The ultramobile PC, or UMPC, has certainly attracted plenty of attention over its short lifespan. Despite good looks and sleek industrial designs, however, these pocket-sized PCs have left us disappointed, thanks to clunky interfaces, high prices, and poor battery life. The $1,849 OQO model 02 (configurations start $1,499) is a solid step forward, but it's still less than practical in most real-world situations. It shares a general design aesthetic with the Sony VAIO UX390--although the underpowered VIA processor in the OQO means the VAIO offers better performance, to say nothing of battery life. In the end, each UMPC we've seen, including the OCO model 02, suffers from one or more fatal flaws. With a better CPU and a longer-lasting battery, the OQO model 02 would be much easier to recommend (we had a similar sentiment about the original OQO from 2004).
Like the original OQO and the Sony VAIO UX390, the OQO model 02 features a slide-out keyboard and looks vaguely similar to a T-Mobile Sidekick. The OQO is slightly smaller than the UX390, measuring 5.6 inches wide, 3.3 inches high (when closed), and 1 inch thick. Slide the 5-inch wide-screen display up, exposing the keyboard, and the system is 4.8 inches high. The OQO model 02 weighs only 1 pound (1.8 pounds with the AC adapter), which is lighter than the smallest ultraportable laptop and a few ounces lighter than the VAIO UMPC. It's also smaller and lighter than another high-profile UMPC we reviewed recently, the Vulcan FlipStart E-1001S, which has a bulky blue clamshell look and weighs 1.7 pounds.
Aesthetically, the OQO model 02 is the most attractive UMPC we've seen, and a vast improvement over the drab original OQO. When shut, it's all black, and sliding up the screen reveals a full, backlit QWERTY keyboard, made up of miniaturized keys. For two-thumb BlackBerry-style typing, the keyboard is easier to use than the VAIO UX390's, thanks to the OQO's slightly raised keys, but it's still not good for heavy typing. We also liked the separate number pad on the right side.
Besides the keyboard, there is a pencil-eraser-style nub on the right side of the tray, used for moving the mouse pointer, and there are left and right mouse buttons to the left of the keyboard. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it's pretty easy to get pinpoint control of the cursor. Unlike the VAIO, the OQO doesn't have a touch-sensitive screen, although two touch-controlled scroll bars (like those found on a laptop touchpad) sit to the right and below the screen. So far, our favorite method for controlling a UMPC comes courtesy of the Vulcan FlipStart, which has a tiny 1.5-inch touchpad.
The 5-inch screen (slightly larger than the VAIO's) features a 800x480 native resolution, which is disappointing, considering the 1,024x600 resolutions found on other UMPCs. A built-in zoom mode can easily change the onscreen resolution to 1,200x720, which looked surprisingly good for an interpolated resolution. The zoom setting ended up being our preferred mode for Web surfing, even though it made some onscreen text hard to read.
You'll find a slim selection of connections on the OQO model 02, plus an unexpected bonus. In addition to the usual suspects--single USB 2.0 port, and headphone and mic jacks--the OQO surprisingly includes an HDMI port for connecting to an external display. We would have liked to see a mini-FireWire jack or perhaps a media card reader, but the included ports are par for the course among the current generation of UMPCs, with the exception of the HDMI connection. Networking options include 802.11a/b/g wireless and Bluetooth. A built-in Sprint or Verizon mobile broadband antenna is a $149 option (you'll also need a monthly service plan from your mobile phone provider). A docking station is available, offering HDMI and VGA outputs, three USB 2.0 jacks, Ethernet and audio connections, and an integrated optical drive. It runs $299 with a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, or $399 with a DVD burner.
OQO offers three versions of the OQO model 02. Our $1,849 review unit was the high-end choice, with a 1.5GHz VIA C7M processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, a 60GB hard drive (a standard 4,200rpm 1.8-inch drive, unlike the solid state drive in the Sony VAIO UX390), and Windows Vista Ultimate. A $1,699 version is available with Windows XP Pro and only 512MB of RAM, and a $1,499 model drops the CPU to 1.2GHz, the hard drive to 30GB, and also has only 512MB of RAM--which is acceptable for Windows XP.
Compared with the other second-generation UMPCs we've looked at, the OQO model 02's VIA processor put it firmly at the back of the pack in CNET Labs' Multitasking, iPod encoding, and Photoshop CS2 tests. It trailed the Vulcan FlipStart with its 1.1GHz Intel Pentium M and the VAIO UX390 with its 1.33GHz Intel Core Solo by a wide margin. Despite the low benchmark scores, we were able to surf the Web with ease, although playing back video files could be a choppy experience. Clicking through the Windows Vista menus and options was another source of lag. The blame for this can be attributed to the VIA processor--found rarely in PCs (such as the $599 Everex StepNote VA4101M, as well as the high system demands of Windows Vista.
Battery life has always been one of the big weak spots of UMPCs. For a device that shares a lot in common with PDA-style cell phones, getting only a couple of hours of use makes it of questionable value for those who expect a handheld device to easily last through an eight-hour work day. This was another area where the competition outclasses the OQO. While the solid state hard drive in the Sony VAIO UX3900 and the frankly huge battery pack on the FlipStart helped those systems achieve a reasonably acceptable battery life of around 3.5 hours, the OQO model 02 ran for just 1 hour and 24 minutes on the same DVD battery-drain test, using an external DVD drive powered by the USB port. Bear in mind that this is a particularly grueling test, and under real-world conditions, you're likely to get more than two hours of use. A double-capacity battery is also available as a $199 option.