Samsung has made a big splash in the U.S. with its NC10 netbook, but its ultra-mobile PCs never really took off with consumers. They were too expensive (more than $1,000) and featured an awkward split keyboard that straddled a small 7-inch touchscreen display. But these devices have gained traction in vertical markets, especially among workers who need to input data on their feet.
The latest edition, the Q1EX-71G, ditches the integrated keyboard in favor of a pure slate design, although an optional dock/carrying case includes a netbook-size keyboard and touchpad. Samsung also replaced Intel’s 1.3-GHz Ultra Low Voltage processor with a slower 1.2-GHz VIA Nano CPU, presumably to cut costs. The result is a UMPC with a more affordable price tag ($749) but shorter endurance with the standard battery, making the Q1EX less than ideal for the target audience.
See our hands-on video with the Samsung Q1EX-71G here »
Weighing just 1.4 pounds and measuring 9.0 x 4.9 x 0.9 inches, the Q1EX is certainly among the most travel-friendly slate tablet devices on the market, and it’s both lighter and thinner than its predecessor. (The Q1 Ultra weighed 1.9 pounds and was 1.2 inches thick). It slipped easily into a backpack and its weight and size were barely noticeable. Although the device isn’t ruggedized, it certainly felt solid in hand.
The left side of this UMPC has a Menu scroll/click wheel, which lets you tweak various settings on the fly, and a combination Power/Hold button. You’ll also find the hand strap attachment. The included hand strap has an area to stow the bundled stylus; too bad the Q1EX itself doesn’t have a stylus holster. A Ctl+Alt+Del button, the power jack, and two USB ports line the right side of the device. The top houses the 3-in-1 memory card reader and the audio jack, while the bottom has the docking connector.
On the back of the Q1EX is a 1.3-megapixel camera, which could come in handy for workers who want to capture images on the go. Unfortunately, unlike earlier models in the Q1 line, this unit lacks a webcam in the front, so you can’t conduct video chats. The back side also has a convenient kickstand and a battery-indicator button that lights up five LEDs to tell you how much juice is left, even with the Q1EX is in standby or turned off. We also appreciated the two rubberized strips on the back of the device, which makes it easier to grip and keeps it from sliding around (or off) a table.
Touch Display and Audio
The 7-inch LCD on the Q1EX is one of its greatest strengths. It’s sharp, at 1024 x 600 pixels, impressively bright, and boasts generous horizontal viewing angles. Although a 720p video clip stuttered during playback, the color accuracy and level of detail were both quite good. The resolution of this UMPC is also ideal for surfing the Web, since you don’t have to scroll horizontally to see the whole page.
As a touchscreen device, the Q1EX is finger-friendly—to a point. Clicking on the Start button and selecting icons and programs was fairly easy, but you’ll likely want to use the stylus for exiting or minimizing applications, or for selecting links on a Web page. You’ll also want to use the stylus for entering text using the cramped onscreen keyboard. Unlike earlier Q1 devices, this one lacks a digit-friendly keyboard.
Although the Q1EX runs the Tablet PC Edition of Windows XP, even Samsung admits the resistive touch panel, which does not employ an active digitizer, is not good enough for accurate handwriting recognition. Writing in Windows Journal with the thin stylus was an exercise in futility, as we had to press down rather hard for our scribbles to register.
To test the Q1EX’s speakers we cranked Sublime’s “Santeria” through Slacker. The sound was surprisingly loud and pleasant given this system’s small footprint, and we heard no distortion at maximum volume.
Samsung also includes a voice-recording utility with the device, which lets you capture audio in WMA or WAV format. Even with the record volume set to 100 percent, the playback volume was a bit faint (but understandably so). You might have trouble recording meetings with the Q1EX, but it should suffice for conference calls. The volume slider control was too tiny, too; even with the tip of the stylus it was difficult to adjust.
The 1.3-MP camera on the back of the Q1EX works in tandem with the included CyberLink YouCam Software. Although Samsung targets this device at business users, the program is definitely more consumer-friendly, as it includes several fun special effects and a shortcut for uploading video clips (up to 320 x 240-pixel resolution) directly to YouTube.\
On our tests the camera took sharp photos both indoors and out. Videos, while small in the playback window, looked smooth and exhibited fewer artifacts compared with footage most camera phones capture.
If you’re willing to pay an extra $129, you can equip the Q1EX with an organizer dock that includes a keyboard and touchpad. This accessory doubles as a leather case that folds up into a rectangular box, complete with a magnetic clasp and subtle Samsung logo on top. It brings the travel weight of the Q1EX to 3 pounds, which is heavier than some netbooks.
