Asus R2H UMPC Review

by Andrew Reads (18,034)

by Andrew Baxter

The Asus R2H is a UMPC device powered by an Intel Celeron M processor.  It’s fairly loaded with features, even including integrated GPS.  Asus definitely aimed high by making this device more feature loaded than other UMPC devices.  But cramming everything you can into a device with a small screen, underpowered processor and putting a bunch of startup software and processes on it can result in a not so stellar user experience.


Asus R2H UMPC (view large image)

Asus R2H Specs:

  • Processor: Intel Celeron-M 900MHz
  • Graphics: Intel GMA 900
  • Operating System: Windows XP Tablet PC edition + Touch Pack
  • Screen: 7-inches diagonally, 800 x 480 resolution
  • Memory: 768 MB (1 slot accessible for user upgrade, can hold up to 1GB but sold with 512MB stick)
  • Hard Drive: 60GB (4200 RPM, 1.8")
  • Weight: 2.2lbs
  • Dimensions: 9.21 in x 5.2 in x 1.3 in (width x height x depth)
  • Battery: 4-cell battery
  • Input / Output Ports:
    • 2 regular USB 2.0 ports and one mini type USB 2.0 with a standard USB adapter included for it
    • VGA/Expansion out port. This can be used as a monitor out, adapter included. This can also be used as a port bar expansion dock. The dock is sold separately.
    • Ethernet network card port 10/100
    • Microphone Port
    • Integrated microphone
    • Headphone port
    • DC in port
    • AV out
  • GPS: SirfStarIII GPS chipset
  • Camera: Built-in 1.3MP video camera
  • Wireless: 802.11 b/g and Bluetooth integrated

Packaging and In the Box

The R2H comes very nicely packaged, with a custom designed box sporting a carry handle.


Asus R2H UMPC box (view large image)

Inside the main box you get two more boxes, one that contains the actual R2 device and the other a whole bunch of accessories to go with your R2H.


After opening the main box, you get two more boxes and an instruction book (view large image)

Inside the box you’ll get the following items:

  • Asus R2, A/C adapter, standard battey, R2 protective sleeve with Velcro close, Mouse, stand, English Manual, Micro fiber cloth wipe, stylus, VGA-out adapter, several discs with software and the OS


Lots of goodies come in the box with the R2H (view large image)

Build and Design

The R2H is eye catching.  It’s typical in its Asus look with a brushed aluminum type of finish. The build is rock solid, the case is a very rigid and firm metallic material. It’s much sturdier than the somewhat cheap feeling Samsung Q1 UMPC device released in early 2006. The overall device is quite thick, I measure it to be about 1.4" thick when lying flat on a table — it does have four rubber feet on the back so in actuality it’s probably more like 1.25" in overall case thickness. Still, it’s no skinny minnie and many an ultraportable laptop can be found that’s slimmer. At 2.2lbs it’s only slightly lighter than an ultraportable laptop too.

The R2 is designed to be held by two hands at the same time. It has a joystick on the right top side for easy cursor navigation (like a mouse). Below the joystick button on the right side are a Page Up and Page Down button that allow you to quickly scroll through long documents such as web pages. Finally on the right lower side is a shortcut button that brings up a screen allowing you to adjust system settings such as brightness, volume, screen resolution and color mode.

On the left top side is a biometric fingerprint reader that can be used as a login method to Windows. Below that are the equivalent of right and left mouse buttons. In the middle area of the left side is a D-Pad that allows you to easily scroll up, down, left or right in a document. You can’t say Asus didn’t give you enough ways to get around the screen with the R2.

Finally, on the lower left side is a button that brings up an application called Program Launcher that allows you to quickly navigate to various important program categories such as GPS and communications — this Program Launcher application is customizable by the user as to what program links it contains.

Using the R2H

While I stated that the R2H is a device to be used holding it with two hands, it’s really quite flexible in the way it can be used. I, for instance, found myself using it at the breakfast table to surf news web sites while drinking coffee and munching toast. Simply using the included stand so the device stood facing me and then poking links with a stylus (the Asus R2 is a Tablet PC with touch sensitive screen) to navigate about was quite doable. Just watch you don’t spill coffee on the R2.


