H via a convenient self-retracting mini USB cable.
Anyone interested in serious document creation or editing would be best advised to consider a notebook computer — but then, content creation is not the main reason for the R2H’s existence.
Other extras include a desktop stand that's simply designed but extremely effective. You also get a second battery, a USB mouse, a converter from mini USB to standard-sized USB, a VGA-out cable that connects to a proprietary R2H Port Bar connector, an external USB/FireWire DVD rewriter, a USB digital TV tuner, a small remote control unit, a cleaning cloth for the screen and a copy of Microsoft AutoRoute 2006 with European mapping. To round things off, you get a carrying case that will accommodate the main unit, the optical drive, the keyboard and a selection of the other accessories.
The R2H Port Bar connector can be used to attach an external hub that provides further interfaces. This is an optional extra whose suggested retail price is £70 (inc. VAT). ASUS will not include such a complete set of accessories for every country in which it is selling the R2H, but the UK appears to have hit the jackpot.
The R2H runs Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, and has a passive rather than an active touch-screen. This means you can drive it with any object, including a fingertip, in addition to the provided stylus that nestles in a slot at the back left edge. The stylus is disappointingly short and lightweight — it's reminiscent of those found in handhelds made by ASUS, and we’d guess that it was not produced specifically for the R2H. Fingertips were our choice every time.
The handwriting recognition and soft keyboard of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition are supplemented by Microsoft’s Touch Pack for Tablet PC, which is specifically designed for Ultra Mobile PCs. This includes a feature called DialKeys, which places the two halves of a keyboard on opposite sides of the screen, arranged in semicircles at the bottom. The idea is that you hold the R2H in both hands and tap the keys with your thumbs. It takes a bit of getting used to, but some people might find it useful as an additional method of text entry.
The R2H is powered by an Intel Ultra Low Voltage Celeron M processor running at 900MHz. Our review unit had 768MB of DDR2 SDRAM, comprising 256MB on the motherboard and a single 512MB SODIMM. The processor is clearly not out of the top drawer, and we did find that our review unit ran rather slowly at times — especially when we had a number of applications open. For storage, the R2H comes with a moderate-sized 60GB hard drive; there's also an SD card slot if you need more storage capacity.
Both Bluetooth 2.0 and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi will be built into shipping models, although Bluetooth was absent from our review unit. The Wi-Fi module worked perfectly, though, and 10/100Mbps Ethernet is also catered for.
The front-panel controls mentioned earlier, in conjunction with the touch-screen, give excellent access to the R2H's features. To the right of the screen, at the top, there's a thumb-driven mini-joystick with a push-to-select function. On the left, in the middle, is a square navigation rocker with a select button in the middle. The left and right mouse button surrogates are above this navigation button, while below it is a button that fires up the Microsoft Touch Pack's program launcher.
There are three further buttons on the right side of the screen: two of these handle page-up and page-down duties, while the third gives access to access system settings including brightness, volume, power management and screen resolution.
The top left corner of the fascia houses a fingerprint sensor, and there's a 1.3-megapixel camera in the middle at the top with a microphone to its right. On the left-hand side, at the back, is a GPS antenna that sits flush to the system when not in use and flips up when a signal is required.
The Microsoft Touch Pack mentioned above provides access to software and services on the R2H via a UMPC-specific interface. It divides applications and services into groups: Connect, Communicate, View, Listen, Play, Tools, GPS and More Programs, offering each item in a group as a tappable icon. You can easily switch back to the main Windows XP Tablet PC Edition screen by hitting the close icon or re-tapping the button that fires it up.
The top edge of the R2H, on the left, is home to a Login button that calls up the Windows Task Manager (which handles a variety of functions, including changing passwords and logging on as a different user); also in this group is an SD card slot, a button for activating and deactivating Wi-Fi connectivity and the power on/off switch. To the right, there's a Hold button, an AV-out connector and a full-sized USB 2.0 connector.
The left edge houses a mini USB connector, while the right edge carries another full-sized USB port, microphone and headphone ports, and the power connector. Finally, under a cover, you'll find the RJ-45 Ethernet port and the R2H Port Bar connector.
Performance & battery life
The R2H is an extremely engaging device. The hardware is well designed, and it would not look out of place on a professional’s desk, which is an important factor.
ASUS offers a good mixture of mainstream accessories like the TV adapter and more businesslike kit such as the fingerprint sensor and the USB keyboard. The built-in GPS receiver and the front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera have broad appeal.
During testing we found the R2H to be a capable and compelling system that has clearly been put together with some care and attention to detail. However, we do have some reservations. We got 3 hours and 40 minutes of continuous music playback from the system's 6,860mAh Li-polymer battery with the screen forced to stay on. Admittedly this is over an hour more than we got from Samsung’s Q1 and ASUS does bundle a second 3,430mAh battery, but given that the R2H is a multimedia-oriented system with wireless and powerful audio-visual features, we’d have liked more uptime from a single cell.
The ASUS R2H comes with a great bundle of accessories and shows off the Ultra Mobile PC format better than Samsung's Q1. However, like the Q1, it does nothing that an ultraportable notebook cannot, and we're not certain that, outside a few vertical niches, it's a compelling choice for business users.