My Pocket PC (an HP iPaq) broke recently, and while I was scanning various online emporia for a replacement, came across the OQO O+ UMPC, which was a clearance item at Expansys. Since one of the main reasons for using the Pocket PC was as a means of tracking my cycle training, I thought a miniature PC running WinXP might be useful. The other significant use would be for delivering presentations. So, how does the device stack up? And given this is the old model, now replaced by a slightly more powerful device running Vista, are these comments valuable?

Hardware specs:

OQO 01+

Microsoft Windows XP Professional; 1GHz Transmeta Crusoe Processor; 30GB hard drive; 512MB DDR RAM; 800 x 480 W-VGA 5" transflective display; 3D accelerated graphics with 8MB of video RAM; 802.11b wireless; Bluetooth wireless; 4-pin FireWire (1394); USB 2.0; 3.5mm stereo headphone jack; Microphone; Speaker; Digital pen; Removable lithium polymer battery (battery life up to three hours, depending on usage);
Included accessories: universal power supply (air/auto adapters included), docking cable, desktop stand, digital pen, carrying sleeve


Bundled Software:

The OS is WinXP Pro. Comes with Word, Excel and Powerpoint viewers, Adobe Reader 7.0

What I have installed: 2.3 (my favourite office suite, and the one I use on the Linux boxes and notebooks); ActiveSync (for syncing PocketPCs); VidaOne Food & Drink (the training software I use); Evolution PIM and mail client (Outlook Express wouldn’t work with the MS Exchange server, and my copy of Outlook 2002 wouldn’t activate, also I use Evolution on the Linux machines). I have still to install antivirus on it. I very quickly set up the home backup system to include the device on its daily backup schedule.

How does it shape up?

From a hardware perspective, this is a very neat little package. When closed, the unit is like two Pocket PCs stacked together! The keyboard is fine for short notes, but nothing more – it’s really a thumb keyboard. I had an initial panic as the battery didn’t seem to be taking charge. A quick squizz at the Expansys forum cleared that one up – the battery comes with absolutely zilcho charg, and an overnight charging is required. The unit is attractively weighty, with a painted metal case. The power button has a white LED that is lit when switched on, and fades on and off when in standby mode. The battery has a series of bright white LEDs to indicate charge status and whether it’s charging.

The screen is really quite high resolution, but could perhaps be a bit brighter. The stylus isn’t much use other than as a mouse – perhaps written input is possible on the XP Tablet version, but the screen is soft and makes a dark "puddle effect" when touched by the stylus. The unit can be used as a desktop computer via the docking cable, which has simultaneous attachments for power, ethernet, firewire, USB2.0, serial and VGA ports. This cable is also the only bundled means of VGA output to a projector (a small power/VGA adaptor is available separately – I would suggest this should have been bundled, as I reckon most users would be wanting to use the device for presentations). In fact the system works reasonably well as an office PC when configured in this way, though I wouldn’t try anything seriously resource-hungry.

Despite the small screen, the unit has the capability of projecting at resolutions of up to 1280×1024. Actually, you can set the internal screen at larger than 800×480, and access the whole area by panning around.

This hardware spec was never going to be spectacularly fast. However, I would say that it fits my bill really quite well. On the down side, it would seem that the USB port has limitations – it does not power my WD portable hard drive, and nor is it able to use the Polar IR device needed to download heart rate training data from my Polar HRM. The keyboard has an American layout, and I think some ingenuity will be required to map £ and € symbols to it (hopefully it will be easier than I expect). To be honest, I think it represents decent value at this clearance price, but I doubt that the physical limitations make it viable in competition with better-specified notebooks when you look at the full price. The newer model (the e2), retailing at about £970 has 1Gb RAM and Vista Ultimate. My Sony notebook has 1Gb RAM and Vista Business, and I find it unusably slow and I therefore installed Ubuntu GNU/Linux – whether the same will be true of the e2, I don’t know, but I certainly wouldn’t buy one without trying it out first (perhaps an upgrade from Vista to XP is available). One thing is sure, it’s not a straight replacement or alternative for a notebook PC, and before buying one, you need to think carefully about your requirements and possible usage.