The built-in kick stand makes it easy to stand the R2 up and face the user for easy tapping of the screen with the stylus (view large image)

The R2 can also sit flat and be used. It has four rubber feet on its back so when you place it lying screen face up the device is slightly elevated to allow the vents on the back to still do their work.

You could also attach a USB keyboard to the device and type a document while using the kickstand to keep the R2 facing you. The major challenge being the limited 7" screen size and its resolution of 800 x 480.

The GPS functionality of this device might make you want to take in the car as a navigation tool. The problem I see here is that there’s no way to mount this device, it’s way too big, and I wouldn’t recommend resting it on the car dashboard. The only real way to use it in the car as a GPS nav tool is to sit it on the passenger seat next to you. Or recruit your passenger as a co-pilot that can use the R2H.

Processor and Performance

The name of the game with the R2H is obviously not performance, the talk should focus more on usability and portability for this device. Unfortunately, it is important to talk about the fairly dire performance you’ll tend to get from the R2H. The Celeron M 900MHz processor is just a drag, a Pentium M low voltage processor would have been so much better. Frequently there is lots of lag when using even basic applications or navigating menus. You can watch the screen redraw itself at times. Sometimes when inputting text with the stylus and poking the on screen keyboard you’ll tap a letter and it’ll register a couple of seconds later. You really have to make sure to stop as many background processes as possible, free up memory and don’t run multiple applications at once to make a single program usable. Having said that, Asus included a bunch of software utilities that run in the background, aggravating and stealing resources from an already power starved processor. The very poor processor and overall performance really sinks the usability of this device.

Super Pi

The Super Pi benchmark test of forcing the processor to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy gives a good indication of how slow the Celeron M chugs along. The Asus R2H with its Celeron M got 5m 18s when plugged in, but when on battery (and the processor underclocked) it took a knuckle dragging 10m 48s. Here’s some comparison results to show the Celeron M is in a class of its own, unfortunately not a good class:

Notebook Time
Asus R2H (900MHz Celeron M) 5m 18s
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200 with 667MHz memory speed) 1m 02s
Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M) 2m 40s
Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 16s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 03s
Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo T5500, with 667MHz memory speed) 1m 22s
Asus F3Jc (1.73GHz Intel T2250) 1m 28s
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Due (T2300) with 533MHz memory speed) 1m 29s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 45s

Oh well, it can still calculate Pi accuracy faster than me.

 

PCMark05

The PCMark05 benchmark gives an idea of overall system performance, this is a very unfair comparison table below as most notebooks compared have dedicated graphics and a high-end processor, but at least it gives you an idea of where the R2 stands:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Asus R2H (900MHz Celeron M) 645 PCMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700) 4,555 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Asus V6J (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7400) 4,265 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, nVidia GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, nVidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo T2300, ATI X1400) 3,456 PCMarks

 

HDTune

The hard drive included with the R2H is a 60GB Hitachi drive, it spins at 4200 RPM. It’s slow, but with a device like the R2H it’s a sacrifice you have to make to keep size down.


(view large image)

 

Everest Hardware Report

Everest is used to give a rundown on the hardware inside a PC, following is a link to this report for the R2H: Everest Hardware report

Screen

The R2H screen is 7" diagonally and has a 800 x 480 native resolution. The screen is nice and can be cranked up to be easily readable and bright, but Windows XP on a display of this size is pretty painful to use. Granted it’s usable, but can be an exercise in frustration. Sometimes some simple dialogue windows are a bit too large to fit on the screen and you can’t click on the "OK" button because you can’t fit the entire window on the screen. For instance, when using the Windows wireless network utility to find networks you can select a network okay from a list in the dialogue box, but the "Connect" button isn’t on the screen so you sort of have to drag the box around to get the "Connect" button to display on the screen so you can push it.