Attaching the device to the dock is easy, and removing it is a simple as flicking a Lock/Unlock switch to the left and pulling the Q1EX upward. This dock houses a VGA connector to the right, for when you want to use an external LCD or projector, and an Ethernet jack on the left. On the back panel of the organizer to the right of the display is a convenient separate stylus holster. And the back of this case has a flip-out kickstand of its own, so you can type with the display angled toward you.
Speaking of typing, the organizer’s keyboard is just as spacious and comfortable as the layout on the Samsung NC10 netbook. Staring at a high-resolution 7-inch screen when typing became uncomfortable quickly, however, so we recommend connecting the Q1EX to an external monitor if you’ll be doing anything more than short text entry. Also keep in mind that the organizer is too awkward to use in a lap, so you’ll likely only use the keyboard at a desk.
Similar to such netbooks as the HP Mini 2140, the organizer features a trackpad that’s flanked by two vertical touch buttons. Generally, we prefer the touch buttons to be positioned below the touchpad, but in this case it seems an acceptable trade-off for saving space. The touchpad itself was smooth and responsive, and the pleasantly quiet buttons had a soft feel.
The Q1EX is powered by a 1.2-GHz VIA Nano U2500, 2GB of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive spinning at a slow 4,200 rpm. We presume the sluggish hard drive is to blame for the relatively slow boot time of 1 minute and 10 seconds, which is 13 seconds slower than the netbook category average.
On PCMark05, which measures Windows application perfomance, the Q1EX scored 1,083, which is nearly 300 points lower than the typical netbook. Graphics performance was also less than stellar, with the device notching scores of 534 and 123 in 3DMark03 and 3DMark06, respectively. The netbook averages are 766 and 175.
Where the Q1EX stumbled the most was on the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy a 4.97GB folder of mixed media files from one folder to another on the hard drive. This UMPC took 12 minutes and 44 seconds, which translates to a lowly 6.7 MBps. The category average is 14 MBps.
Although the Q1EX didn’t shine on our benchmarks, its anecdotal performance was adequate given the target usage of the device. This UMPC was pretty snappy when opening and closing programs in Windows XP, and we didn’t see much in the way of lag. Loading Firefox took 5 seconds with both the YouCam software and Windows Media Player running in the background. The Q1EX even played an episode of Heroes on Hulu.com at full-screen, although it occasionally stuttered.
Battery Life and Wireless
For an ultra-mobile device, the Q1EX’s endurance is disappointing. The standard four-cell battery, rated for 3.5 hours, lasted only 2 hours and 14 minutes. That kind of runtime might be acceptable for healthcare professionals or office workers who are never far from an outlet, but anyone else will want to upgrade to the higher capacity six-cell battery for $99.99. That option has a rated runtime of up to 6 hours, but we would expect closer to 4.5 hours.
We were impressed with this UMPC’s Wi-Fi performance. Its data rate 15 feet from our access point was 17.2 Mbps, which dipped only slightly to 15.9 Mbps at 50 feet; these numbers are close to the netbook averages of 18.9 Mbps and 15.5 Mbps, respectively. The system maintained a strong connection while visiting several Web sites, most of which loaded in 5 seconds or less. The Q1EX also comes with Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR.
Software and Warranty
Samsung bundles the Q1EX with some of its own utilities, including Samsung Recovery Solution III; Samsung Update Plus (for updating software and drivers); the Voice Recording application; as well as display, network, and battery utilities. There’s also an eGalax Touch utility for calibrating and configuring the touchscreen, CyberLink YouCam, and a trial version of McAfee Internet Security. The company covers the device with a standard one-year parts and labor warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support.
As the Q1EX-71G is the only SKU available as of this writing, few configuration options are available. You can’t choose a different processor, amount of RAM, or different hard drive, nor does it seem easy to access the RAM or hard drive on this system. However, as mentioned previously, you can upgrade to the organizer dock for $129 and longer-lasting six-cell battery for $99.99. That brings the price to a steep $977, which is more than twice the price of the NC10.
The $749 Samsung Q1EX-71G won’t attract consumers and mobile professionals due to its high price (relative to netbooks). But does it have enough appeal for vertical markets? We like the 7-inch touchscreen, especially when used with the stylus, the optional dock/keyboard is innovative, and the performance offered by the VIA processor is acceptable, even though the hard drive is slow.
The Q1EX is more compelling in some ways than its predecessors, but entering text on the go is too much of a challenge without an integrated keyboard, and we highly recommend upgrading to the six-cell battery if you want to get more than 2 hours of work done unplugged. The bottom line is that the Q1EX is fine for workers who do little to no content creation. But you have to be willing to live with its limited functionality and endurance.