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The Ultimate UMPC is not a UMPC!

According to Microsoft, a UMPC is supposed to be:

samsung-q2crop

photo courtesy of Engadget

“About the size of a paperback book, the UMPC is small and light enough to fit easily into a carry-on, a purse, or a backpack. And yet, the UMPC features a powerful processor, a big, bright display, easy-to-use input options, and support for the latest connectivity standards.

The UMPC offers a display of 4-7 inches and touch capabilities, all in a package that weighs less than 2 pounds. But don’t underestimate this small computer—it can run all of the same Windows Vista-compatible software you’re already familiar with.”

We certainly have seen some of these ideal elements in UMPCs, but as far as running “Windows Vista-compatible software” using a “powerful processor” is concerned, this project is a failure.  Some recent reviews illustrate the concept:

wibrainfullview

From JK on the Run’s WiBrain review on slow performance, “For example: opening up Microsoft Word 2007 takes 6 seconds on the Q1P. The same task on the WiBrain routinely takes 9 seconds.” 

And on the screen resolution,
Here’s where compromise, as it so often does with mobile devices, comes into play: due to the high res and the excellent trackpad, I found myself rarely using the touchscreen. Items are too small to accurately touch when it’s easier to just use the trackpad, cursor and mouse buttons.”

OQO model 2

From Pocketables’ OQO Model 2 Review on slow performance, “If you can tolerate nothing less than the top-of-the-line powerhouse desktop systems, then something like the OQO Model 02 (or any UMPC, for that matter) will definitely not make you happy.”

Vega

Photo Courtesy of Ultramobile PC

From UltraMobilePC’s Vega Review on its 5″ screen size, “For example, I use contact lenses and I do not need reading glasses unless the letters are too small, like the ones printed in some drug boxes. I do not need reading glasses at all to use any of the UMPC with a 7 inches display but I felt the need of my glasses using Vega.

From UltraMobilePC’s Amtek T770 Review on battery life, “…the battery life is between 2 hours and 2 hours 15 minutes according to my tests.”

And on performance, “If you are a regular user that does not care about performance but you want an integrated webcam and microphone without having to pay a extra money, yes, you will find in this machine these features…”

everun

Photo courtesy of Hanno’s Blog

Hanno’s Everun Review on odd size resolutions often found in UMPCs, “800×480 is the recommended screen resolution that Microsoft chose for UMPCs, yet the OS has menus that don’t fit. What good is the promise of being able to run standard software when the screen estate is too small for it?”

You get the idea.  The processor’s are too slow for the (bloated) OS, the screen resolution is all wrong, rendering many UMPCs unreadable without a magnifying glass, the OS’s menus don’t fit on the screen, multitasking is impossible due to lack of memory and processing power, and battery power is generally lackluster, if not putrid.

Indeed, not all UMPCs fail in every area.  Some are better than others.  But there is a lack of consistency across the board regarding features and performance.  UMPCs range in size, keyboard type, connectivity options, price, screen sizes and many other features, so lumping them into one category and saying they are inadequate may not be completely fair, but I have not read one UMPC review that has made me want to run out and get one.  To be sure, spending $800 to $2400 for lackluster performance in a package that is not quite pocketable, and is fraught with compromises, hardly intrigues me.  Pocket PCs are too small.  I need a larger screen to view spreadsheet data among other things.  Laptops are too big.  So I find myself aching for a UMPC. 

The Ultimate UMPC

Find the Ultimate UMPC after the break

And I think I found the Ultimate UMPC.  Ok, it’s technically not a UMPC, but it can outperform any UMPC.  I would have trouble naming one UMPC that packs so many features into one unit and performs so many functions well.  It fits in a pocket (barely), has HSDPA, Bluetooth, WiFi B & G, GPS, onboard USB 1.1 hosting, 3MP camera, 5″ VGA touchscreen running at 640 x 480, ATI graphics, an 8 GB microdrive and much more.  The OS?  Windows Mobile 6.  (I am not actually going to review the unit.  There are many excellent reviews already.  My intention is merely to show how the Advantage bests the UMPCs in their own arena).

htc advantage

Windows Mobile 6 is light enough to run quickly on the 624 MHz proc, yet robust enough to handle every software program I use.  With just a few adjustments I can customize it for my needs with almost no compromise. 

The Display

Unlike the tiny 3.7″ display on many PDAs, this 5″ display looks absolutely monstrous.  Yet a 5″ display on a UMPC clearly doesn’t work.  I can view a large enough chunk of a spreadsheet using PlanMaker.

spreadsheet

TomTom GPS is so large you can see the whole county.

GPS2

The Home screen is glorious, and with SBSH iLauncher, I can access everything quickly.

home

Look how beautifully movies are rendered using TCPMP.  I feel like I’m sitting in the front row of the movie theater!

movie

Photos are spectacular.

photo

It comes with Adobe Reader built in for PDF viewing.  The screen orientation can easily be changed with the included software.

pdf

Browser performance is outstanding.  It comes with both Pocket Internet Explorer and Opera.  Check out this photo from Pocketables:

htc_x7501_browsers

The Advantage comes with VueFlow, a technology that senses the screen movement and scrolls the browser up or down with your movements.

Touchscreen

The complaint with many UMPCs is that even though they utilize touchscreens, the resolution is so high that it is difficult to read and the icons are so small it is hard to touch them with a finger.  That is not the case with the Advantage.  I installed RealVGA from XDA Developers so I can change the DPI settings.  I can make it run at 96DPI, 128DPI or 192DPI.  96 yields tiny icons.  I can fit many more on the screen, but everything is too small for my taste.  I prefer the larger 192.  With that I can use my finger for nearly everything I previously used my stylus.  It works well when scrolling on a browser, opening software, and even using the software input panels. 