You can adjust the resolution of the screen so it is higher, you do this by using the built-in Asus Power4 Gear utility (by hitting the bottom right hand button) to select higher resolutions of 800 x 600 or 1024 x 600. However, the graphics and icons will appear a bit distorted and text is fairly hard to read at the highest resolution of 1024 x 600. All the same, I ended up using the 1024 x 600 resolution most of the time so I could see more stuff on the screen.

Below are screenshots of Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006 used in each screen resolution offered by the R2:


Screen at 800 x 480 (view large image)


Screen at 800 x 600 (view large image)


Screen at 1024 x 600 (view large image)

Ports and Buttons

Let’s take a tour around the R2H to see what input and output ports it offers, along with buttons.

On the left side of the R2H you simply see a mini USB 2.0 port, there is a provided expansion cable that converts this to a regular USB 2.0 port.


Left side view of Asus R2 (view large image)


Close-up of the USB mini port with the full sized USB adapter inserted (view large image)

On the right side we have a regular USB 2.0 port, microphone in port, headphone out, and power jack. You’ll notice that there’s also a door covering some more ports, behind this door is an ethernet port and a port that allows you to connect either a VGA out adapter (included) or to an expansion port for the R2 (not included, an extra option).


Right side view of the R2H (view large image)


Revealing ethernet and expansion ports behind the door cover (view large image)

On the top of the R2H we have an AV out video port, USB 2.0 port, hold button (when this is on, it blocks other button pushes from registering), heat vent and fan, SD card slot, Wireless on/off toggle button, login button and finally the power switch.


Top of the R2 (view large image)

On the bottom of the R2 we just find the battery lock buttons and some vents for allowing heat out.


Bottom of the R2 (view large image)

On the underneath side of the R2H you can see the GPS antenna and kickstand that allows you to prop up the R2 so it can stand facing you. In the bottom left hand side is also a silo for storing the stylus.


(view large image)

On the front side of the R2H you can see the 1.3MP camera located at the top, and next to it an integrated microphone so you can easily use Skype or speech to text functionality of the Tablet PC OS. Down the right side is the joystick navigation button that acts like a mouse, pushing it in acts as a left click. The Page up and Page Down nav buttons are below the joystick on the right, and then a shortcut button to the Asus Power4 Gear utility that allows you to adjust system power and display settings. On the left side is a fingerprint reader for biometric login — this can be used to replace the regular Windows login. Below that are buttons that serve as left and right mouse click buttons. Below that is a D-pad for screen scrolling — the joystick controls the cursor while the D-pad serves as a method for scrolling within windows. Finally, on the lower left side is a shortcut button to open the Program Launcher.


Front view of the Asus R2 (view large image)


The Asus Power4 Gear utility comes up when you hit the lower right button (view large image)


When you hit the lower left hand button it launches this built in application called "Program Launcher" where you can quickly navigate to useful programs to open (view large image)

Overall the R2H has an excellent array of ports for its size. It’s amazing how much stuff Asus crammed into this device.

GPS

The GPS inside the R2 is the SirfStarIII GPS chipset. This is the most up to date chipset you can get and supposedly offers fast fix times, high sensitivity for locking satellites in urban areas and a low power drain on battery life. However, I struggled for days to get the GPS working within the included Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006. I was never able to acquire satellites from indoors by a window, but going up on the roof of a 21-story building did eventually yield success in acquiring 5 satellites and a very precise location. After that the GPS worked okay, and I could even acquire a couple of satellites from indoors by a window, but performance was never outstanding. I think it might have something to do with all the interference from the internal workings of the R2H. The R2H does have an antenna you can retract to get better satellite reception, but this didn’t seem to help things a whole lot. I don’t have a car, so I couldn’t test for the quality of reception while driving, but when on a bus in a city I had no luck getting satellites.

OS and Software Features

The R2H is a Tablet PC OS run device and the screen is a touch screen type. It is not Wacom Penabled like many other full fledged Tablet PCs on the market. The stylus you get with the R2 is no fancier that what might come with a PDA. I found using Tablet PC applications and writing on the screen tough because of the size, and the feel unnatural. The touch screen capability is cool for screen navigation of course, but if you’re looking for a tablet device for school or work this is the wrong type of device to choose. Write one word within Microsoft Journal and you’ll have used almost an entire line up given the screen size and resolution.

