I received my TabletKiosk eo v7110 UMPC yesterday and have since been working to get the device configured as well as generally becoming familiar with it. This definitely shouldn’t be considered to be a full review as my experience thus far is rather limited, but I am going to share some first impressions in several key areas.
Design and form factor
The eo is a very well designed device with a layout that makes it quite comfortable to use. The buttons and pointer control stick are extremely well positioned for comfortable access while holding the eo in both hands. The surface is smooth and well-rounded and the unit feels very solidly built without being excessively heavy.
The one fairly significant issue with comfortable handling of the device is that it gets quite a bit warmer than I would have liked during operation. When plugged in to the charger, it gets downright hot. Even when running on the battery, it still gets quite warm. It isn’t so hot that it isn’t useable, but I did find that it puts off enough heat that I probably won’t want to use it for very long in a non air-conditioned environment and I suspect I’ll want to use it on a tabletop whenever feasible.
Some of the early pre-reviews of the Samsung Q1 (the other first-generation UMPC being released this month) have complained that its design makes controlling the mouse cursor very difficult. This seems to be a problem that Amtek (the actual designer/manufacturer of the eo) has addressed much more effectively.
While using the device, I found that controlling the cursor with the stick and dedicated mouse buttons (which are absent on the Q1) became pretty much second nature in no time. In fact, I have found myself pretty freely moving back and forth between the use of the stylus and the control stick, usually without a need to give it much thought.
Although I am very experienced with using the touch-screen interface on Palm OS based PDAs, this is my first experience with the Tablet PC edition of Windows XP. So far, I have found that it works quite well. Various icons and links respond to the stylus in a basically intuitive manner and, for the most part, it hasn’t been difficult at all to tap in the correct location. The only thing that I have found to be somewhat of a challenge so far has been selecting items without opening them. I’m having a hard time getting the hang of how quickly to tap for a single-click and have even found this to be somewhat challenging with the pointing stick and buttons. I also have found that I’m pretty used to using the control key to selectively highlight items and haven’t yet really found a good alternative on the eo.
So far, I have been using the eo pretty much exclusively without a keyboard. I haven’t really done any significant document creation yet (I admit that I’m writing this on my desktop computer…), but have found that the tablet interface works pretty well for fairly routine things like filling in web forms or registration information during software installs. The handwriting recognition generally works pretty well, but I definitely need a lot more practice with it. So far, I have found that tapping out items on the mini-keyboard is a lot faster for me. I haven’t really tried the included Dialkeys software yet.
The worst interface at this point seems to be the on-screen keyboard on the log-in screen. The taps don’t seem to exactly align with the keys (even after running the calibration program a couple times) making it a real challenge to hit the right keys. The added fact that the keys do not highlight when pressed and password entries are masked has made it a pretty big challenge to type my password correctly. I’m sure I’ll get better with practice, but Microsoft really needs to work to enable all the keyboard and handwriting recognition options on this screen.
So far, I have really just been using the standard Windows XP interface instead of using the launcher included with Microsoft’s Touch Pack. Once I finish getting all the software installed and set up, I’ll likely configure the launcher and try it out more. I have found that the standard interface generally works fine, though.
For Windows XP, I don’t know that I would want a screen size much smaller than the 7” screen used on the eo. Even with this size screen, the interface in some software does seem a bit cramped. One of the worst that I have encountered so far is the frameset used on the Windows Update website, which leaves very tiny windows at a 480 pixel vertical resolution. On the other hand, web sites and emails that I have tried so far seem spectacularly more readable on this than they did on my 480×320 resolution Palm LifeDrive.
Still, it really has been overall very useable even at the default 800×480 resolution. The 800×600 and 1024×600 modes are definitely readable in applications that require that extra screen real-estate, although the distortion is very noticeable. So far, I’ve found that I have kept it at 800×480 most of the time, shifting it to the higher resolutions only when absolutely necessary.
Performance and battery life
I haven’t run any benchmarks or even really used the system heavily under normal use, but so far it seems fast and responsive. One of the major reasons why I picked the eo over the Samsung was the fact that I could get a system configured with 1GB of RAM as well as a 5400RPM, high-capacity hard drive. They actually offer 7200RPM drives as well, but I decided the slightly slower drive probably wouldn’t affect the type of applications I run too much and I preferred to spend the extra money on higher capacity (100GB).
Battery life, unfortunately, does not seem so good. With the included 3-cell battery, I haven’t been able to get more than 60-90 minutes. I have been doing some pretty hard-drive intensive operations (software installs, file copies) as well as a lot of network access (software downloads and transfers from my desktop PC) so far, so the battery life may be better under normal use. It also isn’t uncommon for batteries to last a bit longer after a few charges. Still, I am having a hard time imagining that this is going to often hit the 2.5 hours of battery life that TabletKiosk claims.
