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Reviews

OQO Model 01+ Ultraportable Computer

By DickieAdams March 21, 2006, 12:00 am

There is no reason for any individual
to have a computer in his home.
– Ken Olsen, President, Digital Equipment, 1977

INTRODUCTION

    In 2003, 55% of the American population
had a web-connected computer. More than triple the number in 1997 (20
years after Ken Olsen made his infamous quote). Of course, I remember
being enthralled with my massive twenty megabyte hard drive. Smaller,
faster, and more efficient. The computers of today were the dreams of
yesterday. So where do we go from here? Do we limit ourselves to saying
hardly anyone would use an ultra portable computer? OQO hopes not. With
the release of their Model 01+, OQO is hoping to break the industry
out of its wired-down bonds, and give us a vision of the future. Can
it perform up to the hype? Or is it just another blip on the tech timeline?
As with all new technologies, it will be spendy, but is it worth the
cost? Ready for a glimpse of what is to come? Read on for the full review:

FEATURES AND SPECIFICATIONS

    First, let’s take a look at the features
of the OQO Model 01+:

(all images link to higher resolution)

    For being
so small, the OQO Model 01+ arrives in quite a large box. Of course,
the majority of this is styrofoam packing. Out of its cocoon, first
impressions of this unit is that its remarkably small. And looking at
the screen for the first time, one can’t help but to start thinking
about the possibilities ahead. Thankfully, it wasn’t just a passing
fancy.

    At a
little over three inches in height and just under five inches in length,
the OQO packs a lot of capabilities into a tiny package. The screen,
thankfully, takes up the majority of the square footage, and the casing
itself has a pleasant feel. Smooth corners, and simple lines. The front
of the screen area (near the power button) does creak a bit when you
press on it, but otherwise, the unit is really quite solid.

    Compared
to my Dell Axim X50v, the OQO Model 01+ is just slightly longer, and
wider. The difference in thickness is obvious, and when you slide it
into your coat pocket, you’ll be sure to notice the difference there
too. Definitely not a shirt pocket device. In the image above you can
also see a close up of the power port/docking combo, the scroll wheel,
and the USB port.

   

The scroll wheel has multiple
functions ranging from horizontal and vertical scrolling.


To volume control and
even application launching. I initially configured the app launcher,
but really didn’t find myself using it, as it took just as many clicks
to get to the app using the scroll wheel as it did with the stylus or
TrackStik.

   

    On either
side of the OQO 01+, we find two oddly shaped ‘Frankenstein’ bolts,
or antennas for the Bluetooth and wireless capabilities. You can also
see in the images above, the headphone jack, FireWire port, and battery
release button. I found the Bluetooth range to be excellent (tethering
to my phone, for example). WiFi range was decent, but worse than I had
anticipated. And though the 01+ currently only has 802.11b capabilities,
it is WPA compatible.

The screen itself slides
up about half way using a unique geared mechanism to reveal the tiny
keyboard and TrackStik. Note the stylus port and small lanyard connector
near the top of the unit.

   

    One of
the first questions that I would get on the OQO Model 01+ would be about
the usability of the keyboard. I’ve got rather large fingers, and was
pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to work this way. While the
overlay is a little more flexible than I expected, the buttons have
a nice click to them. Another great feature is that the Shirt, FN (function),
CTL (control), and ALT keys are all sticky keys. Meaning that you can
‘lock’ them on and press another key in combination with it. So bringing
up, say, the task manager using the shortcut CTL-SHIFT-ESC is a snap
to do with just a thumb. Sadly, the keyboard is not backlit, and this
does create some issues when trying to work in a darkened environment.
Oddly enough, the number area of the keyboard is oriented like a phone
(starting with 1 at the top left) rather than a standard keyboard (7
at the top left). Not a big deal unless, once again, you can’t see the
keys.

Popping off the battery.
You find all the pertinent support info, OS license, and the battery
connector.

   

    Speaking
of batteries, the OQO Model 01+ has a Lithium Polymer variety, capable
of 400 complete charges (where the battery level is dropped below 20%
and then fully recharged). The battery adds a significant portion of
the weight, and is about as thick as four stacked quarters. At $150
a pop, you don’t really want to have to replace one of these in the
future, but I would recommend having at least two, if you are going
to be serious about having enough power. Since today’s devices vary
on battery life depending on all sorts of conditions, I won’t go into
exact numbers, but I will say that a single battery would last my comfortably
for at least two hours of solid use. And even more if I wasn’t pushing
the processing power. One can increase the battery life by disabling
such things as Bluetooth and wireless, or even lowering the brightness
of the screen.

Press the button on the
back of the battery, and depending on your battery level, bright white
lights appear. Handy feature indeed.

