- ✓Compact and lightweight
- ✓Plenty of interaction options on both the touch-screen and the system itself
- ✓Sleek design
- ✓Supplied with standard and extended-life batteries
- ✕Miniature keyboard is too small for anything but minimal text input
- ✕Underpowered for Windows Vista
- ✕Currently lacks 3G/HSDPA connectivity
- ✕UMPC format has little to offer over existing platforms
Back in May 2006 we reviewed the Samsung Q1, which was the first example of a new category of portable computer — the Ultra-Mobile PC, or UMPC. The idea behind the UMPC is to offer a highly portable small-format tablet computer that runs a full-blown Windows operating system. UMPCs have been produced by the likes of ASUS, Gigabyte and Medion, but Samsung has led the field to date, and its latest offering is the Q1 Ultra. The original Q1 took a lot of criticism for being, among other things, overpriced, underpowered, short on battery life, under-connected and too heavy. So has the Q1 Ultra, which at £680 (ex. VAT) costs the same as its predecessor, got it right this time around?
The Q1 Ultra is a more stylish proposition than its predecessor. Slightly slimmer and lighter than the Q1, and with a high-resolution 7in. display dominating the front, it's a sleeker and more pleasing device both to look at and to use — a bit like an oversized Sony PSP.
Like other UMPCs, the Q1 Ultra cannot be described as pocket-sized, measuring 22.7cm wide by 12.4cm deep by 2.29-2.39cm thick. With the standard battery in place it weighs 690g, while with the larger extended-life unit it tips the scales at 818g. If you carry both batteries, the travel weight comes in just over a kilogram — similar to Fujutsu Siemens’ LifeBook P1510 convertible ultraportable Tablet PC. Both of these devices are considerably bulkier and heavier than Sony's half-kilogram VAIO VGN-UX1XN, though.
The Q1 Ultra sports plenty of buttons on either side of the screen. Prominent among these is a mini-keypad that's split in two, with the ‘QWERT’ half on the left and the ‘YUIOP’ half on the right. The keys are about the size of those on a handheld or a BlackBerry-style mobile phone, and are tappable with thumbs when the Q1 Ultra is held in two hands. Don’t expect to be able to work at speed with this keypad, though: the basics of data entry are all it's good for.
The passive touch-screen, which works with the provided stylus or a fingertip, for example, offers a number of alternatives for data entry. You can use the familiar Tablet PC handwriting input options: Windows Journal, for example, accepts handwriting to the screen that can be converted to editable text; alternatively you can write on the Tablet PC input panel. On-screen text entry is available via a conventional on-screen keyboard or you can call up the semicircular DialKeys at the bottom left and right corners of the screen.
When you tap on the screen, a faint image of a conventional two-button mouse appears, whose left and right buttons perform their allotted functions; if you don't like this Screen Mouse, you can still use the normal method of single- and double-tapping with the stylus for left clicks and press-and-hold for a right click.
A mouse/joystick sits on the left side of the screen (the opposite side to the Sony VAIO VGN-UX1XN), just beneath the 'QWERT' half of the keypad — you switch between mouse and joystck modes by tapping the top part of its surround, which is labelled ‘Mouse’. You can also interact with the screen using ‘pen flicks’: similar to the TouchFLO interface seen on HTC’s Touch smartphone, you can drag the stylus or a finger along the screen to scroll up and down or move left and right.
There are hardware-based left and right mouse buttons to the right of the screen, and above them is a circular four-way user-configurable pad with a central Enter button. Some predefined functions are provided to get you started: for example in Presentations mode, the four points have the functions slideshow start, slideshow end, page up and page down.
Above the screen, among a bank of four touch-sensitive buttons, is one that calls up the configuration utility for the user-configurable button. Another two of these buttons control audio volume, while the fourth activates an on-screen menu for basic system controls such as screen brightness and orientation.
The display, a TFT passive touch-screen, measures 7in. from corner to corner. This is the same physical size as the original Q1, but it delivers a native resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels, which is an improvement on its predecessor's 800 by 480. The screen brightness has improved too, from 200 nits on the original Q1 to 300 nits on the Q1 Ultra.
The Q1 Ultra can be held in the hand, or propped on a desk using a sturdy pull-out stand on the back of the device. In the latter configuration, the screen sits at an ideal viewing angle of about 45 degrees. You need to pull the stand out to access the battery release catch. The Q1 Ultra ships with two batteries — a standard 4,000mAh unit delivering around 4 hours' life and a thicker 7,800mAh battery delivering over 6 hours, according to Samsung.
