Samsung Q1 Ultra UMPC User Review

by Reads (19,436)

by Anne Lyle

Samsung Q1 Ultra UMPC User Review

The Samsung Q1 Ultra is a UMPC with a 7" screen and built-in split mini-keyboard. I bought it in the wake of the Palm Foleo cancellation, as I was looking for an affordable lightweight machine that could fulfill the same functions: web browsing, email, e-book reading, word-processing, presentations and photo viewing. It also needed to be Linux-friendly, since that’s the operating system I use daily at work.


Front view of the Q1 Ultra UMPC. (view large image)

Specs for the Samsung Q1 Ultra UMPC as reviewed:

  • Intel A110 processor, 800 MHz
  • 1GB RAM
  • LCD: 7" WSVGA touchscreen, 1024 x 600
  • 60GB hard drive
  • Built-in mini keyboard, pointer and mouse buttons
  • PDA-type stylus
  • Built-in stereo speakers and microphones
  • 2 cameras: front (webcam type) and back (for taking photos and video)
  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and wired Ethernet connectivity
  • VGA out
  • 2 x USB
  • 1 x SD slot
  • Dimensions: 227.5mm x 23.9mm x 123.9mm
  • Weight: 690g
  • Online price: 795 ($955 from US sister site mobileplanet.com) not including USB keyboard

Reason for Purchasing

I bought the Q1U through expansys.com, from whom I have ordered a number of mobile devices and accessories in the past; their service is good and their prices reasonable. However, I thoroughly researched the other devices they were selling before ordering. The original Q1 with bundled keyboard and organizer was temptingly priced, but reviews suggested battery life was poor and the screen only so-so. I also rejected UMPCs with a smaller screen or a full built-in keyboard, since the latter are generally too small for touch-typing. I would rather use a full-sized external keyboard for typing and have a tablet-style machine for ebook-reading, etc.

Since one of my main reasons for buying the Q1U was to have a very lightweight portable machine for writing and editing, I also ordered a Samsung USB keyboard (see photo below), which is about the same size as a laptop keyboard, but only 9mm deep (not including the tiny rubber feet). Obviously this adds to the price and bulk, but for me it was worth it to extend the functionality of the device. As an indication of its usefulness, this entire article was written on the Q1U!


Samsung Q1U with optional keyboard. (view large image)

My final reason for choosing the Q1U was Linux support. It is the principal test machine for several mobile Linux projects, including the upcoming release of Ubuntu and Intel’s own Moblin initiative, so I felt confident that I could convert the machine at some point in the near future.

Hardware Big things in small packages

Upon opening the box, my first reaction was that the Q1U is a very solid and good-looking machine, reminiscent of the black MacBook with its sleek curves and glossy finish. The package included a soft slipcase, AC charger and not one, but two battery packs, the standard and the extended. One of the main criticisms of the original Q1 was its poor battery life, and Samsung seemed to be going out of their way to fix that particular problem! The battery was a tight fit initially. I was reluctant to force anything on a brand new machine, but eventually slipped it snugly into place. Underneath the battery bay is a SIM card slot, though this low-end model has no cellular connectivity.

As mentioned in the specs, the Q1U has a built-in keyboard, which is split on both sides of the screen. It’s similar in size to the keyboard on the Palm Treo, so it’s really only suitable for inputting small amounts of text such as web URLs.

The Q1U is light enough to hold for some time, though it is also cool enough in operation to rest on your lap – unlike my MacBook! Alternatively it can be rested on a solid surface at an angle of about 45 degrees, using the stand on the back.

Tablet Control Features

In addition to the mini-keyboard, the front of the Q1U features an array of buttons, both mechanical and touch-sensitive. To the left of the screen is the pointer, which can be switched between joystick mode (8 directions only) and mouse mode (omni-directional), with buttons to switch mode and to display "Dial Keys" – two quarter-circle virtual keypads that appear in the bottom corners of the screen. To the right of the screen is a four-way controller with a central ‘Enter’ button, plus L and R buttons for mouse-clicks. The four arrows on the controller can be customized for different applications, but are generally intended for scrolling and paging back and forth.


One side of the split keyboard, indicator lights and dial pad. (view large image)

There are buttons and lights above the screen: indicators for hard drive activity, Bluetooth, AC power, power on and mouse mode. There also are touch-sensitive controls for volume up and down, an on-screen menu that controls screen brightness, orientation, etc, and an applet to configure the four-way controller described above. Other features on the front include stereo speakers to the outer side of each mini-keyboard half, twin microphones below the screen, a webcam-type camera for video conferencing and a Q1 Ultra badge, which in higher-end models is replaced by a fingerprint scanner.

