Road warriors in search of a reasonably priced UMPC will find an intriguing option in the 1.2-pound WiBrain B1E, a full-featured ultra-mobile PC brought stateside by the import experts at Dynamism. The WiBrain B1E comes with just about everything you need: a beautiful display, touchscreen navigation, and a cool flip-up webcam, but its polarizing split-QWERTY design and weak Wi-Fi range may be a potential dealbreaker for some.
Q1 Ultra-Like Design, Only, You Know, Better
The WiBrain B1E eschews the traditional UMPC design featured on devices such as the OQO model 2 and the clamshell design of the Fujitsu LifeBook U810 Tablet PC for one that resembles the much-maligned Samsung Q1 Ultra. A beautiful 4.8-inch (1024 x 600-pixel resolution) display is flanked by a 50-key QWERTY keyboard divided into two 25-key sections. Measuring 7.6 x 3.2 x 1.1 inches and weighing just 1.2 pounds, the WiBrain B1E is far less unwieldy than the 2.4-pound Q1 and feels surprisingly comfortable; anyone that’s held a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 controller will be right at home with the system’s two-handed grip.
Unfortunately, the device has only one USB port, so if you want to connect multiple devices simultaneously (such as a keyboard and mouse), you’ll need a USB hub. A pop-up 640 x 480-pixel resolution webcam provided decent video when we chatted it up with colleagues via Skype , but we had some issues with the choppy frame rate despite its claim of running at 30 frames per second.
WiBrain Control and Navigation
Beneath the right block of 25 keys is a touchpad that features handy touch-sensitive horizontal and vertical scroll areas; beneath the left 25-key block are controls for the volume, Page Up and Page Down buttons, a direction pad, and left and right click keys. Users with large hands will benefit the most from the split-QWERTY design as it offers a solid grip and the ability to type out e-mails and documents far more rapidly than on relatively cramped keyboards such as the OQO model 02. While useful, the multitude of buttons makes the WiBrain B1E look like the universal remote from hell.
Working in tandem with the keyboard and touchpad, these controls let us type and navigate Web pages quite naturally; we had to get acclimated to the dedicated left and right mouse buttons, but that was a nonissue after a few minutes of use. The WiBrain B1E comes with a stylus that makes launching applications and navigating menus easy, but the unit lacks handwriting recognition software.
Performance and Battery Life
The 1.2-GHz Via C7M ULV processor was unable to produce a PCMark05 score as the WiBrain’s resolution was too low. We had an excellent computing experience within Windows XP Home, but a higher resolution would have saved us a lot of horizontal scrolling. The integrated Via VX700 GPU produced a 3DMark03 score of 164, twice that of the OQO model 02, but the system was able to run only a portion of the tests. Despite the unit’s scant, non-upgradable 512MB of RAM, we were able to alternate between surfing the Web and working on documents while listening to music without experiencing any hiccups.
We recommend staying close—very close—to your router when surfing. Although the WiBrain B1E pushed data along at a rate of 15.1 Mbps at 15 feet (which is right on target with other UMPCs), its abysmal 3.2-Mbps throughput at 50 feet (the worst in its class) made for stuttering connections when we attempted to view YouTube clips. There’s no built-in mobile broadband, which the chunkier but identically priced FlipStart 1.0 offers.
The 4-cell battery held a charge for 2 hours and 34 minutes when performing a DVD rundown test with an external hard drive, so you should expect about 3.5 hours of endurance when checking e-mail and surfing the Web.
Software and Warranty
Out of the box, the WiBrain comes preinstalled with just Windows XP Home, but Dynamism will toss in Microsoft Windows Office 2007 starting at $259. Dynamism covers the system with a one-year warranty and unlimited toll-free tech support.
The WiBrain B1E isn’t for everyone, especially the image-conscious. But road warriors who want the power and portability of an UMPC without spending a small fortune will find it to be a solid machine that’s more than capable of handling everyday computing tasks.