Product review: Samsung Ultra-Mobile PC

9 Oct 2007

If there’s one thing we’re not short of it’s tech companies telling you how they’re going to change the world with a new product, often just before they launch something that’s more of the same.

You saw this in the PC business where a 1982 creation remained beige for the best part of 20 years until Apple’s Steve Jobs decided to make everything colourful and translucent.

Laptops went through this same reiteration phase and are still not out of the woods no matter how slim or light you make them.

The tablet PC five years ago was intended to change everything. These became slow burners but today account for half of all portable computers sold worldwide.

Samsung, with its Ultra Mobile Q1 device, wants to break the mould with a new shape of PC.

The machine, which weighs 69g and has a 7-inch LCD screen, is not much bigger than Sony’s PlayStation Portable and is actually a fully functioning PC with Windows XP Tablet Edition, an Intel processor and 1-gigabyte of memory.

With the PSP and many new mobile phones coming with wireless connectivity, you wonder if Samsung has missed a trick. But the more I delved into the device the more I found it strangely compelling.

Ergonomically, the keyboard is badly positioned at the top of the device either side of the screen; the mouse is on your left and the mouse click keys are on the right side.

Driving the Q1 for the first time is like learning to ride a bike — requiring careful coordination — but I can’t say it’s as easy.

There is another option. It comes with a useful stand at the back and by hitting a ‘dialer’ button a keyboard is recreated on screen that makes typing easier.

The Q1 sports a single USB port and this could allow you to plug in a full-sized keyboard. An extra USB port wouldn’t go amiss because you can plug in a wireless mouse and then bingo — a whole PC.

The device features a useful front and rear camera that works quite well with the big screen and with the stand at the back you could turn it into a digital photo frame that replays videos — think Harry Potter.

This would the kind of thing you might leave on your coffee table to surf the net wirelessly on a whim. It might also appeal to the executive who likes to travel light. It’s ideal for browsing, but don’t expect to get a lot of work done.

The Samsung Q1 Ultra as a niche device will suit users who aren’t power-PC users. Its overall impact as a new shape
of PC I suspect will be memorable, but minor.

PROS Perfect for the briefcase or the coffee table
CONS Very awkward keyboard
PRICE €1,200

By John Kennedy