In a few weeks, they are supposed to start offering a 6-cell extended battery for sale and I think it is going to be an absolute must in order for this to really start to reach its potential as a portable device. As a quick experiment, I did try removing and reinstalling the battery while the system was running and found that it can’t be done without the eo shutting off. That means that it isn’t possible to hot swap the battery during extended sessions. Even if you do have to power down between sessions, the combined battery life of the 3 and 6-cell batteries should be around 4.5 to 5 hours, which should be sufficient for me.
Wireless and peripherals
So far, I have found connecting to the wireless networks both at home and at my office to be an absolute breeze. At both locations, the eo detected the network immediately and all I had to do was key in the security code to quickly get connected.
Some of the other online reviews of the eo have said that people haven’t been receiving particularly good wireless reception, but that hasn’t matched my experience thus far. I have found that the eo is getting considerably stronger signals than my LifeDrive ever did and that the wireless reception seems to be pretty comparable to what I get on my full-size Compaq laptop.
My initial attempts at connecting my ThinkOutside Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard using the standard Bluetooth configuration applet in the Control Panel were not successful. I couldn’t get it to detect the keyboard at all. An additional attempt to get it to detect my Motorola cell phone was also unsuccessful. I later tried again using the included Bluetooth application, though, and was able to get it paired successfully with the keyboard that way. The keyboard definitely does work, although I haven’t really tried using it for anything other than a little test typing yet. I haven’t yet tried again to pair it with my cell phone or to set up cellular network access.
In order to install some software, I purchased a Targus Slim USB 2.0 DVD/CD-RW drive. The eo detected the drive without any difficulty at all and I was able to use it to install both a couple software packages. The drive does have to actually be hooked up to both USB ports on the eo, one for the data connection and the other for power. The power connection does have a pass-through to allow another USB device to be plugged into the port at the same time. You can also use an AC adapter with the drive instead of the second USB connection, which obviously could help to prevent it from draining too much from the eo’s battery during long use.
Since the eo runs a full version of Windows XP, it is just as susceptible to viruses and other mal-ware as any other Windows system. Because of this, the first software I installed was the ZoneAlarm Antivirus and Firewall software. Although I have generally used Symantec’s Norton packages on my other systems, I decided to try out ZoneAlarm mainly because they offer a package with just the antivirus and firewall for a fairly low price. I don’t need anti-spam (I use server-side filtering) or parental controls software (my son is too young to use the device), so I didn’t want to buy an expensive package with all kinds of components I don’t need. So far, I’ve been using the ZoneAlarm software in a free trial, but I suspect I will end up registering it and using it long term. It seems pretty lightweight and unobtrusive.
Another important early installation was PartitionMagic in order to re-organize the hard drive. Out of the box, TabletKiosk is setting up the eo to use roughly 1/3 of the hard drive for a FAT32 partition to hold recovery versions of the OS, drivers, and included software. On my 100GB drive, that partition was about 32GB, despite the fact that it was less than 3GB full. Thanks to helpful instructions posted by ctitanic on his UMPC Tips blog, I was easily able to re-size the partitions to reduce the recovery partition down to only 8GB. I kept the added space in order to allow me to use that partition for storage of install sets for other downloaded software.
I was quickly able to install both Firefox and Thunderbird, my web browser and email client of choice. I transferred the Firefox bookmarks simply using its built-in export command, but I have generally found it works best to install plug-ins and other configuration items on Firefox manually on new systems. With Thunderbird, though, I was able to copy the contents of my profile folder from my desktop PC and immediately have all my settings and archived email available on the eo. Both products seem to work very well on the eo and are completely useable even at the standard 800×480 resolution.
I have also installed Microsoft Office and Microsoft Streets & Trips on the eo, but haven’t really tried using either one yet. I also made an attempt at installing Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 on the eo, but something went wrong during the installation requiring a reboot. I’ll try that one again later.
Conclusions so far…
The eo definitely does have some issues, but at this point I’m overall impressed with the whole UMPC concept. Windows XP really does work rather well on a device this size and I suspect it will only improve as the OS and software are adapted to the smaller screen and keyboard-less entry.
Being an early-adopter is not for the faint of heart and I can easily see issues like the excessive heat and poor battery life frustrating those that aren’t prepared for the frustrations of a first-generation system. As these issues are worked out, though, I suspect that people really are going to start to see the value in this kind of device. I’m thrilled to have one now!