Priced at $699 and offering a variety of useful input options, the WiBrain B1E avoids the two pitfalls that commonly beset UMPCs--high price and low usability. Its price makes it the cheapest UMPC we've reviewed; it's $300 less than the Fujitsu LifeBook U810 and a fraction of the cost of the OQO Model 02 or the Sony VAIO UX390, which approach or surpass the $2,000 mark. The WiBrain B1E is also the best UMPC we've tested in terms of the ease with which it lets you navigate Windows, serving up a touch pad, a split keyboard, and a touch screen. Unfortunately, it's also the slowest UMPC we've tested, and its battery life is mediocre at best. Still, Windows XP generally felt responsive, and you're not buying a UMPC for its raw power. Despite its disappointing performance and potentially loud fan (more on this later), the WiBrain B1E is still our favorite UMPC to date, simply because it's the easiest to use and can be had for a sane price.
Measuring 7.5 inches wide by 3.2 inches deep by 1.1 inches thick and weighing 1.2 pounds, the WiBrain B1E feels like an overstuffed Sony PSP (still, it's on the light end of the UMPC scale, which ranges from 1 to 2 pounds). With controls flanking a wide-screen display, you hold and operate the WiBrain like you would Sony's portable gaming system. The 50-key split keyboard makes text input about as comfortable as any thumb keyboard allows. The keys feel firm and provide solid tactile feedback, and four keys are thoughtfully placed on both sides: Function, Alt, Ctrl, and Shift.
Below the keyboard are useful navigation keys on the left and a touch pad on the right. The keys on the lower-left corner--left and right mouse buttons, page up and page down button, and four arrow keys along with a volume rocker--make pointing and clicking in Windows feel very natural when used with the 1.1x1.2-inch touch pad. The touch pad features horizontal and vertical scrolling areas, and it proved so useful that we found ourselves keeping the stylus tucked in its home underneath the WiBrain. (The active touch screen works with your fingertips, too, but the small icons make it a challenge for the less dainty among us.) Also, the wide sides make using the touch screen less comfortable than the normal two-handed operation with the touch pad and mouse buttons. When using the stylus, I found myself balancing the WiBrain in my left hand while operating the stylus from above or below the screen.
|Price as reviewed||$699|
|Processor||1.2GH VIA C7M|
|Memory||512MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz|
|Hard drive||30GB 4,200rpm|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows XP Professional|
|Dimensions (WDH)||1.1x7.5x3.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||4.8 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.2 pounds / 1.9 pounds|
While the WiBrain boasts an intelligent layout that makes it the least frustrating UMPC we've used, it's far from the sleekest looking--that honor arguably goes to the OQO model 2. Some may describe the overall design as clunky, but I'm more than willing to trade a little in the looks department for increased functionality. One aspect of the design that does trouble this reviewer, however, is the WiBrain's cooling fan. Just running Windows caused the fan to spin at rpm levels that created a loud and distracting noise. I reviewed a prototype from the gadget import site Dynamism and was told by my contact there that the fan was set at its highest level and the finalized product would ship with an application that will control the fan speed. Still, it's unclear how often the cooling fan on the final product will need to rotate at full speed and how loud it'll be even when spinning at a slower rpm.
The WiBrain features a 4.8-inch screen with a 1,024x600 native resolution, both are roughly average for a UMPC. By comparison, the Fujitsu LifeBook U810 and the Vulcan FlipStart feature slightly larger 5.6-inch displays, while the Sony VAIO VGN-UX390N has a smaller 4.5-inch screen. The OQO Model 02 is closest to the WiBrain in screen size at 5 inches, but it features only a 800x480 resolution. The WiBrain's screen looked crisp and bright, with icons and text that were small but not illegible. To give you a sense of the room it affords, it shows 17 rows and 15 columns in an Excel worksheet.
The WiBrain's features the typical sparse UMPC allotment of ports and connections. You'll find a single USB 2.0 port and a Wi-Fi on/off switch on the right side with headphone, mic, and AC jacks and a hold switch on the left. A 24-pin connector on the bottom edge can be used with the included VGA adapter to connect to an external display, and the port also lets the WiBrain connect to an optional $179 dock that supplies an optical drive, four USB 2.0 ports, VGA and Ethernet connections, and a card reader. Along the top edge of the WiBrain is a flip-up Web cam. Wireless connectivity includes 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but, sadly, a cellular modem is absent, a significant drawback in such a portable device.
|WiBrain B1E||Average for category [UMPC]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 2.0||2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD or multiformat memory card reader|
|Networking||802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
The WiBrainB1E uses a low-voltage and low-power 1.2GHz VIA C7M processor and features only 512MB of memory, which severely limited its performance on CNET Labs' benchmarks. The OQO Model 02 uses a faster VIA C7M processor and twice the memory as the WiBrain, which allowed it to outpace the WiBrain in testing, but both models trailed Intel-based UMPCs by healthy margins. During hands-on testing, however, the WiBrain felt responsive when running Microsoft Office apps and browsing the Internet. (There's a second WiBrain model, the $849 WiBrain B1H, that doubles the RAM and hard-drive capacity.)
We've been waiting to find a UMPC that'll offer anything resembling a full workday's charge. After testing the WiBrain, we're still looking for that mythical beast. The Sony VAIO UX390N is still the UMPC battery life standard bearer; thanks to its solid-state drive, it ran for 3 hours, 32 minutes. The WiBrain lasted 2 hours and 35 minutes on our DVD battery-drain test, an admittedly awkward setup for UMPCs (we connect them to an external USB drive). I found that figure to be fairly accurate, however; during my hands-on testing, the WiBrain would run for roughly 2.5 hours before running out of juice.
The WiBrain B1 is backed by a one-year warranty that's augmented with Dynamism's Fedex Rescue Service. If your WiBrain has a problem that Dynamism can't fix itself in the U.S., it'll pay to ship the product to and from the manufacturer overseas.