Friday, June 4, 2004
Posted by Suhit Gupta in "ARTICLE" @ 11:00 AM
Figure 1: The OQO, collapsed, in all its glory.
We'll first briefly talk about the mechanics of the device, and then each of us will give you our detailed thoughts on the device. You can click on the pictures to see a larger, more detailed version. Note that most of the pictures were taken with the OQO at default brightness, which is not the maximum due to power management. We've pointed out the images that were taken at maximum brightness, although due to the flash you won't get a precise experience of the screen's brightness.
Figure 2: The OQO docked in its cradle.
The cradle is an essential component of the OQO, as the unit itself only has a USB 1.1 and a Firewire port for expansion. (The cradle adds additional USB and Firewire ports, Ethernet, and audio out.)
The OQO model 01 is a full x86 computer packed in a reasonably small, hand-held form factor. It's running a Transmeta Crusoe processor at 1GHz, with 256MB of RAM (fixed, not expandable) and a 20GB hard drive. The device features an 800x480 display. For input, it features a touch screen, a thumbboard and a TrackStik (which is a pointing device very similar to other Trackpoint/eraser-head input devices found on laptops); the screen slides up along a track to reveal the thumbboard and joystick. The device also has 802.11b and Bluetooth. Interestingly, the unit ships with XP Home or Professional, but not XP Tablet PC edition -- although the touch screen is supposed to be compatible with the Tablet PC specification (it's electrostatic, not pressure-sensitive), so a customer could install it if desired.
The OQO folks have priced the unit to be competitive with a laptop -- it will sell for under $2,000, but above $1,500. The unit is slated to ship "this fall"; take that for what you will. ;)
Figure 3: The OQO expanded, showing its thumbboard and TrackStik.
The unit is clearly designed to be held in landscape orientation, in both hands. While it may be possible to one-hand the device, the form factor isn't really designed for it. To give you an idea of the size, here's a few pictures of the OQO next to Suhit's iPAQ 2215 and Janak's e805. Note that the e805 is using an extended battery, which adds a considerable amount of bulk, although it boosts the battery life up to around 10-15 hours. Incidentally, the OQO's battery is rated for 2-4 hours of life, much like a laptop.
The OQO is noticeably bigger than the iPAQ 2215.
Figures 4, 5: The OQO in retracted and expanded form next to an iPAQ 2215 with a Linksys CF WiFi card inserted.
The OQO is more comparable to the e805 in size, although it's still wider and longer. The thickness of the OQO is comparable to the e805 with its extended battery (approximately .9" thick). For comparison purposes, Janak put his e805 into landscape 640x480 mode (it's running Windows Mobile 2003 First Edition, using MyVGA as a "hack" to get the high resolution). Figures 6 and 7 were taken with both devices at their maximum brightness. Note that the OQO does not support portrait mode explicitly (although one may be able to employ some Windows-based screen rotation software).
Figures 6, 7, 8: The OQO in retracted, expanded form next to a Toshiba e805 running in landscape, as well as a side shot. You can see the three connectors used by the OQO's dock, a jog dial/scroll wheel, and a USB port.
Finally, just to give you a better idea of scale, we took a picture of the three devices side-by-side and at an angle. Unsurprisingly, the iPAQ 2215 is the thinnest of the three.
Figures 9, 10: The iPAQ 2215, the OQO, and the Toshiba e805 side-by-side and at an angle.
Finally, we'll present our opinions on the devices. Suhit looked at the device from a digital media perspective, Kati looked at it from a mobile professional perspective and, finally, Janak looked at it from a Pocket PC/PDA perspective.
I liked the unit for sure, but I find that there are several problems with the device. Probably a 3.5/5 if I had to rate it. It is light, and the design is innovative. It also has built in Wi-Fi which is excellent. It is running the full WindowsXP operating system and comes with the Office suite so that makes it a completely usable device but the pros pretty much end there.
The OQO will sell for just under $2000 which means the company is targeting the business/professional users that are constantly on the go. The price is prohibitive IMHO when it comes to a consumer trying to buy this product. When I pressed them about possibly reducing the price, or coming out with an OQO Lite (for consumers) or perhaps even an OQO 2, there was no information on the subject.
My second complaint was the USB 1.1. Apparently there is no USB 2 chip in the unit due to the lack of space in the unit. Completely understandable reason but that makes the device less attractive in my opinion. They say that if you do want to install software on the OQO, it is usually quite fast, i.e. not slow enough to prohibit one from using it. But my thinking is that the unit should not be just at par but well above it when it comes to transfer rates. Imagine trying to install a large program on the unit using USB 1.1. Well, at least there is a Firewire port.
One odd thing I noticed was the screen sensitivity and calibration problem. The units we played with were not fully calibrated for the stylus provided though apparently that will be fixed when the units are ready for shipping. However what's worse is that whenever I tapped the screen of the OQO with the stylus, I felt like the screen was not hard enough (unlike those of PocketPCs or TabletPCs). It felt a little too soft and I kept disturbing the matrix of the LCD screen (you know, the effect you get when you touch the screen of a regular laptop, that watery effect). I wish the screen of the OQO was a bit harder.
