The ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) made its first appearance back in March at CeBIT 2006, in the shape of the Samsung Q1. Also present at CeBIT -- in prototype form at least --- was the R2H from Asus, but it has taken the rest of the year for this device to materialise in a reviewable state.
The R2H looks like it means business. The system unit is a landscape-format slate-style tablet measuring 234mm by 28mm by 133mm. It weighs 830g, which is not far off the lightest ultraportable laptops -- although, of course, laptops include the weight of a built-in keyboard.
The screen measures 7 inches from corner to corner and has a native resolution of 800x480 pixels. You can display up to 1,024x600 pixels if you don't mind looking at very small and not entirely clear on-screen information.
The screen nestles in a metal surround, with a range of buttons and other controls flanking it. We will discuss these in more detail later, but as far as design is concerned, they are well positioned, convenient to access and look good.
The generous bundle of accessories supplied with the R2H includes a folding USB keyboard, similar to those available for handhelds. It's a fairly high-quality unit with full-sized Qwerty keys, and we found it comfortable enough for a limited amount of touch typing.
If, however, you intend to do a lot of typing then some features will take a little getting used to. For example, the bottom row of keys, which includes the space bar, is quarter height, while the space bar itself is split in two by the hinged section of the keyboard and quite difficult to hit; the remaining non-Qwerty keys are generally small in size. The keyboard connects to the R2H via a convenient self-retracting mini USB cable.
Anyone interested in serious document creation or editing would be best advised to consider a laptop -- but then, content creation is not the main reason for the R2H's existence.
Other extras include a desktop stand that's simply designed but extremely effective. You also get a second battery, a USB mouse, a converter from mini USB to standard-sized USB, a VGA-out cable that connects to a proprietary R2H Port Bar connector, an external USB/FireWire DVD rewriter, a USB digital TV tuner, a small remote control unit, a cleaning cloth for the screen and a copy of Microsoft AutoRoute 2006 with European mapping. To round things off, you get a carrying case that will accommodate the main unit, the optical drive, the keyboard and a selection of the other accessories.
The R2H Port Bar connector can be used to attach an external hub that provides further interfaces. This is an optional extra which retails at £70. Asus will not include such a complete set of accessories for every country in which it is selling the R2H, but the UK appears to have hit the jackpot.
The R2H runs Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, and has a passive rather than an active touchscreen. This means you can drive it with any object, including a fingertip, in addition to the provided stylus that nestles in a slot at the back-left edge. The stylus is disappointingly short and lightweight -- it's reminiscent of those found in handhelds made by Asus, and we'd guess that it was not produced specifically for the R2H. Fingertips were our choice every time.
The handwriting recognition and soft keyboard of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition are supplemented by Microsoft's Touch Pack for Tablet PC, which is specifically designed for ultra-mobile PCs. This includes a feature called DialKeys, which places the two halves of a keyboard on opposite sides of the screen, arranged in semicircles at the bottom. The idea is that you hold the R2H in both hands and tap the keys with your thumbs. It takes a bit of getting used to, but some people might find it useful as an additional method of text entry.
The R2H is powered by an Intel Ultra Low Voltage Celeron M processor running at 900MHz. Our review unit had 768MB of DDR2 SDRAM, comprising 256MB on the motherboard and a single 512MB SO-DIMM. The processor is clearly not out of the top drawer and we did find that our review unit ran rather slowly at times -- especially when we had a number of applications open. For storage, the R2H comes with a moderate-sized 60GB hard drive; there's also an SD card slot if you need more storage capacity.