e've been trying to find a good justification for the cool Ultra-Mobile PC category ever since the sleek designs started rolling out from Samsung and Sony more than a year ago. But the new OQO model 02, with its mobile broadband and new solid-state hard drive, is helping us broaden our thinking about the UMPC category. Its elegant design, improved usability, and excellent connectivity make it a compelling tool for road warriors, assuming you can stomach the steep $2,349 price tag.
Much like the OQO model 02 we praised earlier this year, this one-pound unit is easier to use and faster than most UMPCs. The five-inch screen pops up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard that's actually viable for more than SMS-length messages. Its 800 x 480-pixel resolution is easier on the eyes than many other UMPCs. Better still is a dedicated button for the very powerful zoom function, which blows up the screen to help with smaller items like Web-based text, and it does so without distorting the screen or over-zooming. The bright LCD also has excellent off-angle viewing and holds up very well in indirect sunlight. We're not fans of the glossy treatment, which simply glares up in brighter settings. The digitizer display can double as a Tablet interface with an optional stylus. Handy touch-sensitive scroll bars grace the lower right edge and are very helpful for navigation.
The OQO model 02 runs Vista Business very well with its 1.6-GHz processor and 1GB of memory. While we wouldn't want to run too many applications at once, it suffered none of the sluggishness we have come to expect from UMPCs. Our test unit was the premium model with a 32GB solid-state drive, so loading programs was quite snappy. Internet Explorer popped open instantaneously, and even the ordinarily sluggish Windows Media Player launched as if it were already in active memory. While it adds to the cost, the 32GB SSD should have enough room for whatever you would need to store on a unit this size.
In addition to limited screen size, the real problem that the OQO model 02 solves better than others in this category is input. The combination of a comfortable keyboard, dedicated right/left mouse buttons (on the left side), and a tracking stick for cursor control really makes sense here. We wouldn't want to type this review on the OQO model 02, but we had no trouble writing e-mail and editing documents. And it was thin and light enough to fit into even the slimmest portfolio.
The mobile broadband capability that OQO introduced in its last iteration of the handheld continues to be its most valuable feature. The upgraded built-in EV-DO Rev. A modem ($149) connects to Sprint or Verizon, and a retractable antenna supposedly helps improve reception. However, we found its download speed of 775.3 Kbps only 78 percent as fast as the earlier model 02, good enough for low-level video streaming, but disappointing. Its upload speed of 214 Kbps, though, was nearly twice as fast as the previous model.
The OQO model 02 does have some drawbacks. We are disappointed that it doesn't have a more precise and sensitive microphone. Voice pickup and recording volumes were only fair--even when we had the unit close to our mouth. We think a handheld unit should be able to sound better than a tinny transistor radio. The standard battery life was not up to field standards, lasting less than two hours with EV-DO turned on. That alone could be a deal killer for some, although a double-capacity battery is also available.
While still imperfect, the OQO model 02 is the best UMPC we've seen in terms of usability, performance, and versatility. Many of the platform's persistent problems--input and speed--seem to have been answered, if not entirely solved, in this model. If you like the idea of running full Windows on a handheld device, this is the one to buy.