Ultra-mobile PCs get a bad rap -- but for good reason. The Samsung Q1, Asus R2H, and Sony Vaio UX1XN are all clever in their own right, but each has design quirks that drastically reduce their worth. The OQO model 2 aims to capitalise on the apparent demand for small, go-anywhere PCs, without falling foul of the usability limitations that plague its rivals. Let's see how it fares. It's available for around £1,100 from several online retailers, including eXpansys.
The model 2 is gorgeous. Looking at it, anyone predisposed to channelling Sasha Baron Cohen's Borat character could be forgiven for exclaiming "Is nice, I like!" at the top of their lungs. The chassis measures a petite 142mm wide by 84mm tall by 25mm deep, and weighs under 500g so it's ideal for carrying in a handbag, or even your pocket if baggy jeans are your style.
The 5-inch screen takes up the vast majority of the front. This has active touch sensitivity, which means it'll respond to inputs from an optional stylus, but it'll completely ignore all other pointers, including your fingers. Some may balk at this system, but it reduces the chances of the screen being covered in fingerprint smudges.
If you really must engage in some hot digit-on-gadget action you can stroke the finger-sensitive scroll panels on the bottom-right of the screen bezel -- these let you move horizontally and vertically through documents by dragging your thumb across them.
The model 2's display slides up to reveal a Qwerty keyboard with gunmetal-grey keys atop a bronze-coloured panel. This makes a good contrast to the rest of the (predominantly black) chassis. Surprisingly, the keys are comfortable to use. Each has a sufficient amount of travel and there's plenty of tactile feedback so you're never in doubt as to whether your keystroke has been registered. Keyboard shortcuts that involve holding the Shift, Alt, Ctrl or Fn buttons are easy to invoke. Each of these keys stay 'active' with a single press -- and only deactivate once you've pressed a second key.
You'll be making use of these key combos quite often, as the model 2 doesn't have any dedicated shortcut buttons. It relies, instead, on dual-purpose keys -- the L key, for example, becomes the volume up shortcut key after you press Fn. Nearly all the keys have a second function in this way. Commonly used keys such as backspace and return are of a good size and are set aside from the rest of the buttons, allowing for easy access. OQO has found room for a dedicated numerical keypad on the far right, next to the mouse 'track stick'. The left and right mouse selector keys are located to the far left of the keyboard.
There's a pull-out aerial at the top-left of the device, a single USB port on the right underside, an HDMI port at the left underside, and a proprietary cable for attaching the charger, VGA output and docking station.
OQO has bucked the Intel trend and opted instead for a VIA chipset, so this isn't technically a UMPC, which is an Intel standard. It uses a 1.5GHz VIA C7M ultra-low voltage CPU (a 1.2GHz version is also available) and 1GB of DDR 533MHz RAM. There's also an integrated VX700 graphics chip, which dynamically borrows, by default, 64MB from the main system memory. In all, the core specification lets you run Windows XP at a modest pace, but it's noticeably slower than tablets and UMPCs that use Intel parts.
We found the 5-inch display fine, for the most part. Our only gripe was that it ran at a comparatively low resolution of 800x480 pixels. This is a tad disappointing considering the Samsung Q1 Ultra promises a screen resolution of 1,024x600 pixels. If you want more screen real estate, there are a couple of zoom buttons that interpolate 1,000x600- and 1,200x720-pixel resolutions.
Storage is limited, as you might expect from a device of this size. Our sample shipped with a 60GB hard drive, 10GB of which was already spoken for. Windows XP comes pre-installed (various Vista versions are also available) as does Microsoft Office 2007 and McAfee VirusScan. OQO gives you the option of buying the model 2 with a 30GB drive, but we really wouldn't recommend this -- you'll run out of room before you know it.
The model 2 doesn't use a solid-state hard drive. Instead, it has a standard 1.8-inch laptop drive, which OQO says is shock-mounted and has drop-detection technology. This theoretically parks the drive heads in the event of a fall to prevent damage, but we never once saw the drive go into protective mode -- even after a bout of violent shaking. The jury's still out on this feature.