- Small and stylish
- Supports an external monitor resolution of 1,920 by 1,200
- Lacks the RAM to run Windows Vista adequately
- Too small to be a viable alternative to a notebook
- Battery life could be better
- Runs slightly hot
Back in 2004 we saw the original OQO, a small-format computer with a screen that slides up to reveal a thumb keyboard. The OQO model 01 has since been through more than one revision, and we now have the OQO model e2 — which is on sale in Europe only — in our hands for testing.
Size-wise, the OQO model e2 lies somewhere between a handheld computer and an Ultra Mobile PC. Its direct competitors are more likely to be UMPCs such as the Samsung Q1 Ultra and Sony VAIO VGN-UX1XN.
Like the VAIO UX1XN, the OQO model e2 is almost all screen when closed. If you need to type, you slide the screen upwards to reveal a QWERTY thumb keyboard.
Some configurations of the OQO model e2 use an active touch-screen that requires a digital pen (rather than a fingertip) to interact with it. Although this was not present on our review sample, all models also have horizontal and vertical TouchScrollers on the bottom right corner. Sweep these with a fingertip and you can scroll around the screen. If you don't have a touch-screen model, you'll need to use the keyboard's pointing stick to manipulate the cursor, though.
Described as 'the world's smallest Vista computer', the OQO model e2 is a compact 14.2cm wide by 8.4cm tall by 2.6cm thick and weighs 450g. The screen is a 5in. TFT with a native resolution of 800 by 480 pixels. You can also display interpolated resolutions of 1,000 by 600 or 1200 by 720, but you'll have to accept a less clear image and smaller text if you opt for either of these. An external monitor can be driven at resolutions up to 1920 by 1200.
Although the keyboard has QWERTY layout, the keys are far too small for touch typing; we found the most ergonomic way to type was to hold the device in both hands and tap away with both thumbs. The keys are well spaced, which helps you to hit them accurately; even so, you're unlikely to be able to type particularly quickly.
The keyboard area incorporates a miniature pointing stick. This sits towards the right side of the keyboard, while the accompanying left and right mouse buttons are on the far left of the keyboard. This effectively makes cursor movement and selection a two-handed operation.
The right side of the keyboard houses a 4-by-3 grid of keys that do double duty as a number pad and a bank of Function keys. The keyboard also has two zoom buttons that zoom the screen in and out of its two interpolated resolutions as required.
The OQO model E2 is a fully fledged computer that comes in four configurations, all powered by a VIA Ultra Low Voltage C7M CPU running at either 1.5GHz or 1.6GHz. Our review sample ran Windows Vista Ultimate, but you can also get Vista Business, XP Professional and XP Tablet PC Edition 2005.
We noted earlier that the screen can be controlled with a digital pen. This is only supplied as standard if you opt for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition; otherwise, it's an optional extra.
All four configurations come with 1GB of RAM, which is a minimum specification for Windows Vista. In everyday use, we found Vista sluggish at best. Unfortunately, the RAM is not upgradable beyond 1GB.
Our review sample had a 120GB hard drive. Other options are 60GB and 80GB drives and 32GB of solid-state memory. Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g) are built into all of the four configurations of the OQO model e2.
On the device itself, connectors are limited to an HDMI-out port, a 3.5mm headset jack and a single USB 2.0 port. There's no modem, but Ethernet is available. To use this, you have to attach a port replicator, which uses the same proprietary port as the AC adapter. The port replicator has a pass-through for the power connector, and also contains a 15-pin VGA port.
This arrangement is somewhat unwieldy on the desk, and it means that if you want to travel with the device and stay flexible you’ll need to carry the AC adapter, the port replicator and a VGA cable.
Other optional extras include a docking station that includes a slot-loading optical drive, and a high-capacity 9,000mAh battery. We were provided with both options: the battery will set you back £115 (ex. VAT), while a docking station with DVD writer costs a further £215 (ex. VAT).
The docking station is a neat piece of kit. It travels folded flat but opens up to provide a cradle for the OQO Model e2, which sits proud of the main docking unit. As well as the optical drive, the docking station carries three further three USB 2.0 ports plus Ethernet, VGA and HDMI connectors, a 3.5mm audio jack and a mains power input.
The docking station duplicates many of the connectors on the model e2 itself, as these become inaccessible when it's docked. Two of the three USB connectors are ranged vertically side by side on the back of the docking station; ] as ever with this configuration, it may not always be possible to access both at once.
Performance & battery life
The OQO model e2 is a fully fledged Windows system, although it has a restricted range of ports and connectors. We found that its 1GB RAM limit hampered its ability to run Windows Vista Ultimate satisfactorily though.
The need to use the keyboard with two hands is not always ideal, and although it's a lot lighter than a regular notebook, the OQO model e2 not exactly pocket-friendly. If placed in the optional docking station and attached to an external monitor and keyboard, this device could function as your only computer. However, it's not particularly powerful as an office-bound system, and nor is it that easy to use when on the move.
As far as battery life is concerned, the standard 4,500mAh Li-ion battery has a quoted life of up to 3 hours. We tested this by setting the device into High Performance mode and asking it to play music non-stop. We got 2 hours 15 minutes of music under these condition. Anecdotally, we feel you'd be lucky to get a day’s useful work done away from mains power. We also found the OQO model e2 to run a little hot.
The model e2 delivered an overall Windows Experience Index (WEI) of just 1.0 (out of 5.9). This is the score given to the poorest subsystem, which in this case was Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance).
The remaining scores were a mixed bag. A relatively high score of 4.2 went to Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), with the scores falling thereafter: 3.1 for Memory (RAM) (Memory operations per second), 2.0 for Processor (calculations per second) and 1.9 for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero). Although 3D gaming is never going to be a concern with this device, it'll also be on the sluggish side when performing mainstream tasks.
The OQO model e2 is a nicely built ultra-mobile PC. Its shiny black casing, which is replicated on the port replicator and docking station, is easy on eye and looks stylish in the hand or on a clutter-free desk.
However, as with the other UMPCs we've examined recently, it's not really a viable alternative to a notebook: the ergonomics just don’t match up, and it's short on both performance and battery life. Nor is it an alternative to a handheld: although it offers far more functionality, it's bulkier, heavier and a lot more expensive.
In the end, although the OQO model e2 is a nice device, we can't see it replacing the notebook in your briefcase or the handheld in your pocket.