I’ve been road testing my new acquisition – the OQO Model 01+ UMPC running Windows Tablet. I’ve been hankering after one of these for a while, but it is only recently that price has dropped to a justifiable level (340 quid + VAT from Expansys). So, what’s so good about it?
- It really is a real Windows computer. Not a PDA, or some other device running Symbian or Linux, but a fully fledged Windows PC. This isn’t some Microsoft hugging statement, more a simple question of broad application support, specifically for voice recognition (see 3) and mind mapping. Bluntly, the things I want to do with this device, I can.
- I can get it out on the Tube. Indeed, I can get the OQO out just about anywhere. It is all very well checking a map on a laptop, but it is a bit of a drag having to walk the streets with a 15 inch computer screen open in front of you. Much of the challenge is logistical (see 8), but equally, the London Underground is not seen as a place for laptops – journeys are shorter, and the potential for theft is reputedly higher (see 7).
- It really does work as a voice recognition Dictaphone. This was the main reason for justifying the purchase of the OQO, as a proof of concept: I am very surprised that such a capability has not been tested publicly before. It’s not perfect, but it does indeed work: I shall be writing more about this in a future post.
- It is a tablet PC. If XP Tablet edition is installed, the benefits that apply to tablet PC’s also apply to the OQO. This includes quite reasonable handwriting recognition: some people prefer to write than type, and indeed it is a lot more friendly in meetings having someone scribbling on a tablet, then tapping behind a laptop.
- It really is very small. This may sound like in stating the obvious, but it is true. The advantage of size is that it can be taken places where a normal computer could not go: it can fit, for example, in a jacket pocket. Yes, you absolutely know it’s there, but it’s not half as obtrusive as a full-size laptop. So if, like me, you sometimes find yourself with that dilemma of whether to take a computer or not, for example to a meeting – then you still can, taking all your files with you.
- It can be taken on holiday. Yes, yes, I know, it should be necessary to take computers on holiday. However, those working in smaller companies don’t always have the luxury of choice; equally there are plenty of uses of a computer that have nothing to do with work. The convenience of the OQO means that it can be put into the bottom of the case and forgotten until it should be needed.
- It more surreptitious than a laptop. Because of (4) it is easier, nay possible to put an OQO into the glove compartment of the car, and it is less of a theft-magnet in general than a fully fledged laptop. From a near distance it looks like some obscure games console.
- It can be used standing up, or while walking. My train ride home yesterday involved an hour’s standing in a tightly packed carriage, but I was still able to finish off the day’s affairs by completing a report and closing down my email. It does require two hands to use the keyboard or pen, however.As another example, a pretty standard thing for me to do on a flight is to get back up-to-date with my e-mail. With the OQO on Tuesday, I was able to upload my e-mail as soon as my plane had landed and the seatbelt light had gone off, which for me was a real boon as I could then go straight to my car in the knowledge that all those pesky messages had been sent to area.
- It can be powered by a portable battery. A couple of years ago I bought a 12V extension battery from Brookstone in the US, for the express purpose to act as a backup power supply for my gadgets when I was out and about. The extension battery is completely inadequate for laptop use, but it can power the OQO via the latter’s own 12V adaptor input. Together with (6), this makes the OQO a much more suitable device for camping trips etc, when access to mains power may be sporadic.
- It looks good. This is very much “last but not least” – but I did get a buzz when the usually dour security staff at Gatwick struck up a conversation about it. Having technology as a talking point doesn’t have to be limited to Mac fanboys, you know!
What’s there not to like? Well. I wouldn’t suggest the OQO as a desktop replacement – with the caveat that I have bought what is now an old model, the OQO is underpowered compared to what multicore desktops can do. Having said that, my virtualisation experiences have led me to believe in the model of smaller computers that are scaled to suit the workload, and the OQO 01+ is an adequate base for office and email use, running on XP. Even so, the screen size is a decidedly limiting factor when it comes to usability – I have found myself frowning when starting to use it, as though some part of my brain is trying to understand if the OQO is just a normal sized computer, but a little too far away.
A second issue is around power. The first OQO I was shipped had a faulty power supply, which I understand is a common fault; the battery when fully charged can power the device for up to 2 hours only, though there is a double capacity battery available (Expansys was shipping spare batteries for 20 quid each, so I bought two of these instead). Finally, a battery “feature” is that, if fully discharged they need to be plugged in for sometimes up to 24-48 hours before they will trip back into charging mode. Nice.
Having said all of that, as a proof of concept (to me) it is keeping its end up admirably. I would love to see an OQO-sized brick that could be inserted into a laptop or desktop form factor like a hard drive, and I am surprised, given its clear usefulness, that we do not see a wider audience for the OQO – I would speculate that this is because few have the luxury of two computers. From the research we conducted last year it was clear that PDAs wouldn’t be replacing PCs any time soon – as costs continue to tumble I expect to see the UMPC form factor to reach a much wider market, not to replace the laptop, but to extend the web of mobile computing still further.