92dpi

Above: 92DPI

192dpi

Above: 192DPI

Size

It fits in my pocket, but barely.  With the included leather case and keyboard, it is 5.26″ x 3.89″ x 0.79″.  Any bigger and I couldn’t get it into my pocket.  Fully loaded it weighs about 1 lb, so compared to a PDA it’s heavy, but it is lighter than nearly all UMPCs.  Additionally, its size is perfect for in-car navigation.  A UMPC would be far too large.  I found my Axim x50v to be a nice size for navigation as well.  But the Advantage’s screen really makes the TomTom software pop.  As they say on America’s Next Top Model, “it’s fierce!”

Keyboard and Input

The Advantage comes with the normal SIP (software input panels) included in Windows Mobile.  It also comes with the attached keyboard which is a bit awkward to use.  It’s too small for traditional typing, and a wee bit large for thumb typing, but it’s still better than a SIP.  Speaking of SIPs, I have found Zoomboard to be a phenomenal SIP replacement.  Using it with TextMaker:

word2

Using PhatPad to write notes:

phatpad

Between Zoomboard, PhatPad and the included keyboard, I have input options that are better than most UMPCs. 

Software

Ideally I would love to run a full blown OS, but again, you just can’t cram that much bloat and run it with a weak processor and little ram.  In this arena Windows Mobile shines.  It runs nearly all the same software I would run on a UMPC, but it does it faster and more effectively.  TextMaker and PlanMaker, for example, perfectly fulfill my mobile office needs and run with no lag.  In fact, I can’t think of any software that slows the proc down. 

I use Act! Contact Management software on my desktop and it integrates perfectly with Pocket Informant.

pi

And check out the calendar.  The font on my old x50v was small but readable.  On the Advantage it is nicely sized.

calendar

Multimedia

Some UMPC reviews mentioned that playing movies would cause stuttering playback.  Not so on the Advantage.  Movies play smoothly.  Plus the built-in 8 GB hard drive provides plenty of storage.  In addition, the unit has a miniSDHC slot for additional storage.  It plays movies, music (it comes with a standard 3.5 mm jack), displays photos and has a decent camera that utilizes auto-focus, flash and records video clips with audio.  It also comes with a built-in vga out slot for viewing on a larger screen.

Connectivity

Here are the bullet points:

Tri-band UMTS/HSDPA and quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE

Built-in GPS

Microsoft® Windows Mobile® 6 Standard with Direct Push Technology

TV or VGA Out lets you output screen contents to an external viewing device

Bluetooth® and Wi-Fi® (B and G)

Battery Life

Most UMPCs struggle to get past the two hour mark with their batteries.  I was able to watch video, surf the net and use software apps for almost five hours with the 2200mAh battery.

Windows Mobile 6

Windows Mobile includes much software that is not the best in its class.  We all know that Pocket Internet Explorer, Pocket Excel and Pocket Word are not full featured, to say the least.  But the beauty of the OS is that it provides a framework for mobile computing that does not require intensive processing power or tons of ram.  Furthermore, any software a user deems substandard can be replaced by a wealth of other software both free and pay.  For example, I replaced my boring Today Screen with SBSH’s iLauncher, Pocket Word and Pocket Excel with SoftMaker’s TextMaker and PlanMaker, and Pocket Outlook with Pocket Informant, to name a few.  The Advantage comes with the Opera Browser installed. 

Some complain that Windows Mobile doesn’t have a true “close” button.  When you click an X at the top right of a program it doesn’t actually close it.  iLauncher has a utility built-in to take care of that, but so does the Advantage.

task mgr

I’ve heard others complain that Windows Mobile requires use of a stylus.  Well, so do UMPCs that utilize a touchscreen.  But as I previously mentioned, using RealVGA set to 192dpi makes everything large enough to be finger friendly.  I hardly ever use the stylus.  But it would be wonderful to get rid of scroll bars and navigate a la the iPhone.

So My Point Is…

What UMPC device offers as many features as the Advantage?  The Advantage lists for $899 – not cheap, but you can find better deals if you look.  I picked mine up at CompUSA for $540 because they are going out of business.  You can even find them for under $800 on Ebay.  With few exceptions, UMPCs cost more, $800 – $2400, and offer less features, larger size, and poor performance.  Let’s face it, neither Windows XP nor Vista were meant to be used with the low power processors, and especially in Vista’s case, less than 2 GB of ram.  Yet these devices have very little ram, 256 MB in some cases, and low wattage, under-powered procs that neither deliver performance nor decent battery life.  See UltraMobilePC’s test results of several UMPC procs.

“But it’s not a UMPC because it doesn’t run Windows!”  Some consider the Nokia 810 Tablet a UMPC.  How about the Asus Eee – it comes with Linux but is considered a UMPC? 

The Advantage is the size of a small paperback, features a host of connectivity options, great battery life, and does everything a UMPC strives to do.  The Advantage is my UMPC.

Recommended Reading:

Gear Diary Reviews the Advantage

JK on the Run – A Day in the Life of the Advantage

from Pocketables:

HTC Advantage News and Reviews

Advantage as Mobile Entertainment

Browser performance on HTC Advantage X7501

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January 27, 2008 - Posted by | Opinions, Pocket PC, UMPC

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