New UMPCs Hit Closer to the Mark
Thursday, December 28, 2006; 9:34 AM
The first ultramobile PCs--tablet-shaped, touch-screen handhelds that are larger than PDAs but smaller than laptops--had limitations that detracted from their mainstream appeal.
Judging by shipping versions of Asus's R2H and Samsung's Q1B, however, UMPCs are starting to mature by offering features you can't get in a notebook or desktop PC. In fact, my pick of these two--the $999 Asus R2H--packs more features in its 9.25-by-5.25-by-1.25-inch box than you'll find in many PCs.
The jam-packed Asus device's connectivity and security are hard to beat. The R2H has 802.11g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless built in (the Samsung Q1B comes with only 802.11g Wi-Fi), and USB 2.0 ports are located on either side and on the top of the device. A fingerprint scanner built into the front-left side of the R2H offers an extra level of security (the included software captures two finger scans in case the first one can't be recognized). The few times that I logged on with this scanner, it recognized me without hesitation.
The 2-pound R2H also includes an SD Card slot, an ethernet port, an AV-out connector, an earphone port, a built-in microphone, and a combination expansion port and VGA analog monitor connector. Just above the screen is a built-in 1.3-megapixel video camera. To top it off, the machine has a SiRF III GPS transceiver to use along with the bundled copy of Microsoft Streets & Trips 2006; I found this combination a workable GPS solution, though it can't match the accuracy of a dedicated GPS device.
I was surprised to find a USB 2.0 NetLink cable and software app for connecting the Asus directly to another PC for instant file sharing. And I was relieved to find a real-live Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 DVD provided (something that no other UMPC I've looked at comes with). As with other UMPCs, you have to furnish your own USB 2.0-connected external DVD drive to run the disc.
The R2H's one drawback is its short battery life: The unit ran out of juice after only 2 hours, 10 minutes of use.
Battery life may be the R2H's main weakness, but it happens to be the $899 Samsung Q1B's main strength. Armed with a Via processor (in lieu of the original Q1 model's Intel CPU), the Q1B's battery life was more than double that of the Q1: In my testing the Q1B ran for 4 hours, 25 minutes.
Apart from its Via processor, the Samsung Q1B UMPC is configured about the same as its Intel-based Q1 predecessor. Unfortunately, those specs are below the bar set by the Asus R2H: The Q1B features a 40GB hard drive versus the R2H's 60GB drive, 512MB of RAM compared with 768MB in the R2H, and two USB 2.0 ports versus the Asus model's three ports.
Even though the Samsung Q1B costs $100 less and looks classier than the R2H, the sheer functionality and flexibility of the Asus handheld, and its plethora of built-in features, make the R2H easier for me to recommend.