Ready to Upgrade

Within the next few days, I expect to place an order for a new UMPC.  I think that the UMPC that is likely to best fit my needs is the Vye Mini-v S37 Model B.  I have had my TabletKiosk eo v7110 for almost 2 years now and I know that there are now a number of newer models out there that can offer a substantial upgrade in performance and features.  While my eo has served me well, I think it is time to get move up to something better.

I am paying attention to the UMPC-related announcements coming out of the currently running Consumer Electronics Show, but I don’t think it is too likely that anything will be a better fit for me than the Vye.  I’ve already seen the announcements from TabletKiosk and Samsung and their new UMPCs don’t appear to be better fits.  With the current trends, I have little expectation that anyone else will put something out that fits my needs either.  I probably will at least wait until the end of the first day of the show (Monday), but I expect to put in my order for a Vye in the next day or so.

The following is a run-down of the key criteria for my next UMPC purchase as well as the reasons why the Vye seems to meet them closely enough.

Performance

In terms of basic processing power, the eo v7110 is a top candidate for the title of weakest Windows-based UMPC released to date.  That means that pretty much any other model out there is going to be an improvement overall.  Like most people that closely follow the UMPC world, I have some trepidations about the Intel A100 processor that powers the Vye, but I have no doubt that the performance will be a significant step up from what I have and most reviews of the Vye have indicated the performance to be pretty snappy.  Unquestionably, the much improved Intel graphics chipset will make a big performance improvement too as will the Vye’s 2GB RAM capacity, which is double the maximum on the v7110. 

I do think that I would be somewhat happier with a higher-end processor, but I don’t really see signs of anyone putting out a unit that uses a faster processor without falling quite a bit short in the other areas important to me.  The newly announced Samsung Q1 Ultra Premium does sound nice with its Core Solo processor, but it still falls pretty short in many of my other key requirements.

Operating System

There is a lot of debate right now about what operating system makes the most sense for a device with a UMPC form-factor, but I definitely want to stick with a Windows-based system.  My preference is Windows Vista, as I truly believe it is the most future-proof and currently provides the most flexibility, particularly when it comes to Tablet PC features and media.  Although Windows XP is available as an option for the Vye as well, it really was designed as a Vista system and reviews have suggested that it runs it reasonably well.  The graphics chipset is even capable of handling the Aero interface, although I honestly don’t know if I will be likely to use that on a UMPC.

I fully realize that no UMPC right now is probably going to provide an ideal Windows Vista experience and I’m prepared to do a lot of optimization work on it.  I like the overall improvements to the Tablet features and media player enough, though, that I’ve actually been running Vista on my v7110 since early last year.  That is one of the main motivators for my decision to upgrade now and I feel confident that I will at least see an improvement in performance.

Storage

The availability of sufficient on-board storage is a big issue for me and, quite frankly, the main sticking point for most of the currently available UMPCs.  Right now, I’m not a huge fan of "cloud" computing as I haven’t yet really found connectivity to be sufficiently ubiquitous or reliable for that.  I use my UMPC as my primary music player (particularly while at work) and I definitely have found that streaming audio is problematic at best.  I have a large music collection and I really do like having all of it available on my UMPC, all ripped at a reasonable bit rate (I mostly use WMA files at 128 Mbps). 

One of the main reasons why I originally chose the v7110 was that it was the only first-generation unit that used a standard 2.5-inch laptop hard drive instead of a lower-capacity 1.8-inch drive.  I eventually upgraded the drive to 160GB and actually have a pretty large percentage of it filled.  In a pinch, I could see going with a lower capacity internal drive supplemented by an external USB drive, but that would be far from my preferred solution.

Storage is where the Vye has what is probably an insurmountable advantage over the competition for my purchase.  Like the v7110, it uses a 2.5-inch drive, allowing for higher capacity.  The standard configuration comes with a 120GB drive, but I have been in contact with Vye already and they have confirmed that they can build me a customized unit that will use a 250GB Western Digital drive.  To do this, they will charge me a $50 "fitting fee" plus the cost of the drive, a very reasonable arrangement for a vastly improved capacity.

User Input

Unquestionably, I do want a UMPC with a touch-screen and Tablet PC capabilities.  With my v7110, I have become very used to navigating via touch, particularly when couch surfing or otherwise using my system in environments other than tabletop/desktop.  I’m not a heavy user of ink, but I do like the ability to occasionally hand write notes during meetings or phone calls.  The Vye does apparently have a lighter touch than the v7110 and, thus, may not be as good an inking experience, but I suspect it will still be fine for my needs.

What I have never had much success with, though, is handwriting recognition.  My handwriting has always been atrocious and even with the learning capabilities and overall recognition improvements in Vista, my accuracy level has still never gotten very high.  As a result, I still find myself having to use my Think Outside folding keyboard for most writing of any length, even including most quick emails or discussion board posts.  For this reason, the keyboard on the Vye is something that I will be glad to have, even if it does add some additional weight and bulk over what I’m used to.  I do like very much that it is a convertible design, though, which still gives me the ability to use it in slate mode where appropriate.

That said, I can’t say that I’m absolutely committed to a unit with a keyboard.  My experiences using the v7110 with the Think Outside folding keyboard have generally been positive, even if it isn’t as convenient as an integrated unit is.  I also have some doubts about how efficient my typing will be on a keyboard that small and I do suspect I may still want to use the folding keyboard for longer writing sessions.  I do see the inclusion of a keyboard as basically a check mark in the "positive" compartment for the Vye, though, although I would likely still be willing to go with a slate if there was one out there that better matched my other criteria.

Screen

The Vye has a 7-inch screen, just like the one on the v7110.  Even though UMPCs have been trending towards somewhat smaller screens, I don’t know that I would want to go much smaller.  My eyesight already isn’t what it once was and I doubt it is going to get much better as I continue to get older.

What I do find to be a big plus is that the Vye has a native resolution of 1024×600 rather than the 800×480 resolution of the v7110 and other first generation UMPCs.  Even on the v7110, I very rarely had the resolution set to less than 800×600 and I often found myself using it in the 1024×600 mode as well.  The wider resolution is simply much more optimal for many Windows applications and web sites now.  The fact that the Vye display should be much clearer and less distorted at these higher resolutions is a big plus.

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  2. [...] BigBeaks, where he is blogging his decision process and thoughts on purchasing the Vye S37 UMPC. (Here, here, and here.) What’s intrguing in these posts are many of the very subjective concerns [...]

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