Hands-on: the Samsung Q1 UMPC

Hands-on: the Samsung Q1 UMPC

Justin Jaffe Managing editor
Justin Jaffe is the Managing Editor for CNET Money. He has more than 20 years of experience publishing books, articles and research on finance and technology for Wired, IDC and others. He is the coauthor of Uninvested (Random House, 2015), which reveals how financial services companies take advantage of customers -- and how to protect yourself. He graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in English Literature, spent 10 years in San Francisco and now lives in Portland, Maine.
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  • Coauthor of Uninvested (Random House, 2015)
Justin Jaffe
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Samsung unveiled its Q1 Ultra Mobile PC this morning at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Starting at $1,099, the Q1 features a 7-inch (diagonal) display, weighs about 1.7 pounds, and runs a modified version of Microsoft Windows XP Tablet. The device seeks to combine elements of a laptop, a tablet, a PDA, a PVP, an MP3 player, a GPS module, and a gaming handheld into a form factor that falls between that of a smart phone/Pocket PC and an ultraportable laptop.

When we first laid eyes on the UMPC form factor at the Intel Developer Forum back in March, we thought that the concept was sort of cool--it might make a nice entertainment device for passing the time on a cross-country flight or make a decent video player/GPS device for a long drive. Despite the fact that it could run a full version of Windows, however, we had our doubts about how useful it could really be, lacking a real, built-in keyboard--a fatal flaw (in the U.S. market, at least) for UMPC predecessors such as the Sony VAIO U750P (sold overseas as the considerably more successful VAIO U50).

As we saw this morning, Samsung and Microsoft have addressed the keyboard issue in two ways. First, with accessories: a compact USB keyboard is available (along with a Franklin Planner-esque portfolio to hold it all). Second, with Microsoft's TouchPack application, which features a virtual, radial keyboard that's split between the corners of the UMPC's display--a feature we've already seen similarly implemented on the Fujitsu LifeBook P1510. The dial keys, as Microsoft calls them, have a standard QWERTY layout and are arranged for thumb typing, similar to a Treo or BlackBerry. You can adjust the dial keys' opacity, change them from black to white (for use on dark backgrounds), and bring up an alternate layout that features keys for tools and shortcuts.

We've seen this before, though. With its onscreen keyboard, the VAIO U750P took a similar tack, and we remain skeptical: the cramped keyboards found on most ultraportable laptops, and even the tiny keypads on the Treo and the BlackBerry, are simply in a different league than the UMPC's virtual tablet keyboard.

Battery life is another Achilles' heel. It looks like you can expect approximately 3.5 hours of run time from the Q1's standard three-cell battery, and closer to 2 hours when running intensive tasks, such as video. That said, Samsung will also sell a six-cell battery and a power pack that it says will deliver 7 and 9 hours, respectively. Still, for a form factor that strikes a compromise between a laptop (average battery life of 3 hours) and a smart phone/Pocket PC (average battery life of 8 to 9 hours talk time, six to seven days standby), we expect a battery life that falls somewhere closer to the median.

Price remains an issue, too. Making matters tougher for the Samsung Q1 and other UMPCs are ultraportable laptops, such as the $1,400 Gateway NX100X, which cost just a few hundred dollars more and deliver a more traditional form factor in just a slightly heavier package. Though a Samsung exec said that the company is "very comfortable where the price is," we think it's still about $500 too high.

Other notable Q1 UMPC features and ruminations:

  • Sling Media has developed a special version of its software for the UMPC so that you can stream live TV over a wireless network on it; the software will be available later in May.
  • The UMPC's SRS stereo speakers sounded much louder and clearer than the Sony PSP's.
  • We saw a quick demo of how you can connect the UMPC via Bluetooth to your cell phone's cellular network, which begs the question: When will we see built-in EDGE connectivity for the UMPC?
  • Because it runs Windows XP, the UMPC can conceivably play any existing PC game title; though with its 512MB of RAM and 900MHz ultra-low-voltage processor, you'll be hard-pressed to play anything more hard-core than the included version of Sodoku.
  • Samsung ships the Q1 with a homegrown A/V utility, called AVStation Now, which lets you play movies and MP3s and access other multimedia content without booting up the Windows OS; in contrast to the other Instant-On-style utilities found on entertainment laptops from HP, Dell, and others, Samsung's AVS is based on Windows XP, not Linux.

And here's a quick rundown of the Q1 UMPC's specs:

  • Dimensions: (approximately) 9 inches wide, 5.5 inches deep, 1 inch thick
  • Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Processor: Intel Celeron M ULV (900MHz)
  • Chipset/graphics: 915GMS, Intel GMA900 (128MB)
  • Memory: 512MB DDR2 RAM (400MHz), upgradable to 1GB
  • Display: 7-inch (diagonal) touch screen LCD (800x480)
  • Storage: 40GB hard drive
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0
  • Connections: Two USB 2.0, one Type II CompactFlash slot, VGA output
  • Price: $1,099

Samsung says the Q1 will be available for purchase online at BestBuy.com starting May 7, CDW soon after that, and in retail outlets later this summer.