From a media perspective, one of the downsides is that there are no flash ports for SD/CF/whatever. Now, even though there is a 20GB drive built in, if I were taking pictures and wanted to transfer them real quick to my OQO, I would not be able to do it. I guess we will have to wait until cameras have Wi-Fi built in so we can send data over to the OQO via that channel.
Final point - 3D and media capabilities. They did not have any demos set up for it but the claim is that the unit is capable of reasonable 3D graphics (apparently as attested to by people at E3 this year). The device has regular MPG support, but the battery life suffers when you play media (but of course that is true with all units).
The unit will be available this Fall (no idea when) and even though I wouldn't mind having one of these to play with, I don't think it will become my primary device/PC, something that the company claims can be done.
I thought the OQO was a very cute, very powerful device for its size. While gadget-lust means that I want one, however, I'm still not QUITE convinced that this unit can be a complete laptop replacement for a wide variety of business professionals. Personally, I found the keyboard very difficult to use, especially the space bar. I played with a 4355 later in the day and that thumb board was significantly easier for me to use. I personally feel that while small size and weight make the OQO very attractive to the now-cliched "mobile professional", the "ease of use" will also affect its appeal. The OQO staff pointed out that it can be used with a bluetooth keyboard on the road, and as collapsible BT keyboards come out on the market, this may negate some of my concerns. However, one would also need to carry a stand to place the OQO at the right angle for typing with that keyboard, and I'm not sure how visible fonts at that high resolution will be, given that the unit would be set back behind the keyboard. I found I needed to hold it somewhat close in order to read the screen comfortably.
I noticed the same problems as Suhit when using the stylus on the touch screen. I am not overly concerned about the stylus calibration of the unit I was using being "off", because the staff indicated that the units would be calibrated at the factory. I did, however, have a hard time "clicking". It generally took *several* times, and each time I felt like I was damaging the screen, as I would *never* want to press that hard with a pointy object on my laptop screen. As Suhit indicated, it "felt" more like a laptop screen than a PDA screen or Tablet screen. While I am already concerned about screen damage on a PDA, I would be even more concerned about the OQO given this "softness". I hope they can offer a hard flip cover on this or a future model.
While I could never use a unit like this for my main PC (I have pretty hefty computing requirements for my job), the specs seem like they could be quite reasonable for a wide segment of the population (though I would not include serious gamers). The major roadblock as I see it is convincing people that it is worth the "just under" $2000 price tag (plus the cost of a separate keyboard and monitor), when they can get a new super-sweet thin-and-light laptop for a similar price, or a regular laptop for half that.
Now that the OQO's specs and pricing are essentially confirmed, I think it's clear that the OQO is not a PDA replacement for several reasons. First of all, the price puts it firmly into the laptop range, as it can easily cost 4-5 times more than a typical Pocket PC. Second, the device is not designed to be used one-handed. I can pull out my Pocket PC and tap on the screen with my finger (if I'm brave) or just use the app buttons and get very close to the information I need. On the OQO, the experience is akin to a full desktop -- you'd have to click on the Outlook icon, or do something similar. While the OQO's display is surprisingly readable given the resolution, the interface is designed for a desktop, and it's slightly awkward to quickly (say, with one or two taps) to pull up information on a contact. Finally, the OQO has similar semantics to a laptop or tablet PC when it comes to resume. While the OQO may, in its final release, be able to resume as fast as my Toshiba Tablet PC (which is within approximately .5-1.5 seconds), you'd still have to wait for the operating system to "catch its breath" to enable you to switch or start Outlook. Compare that to a Pocket PC, where you have the Contacts applet open in under half-a-second, and it doesn't have the same sense of immediacy. Incidentally, we had some trouble with the suspend/resume functionality being unstable; I assume that's an issue that'll be corrected before release.
Where devices like the OQO may really shine is when paired with a device like a Smartphone. If the Smartphone has just enough functionality to take care of "immediate" PDA needs, the OQO would act as a bridge to full desktop-like functionality. For example, I could imagine carrying a Bluetooth-enabled Smartphone around, where I could do basic Contacts, Calendar and email tasks, while if I need to write out a detailed email or put special notes in a Contact I'd just pull out the OQO and have it talk to the Smartphone over Bluetooth. The real question is whether or not my hypothesized "Smartphone" is a Pocket PC Phone, a Windows Mobile Smartphone, or a different device altogether.
Finally, I have to chime in with Kati and Suhit about the input mechanisms on the OQO build we played with. The touch screen wasn't sufficiently responsive and the keyboard was sufficiently small that, for someone like me, it's not going to replace my tablet PC - just yet - either a Pocket PC's touch screen is sufficient for what I'm doing, or I need a full laptop keyboard. That said, I'm sure the OQO folks will continue to improve the product, and with careful handling the unit may carve out its own niche. That is, when it ships. ;)