   

    The screen,
as mentioned before, looks great. It’s not a touch screen, but a digitized
display, useable with a special stylus (included) only. But by using
this style of screen, the accuracy is much higher. It does take some
getting used to, as you have to learn not to look at the end of the
stylus, but at the cursor location, and tapping does take a steady hand.
There is a small button on the side of the stylus that caused me more
grief than functionality. It acts like a right-mouse button, but since
I have a tendency to roll my pens as I write, I constantly found myself
clicking when I didn’t intend to. The surface of the screen is somewhat
scratch resistant, but after a few weeks, I did notice some hairline
scratches, and even some text that I had handwritten left behind. OQO
tells me that this is not covered by warranty, but they do offer screen
protectors (from Boxwave)
at an additional cost. One would think that for the the price, you would
get at least some nominal screen protection for free.

One could also protect
the device by either using the included neoprene case or the optional
metal case. I used both and couldn’t really recommend one over the other,
as each had a place, depending on the situation.

   

    The power
pack included with the OQO Model 01+ has plenty of cable to stretch
to the far reaches of your workspace. But remember that you may need
to carry it with you in the future, and let me tell you first, it can
be a pain. A CLA adapter is also included in the package, which can
be converted, with a quick press and a pull, to an airline plug. Unfortunately,
once again, in order to use this adapter, you have to plug it into the
main power unit, no direct connection available. The unit I had made
a little bit of noise when plugged in, but nothing too noticeable.

   The power
can be plugged directly into the base of the 01+, be attached to the
docking cable, or even attach directly to the battery using yet another
included adapter. This final connection isn’t the most user friendly,
but at least you can charge a second battery while you are using your
device.

   

The docking cable I just
mentioned is about five feet long, and adds a second USB and FireWire
port, an audio and ethernet port, VGA out, and power. The cable is bendable,
but quite thick and a little unwieldy. I would have rather the 01+ been
attached to a docking bay or solid port replicator.

The end of the cable
attaches directly to the power/combo port at the base of the unit.
The connection is surprisingly stable and solid.

   As
one of our readers mentioned, the dock isn’t actually a dock but
a cable and heavy zinc stand combo. It doesn’t really hold the unit
very well, sadly. Hopefully, a better solution will be available
in the future. Once ‘docked’ you can easily attach an external monitor,
keyboard, and mouse, and have it act as a desktop computer. Make
no mistake, it won’t be any better with these external devices attached,
you’ll still only have a 8MB video card, and only half a gig of
RAM, but it may make some data entry more efficient (not to mention
the screen resolution will be higher).

   

   Don’t
want to carry around the large docking cable, but need to have VGA
functionality? OQO does sell an optional VGA adapter. But, like
the cable, you can only view one screen at a time. No cloning or
extending. The digitized screen capabilities still work, but you’ll
have to get used to using it more like a tablet than a tablet PC
in this configuration.

   

   To
help with heat (and believe me, it can get very, very hot), and
battery life, OQO chose to use a Transmeta processor. You can reduce
the heat waves coming off the unit by letting it use the jet
turbines
, I mean, fans, but in a normal meeting environment,
it might be a bit noisy. Stepping technology is also nice, but it
can cause slight delays as the unit switches into high gear. I really
think that the 01+ could have also benefited from a full gig of
RAM, rather than just 512MB. Less RAM means more swap space, and
more swap space means more hard drive access, and more hard drive
access means lower battery life. You get the points. The OQO Control
Panel on the left image not only controls the fan volume, but also
calibration settings, app launcher, Cleartype, and scroll wheel
settings.

   Performance
wise, I found the OQO 01+ plus to be a bit of a mixed bag. I was
impressed in some situations, okay, most situations. For example,
I was able to start a web conference from my house, switch the connection
from WiFi to my Bluetooth phone, and after the software recovered
(a Microsoft issue), I was able to drive to my office, listening
to the conference the entire way. At the office, I switched back
to WiFi, and finished out the conference. Impressive. Or remote
desktop connectivity to the office. Also very slick. But in other
situations, such as the fact that the most of the graphical elements
in Picasa looked garbled, or that it couldn’t play a lot of high
bit rate video content, I was not impressed at all. I also had trouble
with most (free) network tools as the wireless card wasn’t recognized
properly. But I always had to remember: this isn’t intended to be
a desktop replacement. This is intended to bridge the gap between
the PDA and PC world. Hopefully OQO will be able to keep it’s eye
on the ball, and really take this vision to the next level – and
not just limit it to the enterprise market.

Just a brief mention
of the 30GB hard drive. Fantastic. A good amount of space considering
the size of the device.

   

   A
couple of examples shots above showing off the tablet capabilities
of the device. This would have to be the biggest ‘Wow!’ factor of
the entire unit. The one thing that people were most impressed with
overall. Using XP Tablet edition, one could not only make sketches,
but easily use the handwriting recognition software to do just about
everything you would need to. And for the times it didn’t work,
you could still fall back on the thumb keyboard.

The end of the cable
attaches directly to the power/combo port at the base of the unit.
The connection is surprisingly stable and solid.

   As
one of our readers mentioned, the dock isn’t actually a dock but
a cable and heavy zinc stand combo. It doesn’t really hold the unit
very well, sadly. Hopefully, a better solution will be available
in the future. Once ‘docked’ you can easily attach an external monitor,
keyboard, and mouse, and have it act as a desktop computer. Make
no mistake, it won’t be any better with these external devices attached,
you’ll still only have a 8MB video card, and only half a gig of
RAM, but it may make some data entry more efficient (not to mention
the screen resolution will be higher).