Ports

The ports are located on the top and sides of the machine (see photos). Overall it has a good layout and variety for being such a small UMPC. It is nice to travel with and very convenient for jotting down notes or listening to music in cramped areas like a plane or car.


Top view of the Q1U with 3.5mm headphone jack, USB port, SD card slot, and fan outlet. (view large image)


Left side view of the ports with wrist strap attachment point, AVStation button, power switch with ‘hold’ option. (view large image)


Right side view of the ports with reset button, AC in, flap concealing RJ45, VGA-out and second USB port. (view large image)

The reset button is similar to that of a PDA and the flap has soft plastic hinges, similar to the SD card slot on the Treo 680. Although functional, this feels like one of the most vulnerable parts of the machine (after the screen, of course).

The Q1 Ultra’s bottom side is almost featureless apart from another fan outlet and the stylus slot. The stylus is a slim metal rod with plastic ends, very similar to those found in medium to high-end PDAs. It’s light and comfortable in the hand; as a longtime PDA user I’ve found myself using it a lot in preference to the mouse buttons.

Display

Although, the addition of a minuscule built-in keyboard is no great improvement over the original Q1, the same can’t be said about the screen. The crisp 1024×600 resolution is great for showing off photos (especially if your digital camera uses SD cards, as mine does) and is even viewable in direct sunlight. Note however that 1024×600 is the minimum widescreen resolution – the graphics chip doesn’t seem to support a lower resolution (apart from 800×600). The quality of the screen is an important factor in making the Q1U a practical ebook reader; I used it to read an entire novel in PDF format with no feeling of eyestrain.

Audio and Video

However, multimedia performance is disappointing. MP3 playback on Windows Media Player is distinctly crackly compared to PocketTunes on my Treo, and video playback, both for streaming content such as YouTube and locally-stored MPEG video, is quite choppy. I think the Q1U needs a little help in this department.

Performance

The unit runs very quietly and generally fairly cool, the latter being particularly important in what is basically a handheld device. After extended use there is some warmth in the hard drive area (i.e. the lower right hand side). Like Samsung laptops, the Q1U comes with an "etiquette mode", which throttles back the processor and fan to make the machine run more quietly, but it feels redundant on this unit. The side effect is of course to make the machine run hotter, which is usually the last thing you want.

Battery life is on a par with a good laptop. I tested the standard battery with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth both turned on, the screen at maximum brightness, and running an MPEG4 video, and the standard battery lasted two hours and fifty-two minutes. With the screen brightness turned down somewhat, and doing slightly less processor-intensive work, the manufacturer’s four hour estimate should be achievable. The extended battery has six cells instead of four, and gives correspondingly better performance.

HDTune Results:

Temp 40 degrees C

Transfer rate:

  • min 3.8 MB/s
  • max 21.2 MB/s
  • avg 16.0 MB/s

Access time: 20.5 ms

Burst rate: 60.6 MB/s

CPU usage: 13.0%

Everest:

(Q1U not fully supported by current version – identified as Celeron M ULV, i945GM/PM chipset with PC1600 DDR SDRAM)

Memory read: 1620 MB/s

Memory write: 616 MB/s

Memory latency: 155.1 ns

Software

I chose the Q1U with XP Tablet installed, as I’d read that Vista can be very slow on such a (comparatively) low-powered device. I’m not a regular Windows user, so I can’t make useful comparisons with XP running on a laptop or desktop, but the Tablet software works to my satisfaction. After years of writing Graffiti on a Palm PDA, it was rather refreshing to be able to write normally and have most of what I’d written be recognized straight away.

The Samsung comes with a number of extra applications, some designed to control the device itself and others to extend its functionality. For example, the "Menu" hardware button displays an applet for altering screen brightness, orientation and so on. One problem I found with screen rotation, was that after several changes, the digitizer seemed to get confused and refused to rotate along with the screen, making reversing the rotation (by tapping on the pop-up menu, which was now ninety degrees out of sync with the digitizer) an exercise in advanced mental geometry!

Other bundled applications include AVStation Viewer, for fast access to photos and music, and a GPS program which requires a compatible USB receiver (not supplied with the unit).

Conclusion

With the release of the Q1 Ultra, Samsung seems to have taken the criticisms of its previous Q1 model to heart. The hardware is vastly improved, making this one of the first UMPCs to live up to the promise of the Origami Project, even if its price is still a little higher than one could wish for. If you’re in the market for a UMPC and multimedia playback isn’t a priority, you could do a lot worse than the Q1U.


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