I'm a Windows user who loves skinny laptops. My Lenovo-IBM ThinkPad X60 is the Apple of my eye and only willpower keeps me from adding the teeniest Vaio and maybe one of those cheap Asuteks just for the hell of it. So the Samsung NP-Q1u Windows Vista Ultra Mobile PC, to give its full name, is for me what catnip is for a cat. I should be purring, rolling around the floor, so pleasurably distracted, so totally high that not even a heaping bowl of meat byproducts would tempt me away from my new toy. But my claws are having trouble getting into the package. FFFSSST…
THE ESSENTIALS: SAMSUNG Q1 ULTRA MOBILE PC
WHO WANTS THISTired of carrying a laptop? Now you can carry an Ultra Mobile PC.
WHYBecause PCs are a commodity business. Of course, this is a problem for manufacturers, not for you.
WHAT'S COOLTakes up less space in a briefcase, fits in a purse. Operates with stylus, mini-keyb, dial, or fingertip.
WHAT'S LAMEVista slows it down. Text input is about as much fun as jamming the stylus into your eyesocket.
FINAL MARK: C+Hate to slag off an unorthodox product category, but despite heroic efforts to make this product gorgeous and clever, it's still not as ergonomically hip as virtually any notebook PC.
PRICE: Starting at $799 list, $1,199 "fully featured," $1,499 with HSDPA cell modem.See Samsung's website for more details.
Encased in timeless gloss black, the Q1 Ultra weighs 1.7 pounds, and runs a rated 4.5 hours with the supplied battery or up to 11 with the Power Bank accessory. It's 9 inches wide, 5 deep, and about an inch thick. Placing it atop my ThinkPad, it's roughly two thirds as large. But the 1,024 x 600 screen is only 7 inches (16:9) versus the ThinkPad's 12 (4:3). For me, this required a switch to reading glasses. Upsizing the type in the browser helped. My sample ran on an Intel Ultra Mobile processor at 800 MHz with 1-GB RAM and a 60-GB hard drive.
The smallish screen leaves room on either side for a split keyboard of tiny hard buttons. On the left is a button joystick that Samsung calls a "mouse dial key" that my IBM trackpoint-savvy fingers related to immediately. On the right is a four-way navigation ring surrounding an enter key. The screen is touch sensitive, allowing large buttons to be pressed with fingertips, but smaller items like Windows nav icons need the finer touch of the stylus.
For Web browsing, the Q1 Ultra uses the tablet version of Internet Explorer 7, whose control layout I loathe in any form. I'm more of a Firefox man myself. First thing I did was log into my Yahoo Mail account. This normally 10-second operation took 15 minutes.
I discovered during that maiden voyage that I hated the tiny keyboard buttons, and that the stylus character recognition hated my handwriting (though so did all of my elementary-school teachers). Correcting a handwriting mistake with stylus buttons was a four-part operation. But I could also summon up an onscreen keyboard operable by stylus or toddler-size fingers. And it had a backspace, to my relief. Whenever you feel trapped by one method, you can switch to another. I switched often.
I imported some uncompressed pictures from a thumb drive. It took about two seconds per 500-MB file. They were postcard-size when displayed. Used to seeing them on my desktop monitor, I was underwhelmed when I viewed them at my desk, but when I tried again later, in my armchair, in the dark, I was faintly charmed. Black level and color were pretty good by small-LCD standards.
Importing music from the same thumb drive turned into another endurance contest. On my first attempt, the system froze repeatedly and needed two hard boots. A later try was more successful — it may have helped that I had fewer apps running that time — and downloaded music also played smoothly. But the sound was tinny and unimpressive. Every laptop I've ever owned sounds better.
Video looked better to me than it did to my editor, at least with Samsung's demo clip. There's probably an optimum amount of compression and the demo hit the sweet spot.
I came to the conclusion that if I owned a Q1 Ultra, it might conceivably spend some time in my lap for after-hours use, when my text-input needs are less acute, and I'm more in the mood to fool around with cute little gizmos. But I wouldn't take it on the road as a work machine. Even for casual late-night browsing, it was less satisfying to use than the ThinkPad, the latter with its fullsize keyboard, larger screen, and dual-core processor.
Samsung's Reviewer's Guide (ve vill tell you vat to write) finesses the issue by calling the Q1 Ultra a "companion or supplement," not a "replacement" for a laptop. But it left me longing for my ThinkPad. And Vista is no substitute for a sensible, stripped-down, small-device OS — it was probably the elephantine Vista that made the Q1 Ultra so painfully slow. If there's a future in sub-laptops with unconventional form factor, this longtime Windows user is guessing it's probably called the iPhone.