   As
one of our readers mentioned, the dock isn’t actually a dock but
a cable and heavy zinc stand combo. It doesn’t really hold the unit
very well, sadly. Hopefully, a better solution will be available
in the future. Once ‘docked’ you can easily attach an external monitor,
keyboard, and mouse, and have it act as a desktop computer. Make
no mistake, it won’t be any better with these external devices attached,
you’ll still only have a 8MB video card, and only half a gig of
RAM, but it may make some data entry more efficient (not to mention
the screen resolution will be higher).

   

   Don’t
want to carry around the large docking cable, but need to have VGA
functionality? OQO does sell an optional VGA adapter. But, like
the cable, you can only view one screen at a time. No cloning or
extending. The digitized screen capabilities still work, but you’ll
have to get used to using it more like a tablet than a tablet PC
in this configuration.

   

   To
help with heat (and believe me, it can get very, very hot), and
battery life, OQO chose to use a Transmeta processor. You can reduce
the heat waves coming off the unit by letting it use the jet
turbines
, I mean, fans, but in a normal meeting environment,
it might be a bit noisy. Stepping technology is also nice, but it
can cause slight delays as the unit switches into high gear. I really
think that the 01+ could have also benefited from a full gig of
RAM, rather than just 512MB. Less RAM means more swap space, and
more swap space means more hard drive access, and more hard drive
access means lower battery life. You get the points. The OQO Control
Panel on the left image not only controls the fan volume, but also
calibration settings, app launcher, Cleartype, and scroll wheel
settings.

   Performance
wise, I found the OQO 01+ plus to be a bit of a mixed bag. I was
impressed in some situations, okay, most situations. For example,
I was able to start a web conference from my house, switch the connection
from WiFi to my Bluetooth phone, and after the software recovered
(a Microsoft issue), I was able to drive to my office, listening
to the conference the entire way. At the office, I switched back
to WiFi, and finished out the conference. Impressive. Or remote
desktop connectivity to the office. Also very slick. But in other
situations, such as the fact that the most of the graphical elements
in Picasa looked garbled, or that it couldn’t play a lot of high
bit rate video content, I was not impressed at all. I also had trouble
with most (free) network tools as the wireless card wasn’t recognized
properly. But I always had to remember: this isn’t intended to be
a desktop replacement. This is intended to bridge the gap between
the PDA and PC world. Hopefully OQO will be able to keep it’s eye
on the ball, and really take this vision to the next level – and
not just limit it to the enterprise market.

Just a brief mention
of the 30GB hard drive. Fantastic. A good amount of space considering
the size of the device.

HELP SUPPORT

    OQO has extensive support site,
and a very eager support team willing to help out in any situation.
Corporate customers have their own contact representative.

BUGS AND WISHES

   

Oh, I have plenty of wishful ideas about the OQO Model 01+, but sticking
to the existing design configuration, I can think of a few things that
I think really need to be addressed. First, the lack of a backlit keyboard
– a big hassle if you are working in a dark situation, but one that
I’ve been told may be worked out in the future. Next up would be the
useable tablet resolution. Really, 800×480 just isn’t enough room. I
appreciate the fact that you can bump the resolution up on the OQO (at
the loss of the tablet functionality), or that one can attach an external
monitor, but it’s not really the same. Too many dialog boxes are lost
at the bottom of the screen. Wireless G would also be a very important
addition (even at the cost of some battery life), as would a full gig
of RAM. And how about a real docking port (rather than just a cable
and stand)? Finally (for the sake of time, really – I can think of many
more things that would be really cool, but would probably eat the battery
alive), if the OQO is really intended to be docked, one should be able
to use both the OQO and the external monitor at the same time.

PURCHASING

   
Depending
on the configuration, the OQO Model 01+ runs from $1899 (XP Home) to
$2399 (XP Tablet + Office) – full details can be found here.


PROS


  • Plenty of power in a small
    package


  • A fully functioning OS


  • Good battery life

  • ‘Dockable’
  • Great looking screen

CONS


  • Can get very, very hot

  • Keyboard isn’t backlit
  • Only 512MB of RAM
  • Low default screen resolution
  • Price
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

What
do these ratings mean?

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OVERALL IMPRESSION

    As long as you don’t try to compare it
to your laptop or PDA, the OQO Model 01+ shines brilliantly. The functionality
is amazing, and the capabilities are outstanding, considering the size
of the device. Not to say that there aren’t glaring issues (or hot issues,
so to speak). Would I buy one today? Perhaps not – but merely because
of the price. With the OQO around, my PDA was used less and less, because
the OQO was capable of much more. So rather than predict that you or
I would never need a device such as this, I’m willing to stake my reputation
that we will see a lot more of this technology in the future. Small,
portable, but fully functioning devices that will integrate into our
every day life in such ways that we can’t even imagine today. And OQO
will long be remembered as one of the first. And hopefully we’ll still
see them in the future.

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