The Samsung Q1 is the first in a new breed of mobile computing dubbed UMPC, ultra mobile PC. The idea behind the UMPC is nothing new, but with a little marketing polish, the Microsoft team has re-badged what was known prior as a small screen slate Tablet PC. The Q1 has generally received a nasty beating in the media thus far. As with many things new, mainstream media doesn’t understand the product positioning or how to use it. The Q1 likely suffers from the same fate; as three days with this device have been mostly fun for me, with a small side of frustration.
The Samsung Q1 Hardware and Usability
The Q1 offers a nicely designed package, complete with fingerprint loving black plastic trim. The 7″ LCD panel offers a native resolution of 800×480, but it does include an auto scaler application that supports 800×600 and 1024×600. The display looks distorted at those resolutions though, as any LCD would, but they’re critical to overcome an obvious shortcoming with the operating system. Since Windows XP, Tablet PC flavor or otherwise, wasn’t designed to be used on such a low resolution display, many of the pop up menus are too long for the screen, making them impossible to work with. Being able to alter the resolution of the Q1 for brief periods of time is absolutely essential to even be able to use the device at all. I’m surprised that with all the effort and marketing push going into the UMPC platform that no one thought to tweak Windows for the device.
The display is operable with a stylus or finger touch input. The latter ends up working pretty well. Since this is a small slate, it will often be used with a hand on either side. Since the Q1 runs the Tablet PC flavor of XP, it includes the familiar Table PC Input Panel for entering data. The only downer here is that since the display is only 480 pixels tall, when the TIP is enabled, the main viewing window gets pretty small, quite evident in Internet Explorer, since so much of the top of the display is taken up by menus and such. To allow for finger input, it also includes Microsoft’s Touch Pack and DialKeys. DialKeys takes a while to get used to, but essentially offers two half moon banks of keys designed to be used with the left and right thumbs. It’s basically a way to offer an integrated keyboard from the software side, since the only hardware keyboard would be added via USB or Bluetooth.
IE7 with the TIP active (view large image)
In addition to the pen the Q1 offers an analog joystick on the left side. I’m not sure if there’s something wrong with ours or not, but the experience is awful. You have to push and hold the menu button on the right, then move the joystick on the left. The mouse jumps around in seemingly 10 pixel intervals, it’s just terrible. To click something you have to press the auto scaler button on the left once or twice depending on which click action you want. Be mindful though that the entire time you have to be holding down the menu button on the right. The analog input is basically useless as a result, hence the benefit of having a Bluetooth mouse.
Speaking of Bluetooth, the Q1 offers a nice implementation of such, and of course integrated WiFi. I was easily able to pair a few things with the Q1’s Bluetooth, perhaps most importantly a small travel mouse I sometimes use. The mouse makes for easier use at the desk. In fact, the Q1 has a dual stand on the back that makes it a great second system to have around. I actually like to have the Q1 running something like a stock ticker or baseball game on my desk, while I work on my main notebook. The WiFi also works well, I’ve had no trouble connecting to several access points.
Of course there’s not an optical drive in the Q1. You can buy an add-on through Samsung though if you need regular access to an optical drive. Samsung does include a sync cable and an application to help transfer files to the Q1. I haven’t played with this much; we’ll have more on this feature in the full review.
A hot button issue with the Q1 is the processor. Samsung included a 900MHz ULV Celeron M. Our unit also includes 512MB RAM. The slow processor speed is definitely noticeable, but I didn’t run into significant issues with light tasks, such as email, word processing and web browsing. The Q1 won’t hold up well though if you try to run a movie and something like an anti-virus sweep in the background. Samsung went with this processor specifically due to price concerns and may offer ULV Pentium M chips in future UMPC products, but not this one.
The only other major hardware issue I want to highlight in this first thoughts is the battery. Battery life with the included battery is not that impressive. Samsung does offer a longer life battery, but I’m seeing only up to 2 hours on the included unit.
We’ll of course go into more detail on all of the Q1’s features in our full review, but a few days in I actually like it. You have to know what you’re getting with this type of device and understand the target market. While I believe the target for the Q1 is extremely narrow, for those who need a cost effective, highly portable slate Tablet PC, the Q1 is going to be a solid option.
For me, the UMPC would be an extravagance, a secondary display while I’m at my desk. It might also fill a few minor portable computing voids I have, at times when the Treo isn’t powerful enough and I want something smaller than my notebook. I don’t think it’s worth $1100 for someone like me though, unless your addiction to gadgets outweighs your concerns for fiscal responsibility.
We’ll be back in a few weeks with a detailed review of the Q1. In the mean time, feel free to post any questions to the forums and we’ll be quick to respond.