12 June 2007

One week with the OQO 02

Last week, I posted my first impressions of the OQO 02, and I promised to follow up on my initial review. This is my take after one week. I'm happy with the OQO 02 - it lives up to its promise of being a great mobile Vista machine. But with such mobility come a few tradeoffs which I'll get into further into this review.

First, the specs for my machine - it's the "best / vista ultimate / verizon" model. That means it has a 1.5 GHz Via C7-M processor, 1GB of RAM, a 60GB HD, and Verizon wireless (in addition to WiFi and Bluetooth that come standard with all OQO 02s).

The Via processor is a real breakthrough. It's remarkably low-power, comparable to an Intel Pentium-M in power dissipation. This makes it possible for the OQO to get decent performance and 2hrs of battery life (with wireless on) out of a 1lb device.

The Via is no speed demon - qualitatively, it feels like a Pentium-M underclocked to 6oo-800 MHz, but it has one other benefit over Pentiums - a very small die size. This allows OQO to fit more gear within the OQO's case (namely, WiFi, Bluetooth, and WWAN).

Running Vista on an OQO:

Yes, it really works, and it feels pretty snappy too. The very first boot following unboxing took around 3 minutes as Vista got its bearings, but subsequent boot times were just over a minute, with resume from suspend taking 5-10 seconds. I find that it comes up fast enough that I use the OQO whenever I want.

While the OQO 02 is Vista-capable, it doesn't support the advanced eye candy of Vista Aero. I didn't find this a disappointment, as I was coming from an XP Pro platform. What did impress me was that the OQO felt responsive - I had expected Vista to run somewhat sluggishly on the OQO. When the OQO is on its default settings, everything is reasonably responsive. On the most aggressive power saving settings, though, there is some lag between clicking on a menu item and getting a response.

The keyboard:

I've heard that keyboard design is a pet obsession at OQO, and it shows. The OQO has an excellent thumb keyboard. All the weird characters that you'll use heavily on-line - the at-sign, period, colon, and forward slash - are all reasonably placed. Key feel is great for a device this small, and the sticky keys - Fn, Shift, Ctrl, and Alt - are well done with discreet visual cues to indicate their state. The keyboard backlighting is excellent, and turns off automatically in bright ambient light.

Now, no thumb keyboard will ever feel as good or fast as a decent full-size keyboard, or even a 90%-size subnotebook keyboard. In a week's use I still feel mildly frustrated when I try to write entire paragraphs. And trying to use long passwords with punctuation on the OQO is a recipe for insanity. But the thumb keyboard wins in convenience and great design - in its class, the OQO's keyboard is outstanding, putting to shame offerings from much larger companies.

Battery life:

With WiFi or WWAN on, expect two hours of use from a fully charged standard battery. This is a little tight - as soon as I get into work (following 1.5 hrs of OQO use in the morning) I plug it in. This limits the portability of the OQO, as I can't carry it around the office after I arrive. To remedy this, I'm considering ordering the double-capacity battery, which should give me a solid 3 hrs with wireless on.

Carrying options:

Aside from the OQO with XP Tablet Edition, none of the OQOs ship with a case. You will want to get one with yours because, unlike a regular laptop, the OQO's screen is exposed. Readers on the OQO Forum have suggested some third-party solutions (a CaseLogic CD drive case being popular), but OQO also offers three cases of its own: 1) Executive, 2) Belt-clip (standard with the Tablet XP OQO, slide rule not included) and 3) StrongHold. The executive case only fits OQOs with a standard battery, the belt-clip case works with both standard and extended batteries, while the StrongHold comes in separate standard and double-capacity models. The executive case is most corporate of the three, while the StrongHold is my favorite because it's the most durable and has a nice metal finish.

Cases for handhelds often come down to personal preference, but there's an added challenge when buying a case for the OQO 02 - what battery you are using. The only case that lets you use either a standard or extended battery is the belt-clip case. For those of you who, like me, prefer the StrongHold case, my suggestion is to get the StrongHold double-capacity case and find some material to use as a spacer for when you want to use the standard battery.

Wireless networking

The OQO comes with built-in Atheros WiFi (AR5006X chipset) and, on WWAN models either Verizon or Sprint broadband. WWAN models have a retractable external antenna.

WWAN sensitivity is good. Any place my old Verizon wireless card worked, the OQO could lock on.

WiFi sensitivity is adequate - I found that the OQO had some trouble connecting in places where my Fujutsu P7010D subnotebook (which has great WiFi sensitivity) could get a strong signal.

Conclusion after one week of use:

The OQO is a great portable Vista-capable computer. The battery life is a bit short, but the convenience of this small device outweighs the limitations. If you've got the budget, upgrade to the double-capacity battery and the OQO 02 becomes a seriously useful always-connected PC.

Coming up:

In subsequent reviews, I'll review my favorite OQO add-on applications, talk about gaming, and detail my experiences running Linux.

[Correction: a reader pointed out that the belt clip case works with both batteries. I've updated the article to reflect this.]


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent review. It is clear that you took time and wrote something real. One thing you may want to fix, though, is your comment that only the double capacity stronghold case fits the oqo with the double battery. That is wrong. The belt case fits the oqo either way -- with the standard battery or with the extended battery. OQO's own website, as well as all third party vendor websites, make this clear.

zippy said...

Thanks for the tip.