UBiQUiO 701 Ultra Mobile PC Review

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Most of our readers probably won’t be familiar with the UBiQUiO brand name. It’s semi-obscure, being mostly in use in Europe, and there’s so little data available on the company that I’m not even sure whether this company make its own hardware or re-brands others’.

One thing I am fairly sure of, though, it’s a pretty funny name. I’ve heard that it’s supposed to be pronounced you-bic-you-oh. Being that I work in print, I really couldn’t care less.

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Products sold under the UBiQUiO brand tend to get limited exposure here in the U.S., being available from a handful of distributors. Our UBiQUiO review unit was kindly provided by eXpansys, which, along with its subsidiary MobilePlanet, is one of those distributors. It offers the unit as reviewed here, priced at $1000, plus delivery.

It also offers the UBiQUiO 702, which is essentially identical to the 701 save for the inclusion of a six-cell extended battery and an additional $95 in price.

A Not So Good First Impression

I received a somewhat rude introduction as soon as I started unboxing this thing.

The casing of the device is a glossy black plastic that, to put it mildly, does a stunning job of retaining every trace of skin oil that touches it. The phrase fingerprint magnet might have been coined for it alone. It’s really sad, because otherwise the case would be quite appealing visually, but as things stand, it looks horrible after even the most basic handling.

The texture of the casing also makes it almost impossible to clean without a solution. Anyone even thinking about using this device had better budget for some kind of case, or else a lifetime supply of rubbing alcohol.

Included in the standard package is a small set of basic accessories: battery, a pre-installed screen protector, lint-free cloth, charger, stylus, carrying bag, and desktop stand. Nothing earth-shattering.

The Specs

Inside the 701’s casing are all the things you would expect from such a high-end device: 802.11g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB 5400 RPM hard drive, and a 1GHz VIA C7M processor.

USB ports adorn each side for adding drives or peripherals, the 7-inch screen boasts a sharp 800-by-480-pixel Widescreen VGA resolution, and if you’re really into it, you can upgrade the RAM to a full 1GB.

The Hardware

The 701 has a very simple tablet-like design.

There is no keyboard or anything of the sort to be found — text input is solely and completely handled through software, including pop-up keyboards and handwriting recognition. This might not be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that the handwriting software bundled on the 701 is, to put it mildly, horrible.

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It’s a bar-style input area, somewhat like those seen on Windows Mobile devices. Unlike them, you can’t write elsewhere on the screen, and you can’t, you know, actually get your handwriting recognized. At least I couldn’t, no matter how careful and precise I was.

There’s also another soft input program that pops up small, quarter-circle keyboard lets on the two bottom corners of the screen. I assume that these are intended to be used by the operator’s thumbs, but it’s woefully inadequate as a thumb keyboard, as most touchscreen-based thumbboards are.

The mouse can be controlled either with the stylus (any stylus, as the digitizer is pressure sensitive) or via the orange stick-style controller in the upper right.

The battery is attached to the device along what is the top when the device is in landscape mode. Seen here is the standard three-cell, 26 watt-hour battery, which sits flush to the case–there’s also an extended battery available which is larger, but offers double the runtime of the standard battery.

The display is a bit of a conundrum. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for widescreen displays. But 800 by 480 pixels is a very oddball resolution, and one which isn’t normally supported by almost anything. By default, Windows XP is designed to run on nothing less than 800 by 600 pixels, and the same is true for a lot of its programs. Consequently, you’re left in a position where many applications either show up squashed, possibly with dialog boxes sticking off the bottom of the screen, or they cause the system to switch to a "virtual" 800-by-600-pixel resolution, where you need to pan up and down in order to see things.

That’s not the only virtual resolution the 701 supports, though. It can also take a more standard resolution like 800 by 600 pixels, or 1024 by 600 pixels, and resize it to fit the native resolution of the panel. This works for some things, but the nature of LCD displays is that they tend to function poorly at non-native resolutions. Resizing the display makes text hard to read, and while it may make certain applications usable, be prepared to switch back and forth a lot.

The Performance

Allow me to preface this section by saying that the hardware of the 701 is, in some ways, very impressive. Packing an entire Windows XP PC into the size of a hardcover book is undeniably cool. But the very engineering decisions that allow this to actually happen also do a lot to decimate performance, as compared to any serious laptop.

One of the major bottlenecks is the 1GHz VIA CPU. While 1GHz may seem amply fast, the VIA chips aren’t even close to a 1:1 comparison with Intel or AMD chips.

Using the application Super Pi to test its speed, the machine took 18 minutes and 39 seconds to calculate Pi to two million places. In comparison, most of the newest laptops do this in 1 to 2 minutes, and even my three year old ThinkPad did it in 2 minutes and 19 seconds.

The most disappointing feature of the device is, by far, the battery life. While attempting to play ordinary video — one of the more obvious and desirable uses of the device — it barely managed to run for an hour and 45 minutes before shutting down. That’s not even enough to watch one good length movie without a power adapter, so forget about serious use as a personal media player. It doesn’t fare any better when running even the simplest of games, either.

Conclusion

The way that Microsoft and Intel originally billed UMPCs as a supplement to laptops rather than a replacement masks the essential fact that the compromises implicit in such a device make its potential market minuscule.

This isn’t to say that the UBiQUiO 701 is in itself bad — while it does have negative qualities, in my opinion it is by and large a good representative of its class, and these drawbacks are what one might call a species trait. But having used it, I’m now more convinced than ever that UMPCs are still a solution in search of a problem.

While I can envision certain niches that might benefit from the UBiQUiO 701, it’s mainstream appeal and utility are low. It’s not powerful enough to be a laptop replacement, it’s not small enough to be a portable multimedia machine, and it’s not elegant enough to be pretty much anything else.

Pros:

  • Extensive hardware
  • Windows XP

Cons:

  • High price
  • Short battery life
  • Smudge-prone casing
  • Odd screen resolution

An interesting toy, but not something that I would recommend for more than niche use.

Photo Gallery

 
Left side, top to bottom:
power jack, USB port, wireless on/off switch

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  Right side, top to bottom:
headphone/microphone jack, volume up/down controls, USB port,
power slider, lock button

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Display in native 800 x 480 mode
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Display in native 800 x 480 mode
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