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March 31, 2008

The UMPC Evolution: Samsung’s Q1 Ultra

Two years ago a cover story in Smartphone and Pocket PC magazine introduced the UMPC, and Samsung’s Q1 was the first to make it to market. At the end of the article, I asked if the new UMPC would replace the Pocket PC, or whether it would even survive as a platform. Samsung’s second generation device shows that the developers have been paying attention to user feedback. The new Q1 has impressive improvements that make it an attractive computing choice. Recently, at the Consumer Electronics Show, I observed several second generation entries and that more manufacturers were coming out with new models. Apparently the UMPC is gaining a significant foothold as a viable platform and computing alternative.

Outside: first impressions

First impressions and appearances reveal significant differences in the new Q1 compared to the original version. Perhaps most noticeable immediately is the QWERTY keyboard split on either side of the screen near the top. On the left is a joystick with mouse and Internet control buttons. On the right, is the navigation panel with an enter button, and below that are left and right mouse button keys.

Viewing the same seven inch screen is a more pleasurable experience now because instead of the 800 x 600 resolution, it has been bumped up to 1024 x 600 eliminating most sideways scrolling.

Another new feature is the fingerprint scanner on the lower left corner of the front panel. Instead of no camera on the first Q1, there are now two cameras, one in front, one in back.

Along the top, above the screen to the left are a series of indicators for power, battery, and wireless connections. On the left is a bank of four buttons for volume, and a menu for various system controls, and a handy UDF or user defined button. There are dual microphone pinholes at the bottom of the screen. A button that activates the camera is on the top right.

Gone is the CF port replaced by a standard SD card slot on the top of the unit accompanied by a 3.5 mm earphone jack and USB port. On the left is a lanyard connector, an AV Station button, and a locking power slider.

On the right side is the power input and a removable cover housing LAN, USB, and VGA ports. On the bottom right corner you will find the stylus silo. On the backside, there is a battery cover latch and a foldout stand.


Samsung has improved what’s under the hood too with more hunk and computer power by installing an Intel Core2 Duo ultra low voltage 800 MHz processor and one GB of RAM. Unfortunately, the review model I received came loaded with XP, but it will start shipping with Vista in the second quarter of 2008.

The LCD 7 inch WSVGA screen is set to 1024 x 600. For audio it offers H/P out, stereo speakers (1.5 x 2) and array mic.

It sports an 8mm, 1.8 inch, 60 GB hard drive for built-in memory plus a standard SD expansion card slot.

The wireless setup includes WLAN (802.11 b/g), Bluetooth, Wired LAN (RJ45), and optional HSDPA/WIBRO, but no InfraRed. I/O ports include H/P out, DC-in, USB x 2, VGA, SD slot, RJ45, and SIM CARD (HSDPA) slot (optional).

User interface features include a QWERTY key pad. Dial Keys, Enter, Mode Switch (Joystick, Mouse), Shutter/Internet, CAD, Meun, UDF button, MIO, Volume +/-. It facilitates multimedia instant on with hot-start.

Other features include fingerprint scanner and dual camera. The unit measures approximately 9 x 5 3/8 x 1/ ¼ inches. It weighs one pound, 14 ounces, which is a heck of a lot less than a laptop.

In the box

The contents of the box are rather minimal. There is an AC adapter, a set of ear buds, and a nylon sleeve case. There are two CDs. The System Software Media disk was not compatible with my Vista desktop, so I could not run it. The System Recover Media disk was dated 2005, curiously before the advent of the first UMPC. Let’s not forget the wrist strap. And that is it. If you want to accessorize, the rest is up to you. There is no printed or CD manual. There is an icon on the desktop that takes you to an onboard manual that is somewhat comprehensive.

Samsung has several accessories available, which include a navigation pack for GPS (car cradle, car adapter, GPS receiver, map), USB external keyboard, and extended life battery of 8.5 hours. The standard battery has a predicted 4.5 hour usage. There is an optional external optical drive and a docking station.

The unit comes with an array of software to assure your productivity right out of the box with the usual compliment of XP and Microsoft components from games to utilities and applications. Samsung has plugged in some of its own useful tools, and there is some third party software as well.

I think it is too bad that you only get a trial version of Microsoft Office. When the trail expires, I will probably take advantage of Google’s free software alternatives or OpenOffice.

For the Tablet mode, there is Windows Journal for pen input and Microsoft Touch Pack for Tablet PC.


I found the new keypad awkward to use, and difficult to see without a backlight because of glare from the shiny black surfaces. I never did like the dialkey alternative, which is still available for those who wish to use it. The input panel works well enough with a stylus if you prefer it. However, any serious inputting should only be attempted with an external keyboard, USB or Bluetooth.

My ThinkOutside Igo Bluetooth keyboard paired right up using the native driver already onboard. It worked really well, and turned the UMPC into a real productivity device that I would be pleased to take anywhere. But, without the keyboard, its usefulness is more limited.

Unfortunately, I am one of those leftys who drags his hand behind the pen tip and smears the ink. Accordingly, when I try to write on the UMPC screen I create a pickup sticks of jagged lines on the screen, and my writing goes mostly unheeded by the system. I doubt that right-handers would have this problem if they don’t touch the screen with anything but the stylus. So, for me, the Tablet PC approach with the digital pen works better for handwriting. But, I actually prefer the convenience of the touch screen.

The screen has greatly improved for outdoor viewing. Before it was like looking into a black mirror. Now you can adjust the backlight.

The joystick is so sensitive, that it is just plain annoying. Thank goodness for the touch screen. Use your finger or a stylus instead for efficient precision pointing. For best results use a USB or Bluetooth mouse.

No, I do not think the UMPC will ever replace a Windows Mobile Professional device. Even though it is eversomuch more powerful, it is still bulky in comparison and far less convenient. The real question is whether it may replace a laptop or Tablet PC.

The answer to that question probably lies in the way it will be used. It is a wonderful device for portable, handheld inputting for inventory, medical forms, and other repetitive tasks. I certainly would not want to take extensive notes or write a novel on one without an external keyboard. Its lack of an optical drive could be another problem for some users.

But, by the time you pack an external keyboard, mouse, optical drive, and cables, you may prefer the convenience of having a laptop or Tablet with a larger screen.

I have enjoyed the convenience of size and found the 7 inch screen perfectly adequate for inputting if I have an external keyboard. I have used it for PowerPoint presentations and appreciate its small size on the road. I really like its larger screen for GPS applications on trips. It’s a great media center too. I like to put it in my kitchen while cooking dinner and watch TV via Slingbox or look up recipes, or talk on the phone via Skype or plug in my MagicJack and yak away while I burn the beans.

What about price? I have seen the price vary from $779 to $1099, which is quite a variance. But, at $799, I should think that even with laptop prices dropping dramatically, this UMPC is definitely a buy worth considering. It is not yet at the $500 level that Microsoft envisioned initially, but perhaps it will be as consumer demand increases.

I would recommend waiting for one pre-loaded with Vista unless the XP units are substantially less. It is strange that I should receive an XP review unit when I saw them with Vista at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Certainly there is a place for the UMPC platform. I am happy to see it maturing and expanding. Samsung, the first to enter the market, has made another valiant entry with its second generation Q1 Ultra.

Posted by conradb212 at March 31, 2008 01:47 AM