The Q1 Ultra comes with a carrying strap. This fits into a lug on the left side and then is held secure by a metal holder on the back of the device. The idea is that you can slip your hand inside the strap rather as you might hold a digital camcorder, to keep it secure. You also get a USB data cable and a soft carrying pouch.
The Q1 Ultra runs Windows Vista Business on an Intel A110 processor. This is an ultra-low-voltage chip, designed to conserve battery life. Although it's a relatively recent addition to Intel's portfolio, the A110's specifications are distinctly modest: it's built on a 90nm process, runs at 800MHz, has a 400MHz frontside bus and 512K of Level 2 cache.
The A110 may be the processor for Intel's 2007 ultra-mobile platform (previously codenamed McCaslin), but it's not blisteringly fast. More interesting will be next year's Menlow platform, which is expected to feature a faster and less power-hungry 45nm processor.
The Q1 Ultra has double the original Q1's RAM at 1GB, but since it now runs Windows Vista rather than XP Tablet PC Edition, it remains distinctly sluggish at times. For example, we noticed delays when opening some applications and icon-rich windows such as the Control Panel, while the screen rotation facility took an age to kick in.
Although an ultraportable device like the Q1 Ultra seems a natural for a solid-state drive (SSD), storage in this model comes courtesy of a conventional 60GB hard drive with a rotation speed of 4,200rpm. However, it's more than likely that Samsung will offer a version with a lighter, faster, more robust and less power-hungry SSD in due course. There's no built-in optical drive, although an external USB drive is available as an option. Ethernet (10/100), Bluetooth (2.0) and Wi-Fi (802.1b/g) are all built in, and a fingerprint sensor can be specified as a factory-install option. There is a SIM card slot beneath the battery compartment, and the Q1 Ultra will support 3G/HSDPA data communications in later iterations, although this was not available on our review sample.
Twin speakers sit outside each half of the split keypad, and there's a pair of array microphones on the bottom edge, below the display. There are also two cameras, one on the front and one on the back. The front camera is a 0.3 megapixel unit that's suitable for videoconferencing, while the rear camera shoots stills at up to 1.3 megapixels. This is not particularly sophisticated — many smartphones and handhelds have 2 or 3Mpixel cameras.
As far as ports and connectors are concerned, the Q1 Ultra has an on/off-cum-hold button on the left-hand side, beneath a button that launches the bundled AV Station multimedia software. The top is home to an SD card slot, headphone jack and a USB 2.0 port. The right-hand side houses the power connector and, under a hinged cover, Ethernet, external monitor and USB ports. There's also a tiny button that replicates a Ctrl-Alt-Delete action for which you'll need an opened paperclip or something similar to access.
Performance & battery life
As already noted, the Q1 Ultra can be slow to respond to requests. The degree to which this tardiness will irritate will depend on the tasks being performed, but we found it a constant annoyance. Vista reports that the Q1 Ultra has a Windows Experience Index of 2.0, which is pretty poor. The overall index is brought down by the score of its lowest component, but none of the scores is especially impressive. The highest score, 4.5, is from the memory subsystem, with both the processor and Aero graphics performance scoring 2.0. Under the 'Benchmarks' tab, we report our US colleagues' test results for the Q1 Ultra, which are equally disappointing. We look forward to the next iteration of Intel's ultra-mobile platform.
Supplied with standard (4,000mAh) and extended-life (7,800rpm) batteries, the Q1 Ultra should be able to run for a full 8-hour working day — although you'll need to have both batteries fully charged beforehand you travel, and the only way to do this is to charge them in the device. Each battery has a push button on the back that lights up to five LEDs showing the charge status of the unit.
As a business device, the Q1 Ultra is likely to have its greatest appeal in vertical markets. There is a healthy market for tablet-style devices in all manner of industries from warehousing to healthcare, and the Q1 Ultra's stylish looks may lend itself particularly to public-facing verticals. Having said that, we are far from convinced that it offers any real advantages over slate-style Tablet PCs or ultraportable convertible systems. The keyboard is certainly no substitute for a full-sized unit.
Samsung has undoubtedly improved the design of the Q1 Ultra, which is a sleeker and more usable device than its predecessor. Unfortunately, Windows Vista's heavy footprint more than cancels out the hardware improvements, leaving this a seriously underpowered system.