Included with the R2H is a full version of Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006, a handy piece of software for planning trips and getting maps of the U.S. and Canada. The integrated GPS works in conjunction with this program to locate where you are and also provide directions to a destination.

A cool little accessory that comes with the R2 is a Netlink cable that allows you to connect to a PC and access files or optical drives on that PC. It also allows you to browse the hard drive of the R2 from your PC. Below is a picture of the R2 connected to my ThinkPad using this cable.


ThinkPad and Asus R2 connected via included Netlink cable (view large image)

There’s a bunch of Asus utilities built into the system as well as the ubiquitous Norton. Honestly, while some of the security stuff and automatic update utilities are well intended, I think the end user would have appreciated a somehow more stripped down OS with minimal pre-installed software. When in native resolution mode (600 x 480) if you open one program and display all the icons in the system tray your entire bottom toolbar is occupied.

The caveat to saying any one piece of software is really great to use on the R2 is the fact the processor and sluggish performance could turn the application into a slog.

Audio

The R2 has a mono speaker built-in on the left lower side. System sounds are fine, but listening to MP3s is quite painful as the sound is tinny and low in volume. Luckily there’s a port for headphones, which are recommended.

Heat and Noise

I figured that with the Celeron M processor inside power consumption and heat would be low. But the R2 got hot at times, the fan on the top had to puff out air as fast as it could after a couple of hours of continuous usage. The fan was certainly audible when it revved into high gear. When running HDTune it even warned me my hard drive was at a critical temperature of 59C, so things can certainly get warm inside. The front surface of the R2 never seemed to get really hot, but the back area and vents did get very warm.

Battery

The R2H came with a 4-cell battery, I was prepared for pitiful performance but was able to get 3 hours of usage out of one charge. This was accomplished having the screen brightness set to level 3 brightness (low), but the screen was still quite viewable indoors at this setting. Wireless was toggled between on and off over this period and the device was used for about 2 hours of the time. Battery life certainly beat my expectations.

Wireless

Asus included an 802.11b/g wireless card and Bluetooth. Wireless was decent but reception was not as good as what I get from my regular laptop that has an Intel wireless card. I don’t know why, but I always find it kind of neat to surf the web on a smaller device like this and see how favorite websites render on a smaller screen. Not having an integrated keyboard makes typing in web addresses tough though, you have to quickly build out your favorites links so you’re doing more touch screen clicking around than trying to type in URLs.

I was able to use Bluetooth to pair with my Treo, but didn’t use it outside of that so all I can report is that it does work.

Conclusion

The Asus R2H UMPC is a device, like other UMPCs, has a bit of an identity crisis. It certainly can’t replace a laptop or desktop as an everyday PC, but it’s too large to replace a PDA. If you have specific needs and you know the R2 might fit those needs given its feature set, I can’t say it’s not worth trying the R2 out. The cool factor is high for having GPS, a web camera, wi-fi and Bluetooth all crammed into this pretty looking device. I’ll definitely say it’s been a fun toy to play with. But I can’t shake that feeling that it is a bit of a toy and not much more than that. If Asus had of put in something better than the atrocious Celeron M 800MHz processor it’s a device I would have wanted to play with a bit longer, but alas they did not. The cost of the device at around $1,000 makes this device worth recommending to curious geeks with a bit of disposable cash to spare, but outside of that the audience is limited.

Pros

  • Nice looking with solid build
  • Integrated GPS and mapping software
  • Lots of ports available for such a small device
  • Nice bright screen, great for showing pictures
  • Very usable buttons that are nicely placed and thoughtful
  • Built-in microphone and camera makes Skype or video chat easy

Cons

  • Overall performance is horrible due to slow Celeron M processor, especially slow when in battery mode
  • Kind of heavy and chunky for a UMPC
  • Some included software is badly implemented and buggy, or just shouldn’t be there at all
  • Hard to use the device with native screen resolution because some windows don’t fit on screen properly
  • GPS was very finnicky to get working


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