Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

Vye S37 Review – WMP, Origami Experience, Media Center

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

In previous posts, I’ve promised that I would continue my review of the Vye S37 with a discussion of music players.  Although I started working on the post quite a while back, I’ve held off on completing and publishing as I realized that I really needed to spend more time using the various players.

In this post, I am going to talk about Microsoft’s Windows Media variants: Windows Media Player 11, Origami Experience, and Windows Media Center.  For many UMPC owners, I’m sure these are essentially the default choices for music playback.  On my eo v7110, I pretty much exclusively used a combination of WMP and Origami Experience and they were the first players that I tried on my Vye as well.  In time, I found them to fall short of many of my needs, though.  I eventually tried a few other products and ended up selecting Media Monkey as my preferred music player.  In the near future, I will write up a separate post entirely about that product.

Finding the right music player for use on my Vye was essential as it is one of my key uses.  I have a big CD collection that I have accumulated over many years and have put a lot of time and effort into ripping them all to digital copies.  My wish to have my whole library on my UMPC was a major motivator in buying the Vye and upgrading it to a 250GB hard drive.

Part of the reason for the large size of my collection is that only a fairly small percentage of it consists of typical 10 track or so pop albums.  Instead, I have a very extensive collection of film scores and compilations as well as quite a bit of classical, Broadway and film musicals, and other similarly specialized music.  In those genres, many of the CDs approach the 75 minute maximum and frequently have large numbers of fairly short tracks.  My collection includes over 1,400 albums with over 26,000 separate tracks.

When I first started the process of copying my CDs to digital files, hard disk space was a lot more expensive than it is now.  In order to limit the space needed a bit, I stuck with MP3 files at 128 kbps.  The sound quality on that isn’t bad, but certainly could be better.  Now that you can get a terabyte of storage for not too much more than $200, I’ve been re-ripping the entire collection in the lossless, open-source FLAC format.  Obviously, those files are still too big to be practical for the Vye.  For the portable use, I have converted each of the FLAC files to 128kbps WMA files, which are roughly the same size as the old MP3 versions, but with a better sound quality.

A music library this large does tend to be a bit of a challenge for most digital jukebox software.  That is a lot of meta data to keep track of and I also need a user interface that doesn’t make it too overwhelmingly difficult to locate whatever particular music I am looking for at any given time.

After the jump, I go into a more in-depth discussion of the 3 Windows Media based music players.

(more…)

Vye S37 Review – One Month Report

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

I’ve received a few comments on my earlier review posts about the Vye wondering if I was going to continue to post more.  I know that a long time has passed between posts.  Part of that is my usual bad procrastination as a writer, but also a lot was my chosen subject.  I’ve been working on a discussion of using the Vye as a music player and it has turned into a pretty big task.  The main reason is that I have tried out a few different software packages and have wanted to allow enough time to really feel comfortable with the experiences.  I’m also preparing a number of photos to go with that report.  It is pretty far along and I hope to have it posted before too long.

In the mean time, I figured that it would be good to do another of my "stream of consciousness" posts reporting on some general thoughts and experiences now that I have had the Vye for a little over a month.  As with the one-week report, this will probably not be exceptionally focused, but I hope the info is interesting.

(more…)

Vye S37 – First week observations

Friday, January 18th, 2008

As the next part of my series of posts about my new Vye S37, I initially started to write up a detailed description of the process of configuration and system setup.  After a short time, I found that I was even boring myself.  Therefore, I’m going to instead just share some overall observations on my first week of use.  I’m going to take a bit of a stream-of-consciousness approach here, so hopefully it won’t be too rambling.

More on the Keyboard

In my last post, I already talked a bit about my early experiences with the keyboard.  The presence of the keyboard definitely is the biggest difference compared to my previous UMPC and I’m already seeing a substantial change in my use patterns.  With the eo, I found that I generally used it primarily as a sort of a combination of a web browsing device (essentially a MID) and an MP3 player.  When I bought it, I had visions of using it more for writing than I ever did.  The truth is that I never really got the hang of making handwriting recognition work.  Even with the improvements in Vista, I still had to make a huge number of manual corrections.  Even short discussion board posts, blog comments, or even emails took a ridiculously long time.

(more…)

Vye S37 – Aesthetics and design

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Continuing my early impressions of my new Vye S37, I’m going to spend some time here going over my “first impression” reactions to the overall aesthetics and design of the system. As a reminder, I have previously been using a TabletKiosk eo v7110 UMPC for close to 2 years, so it will obviously serve as a key point of comparison.

Exterior size and appearance

Even having used a different UMPC for quite a while, I still couldn’t help but react a bit to how small the Vye is. Even when the FedEx delivery man handed me the package, I was struck by how small it was. I suspect that if I had told the delivery man that the box contained a full-featured Windows Vista laptop computer, he probably wouldn’t have believed me.

IMG_0530

Since it is a convertible rather than a slate, the Vye is definitely a bit bulkier than the eo was, but it actually gives more of an impression of smallness since the form factor is one that we are generally used to seeing in devices that are twice as big or larger. The eo looks a lot like an enlarged iPod while the Vye looks much more like a laptop that was hit by a shrinking ray.

(more…)

Ready to Upgrade

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

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.

(more…)

Samsung Q1 Ultra and Amtek T770

Friday, March 16th, 2007

The most discussed item in the UMPC community this week has been the announcement of Samsung’s Q1-Ultra UMPC. Although it hasn’t received nearly as much attention, Amtek also announced a new model, the T770, a few weeks ago at CES. Both of these are fairly substantial upgrades to the first two Microsoft Origami UMPCs to become available to consumers, the Samsung Q1 and the Amtek T700 (sold in the US as the TabletKiosk eo v7110).

As these models are fairly significant re-designs of the first two Origami models, these two systems probably have the best claim to a “second generation UMPC” title. While Samsung has released several incremental upgrades to the Q1 before, the Q1-Ultra is really their first substantial re-design, both internally and externally. In fact, some leaked pre-announcement materials on the awkwardly-named Q1-Ultra showed that it was originally planned to be the Q2, which would have probably been a better name.

While Windows Vista compatibility/optimization looks to be a key driver for both devices, each also has a somewhat updated feature set intended to address some of the complaints/criticisms of their predecessors. Both appear to have improved CPUs and graphics processors. Reportedly, the Q1-Ultra has even been shown running Vista with the rather demanding Aero interface active. Less is known about the T770, although it seems to be a pretty safe bet that it almost has to improve on the fairly poor graphics performance of the T700.

As with the earlier models, Samsung continues to offer a lot more bells and whistles than the somewhat minimalist Amtek device. The Q1-Ultra carries over the built-in ethernet and VGA ports that were standard on the Q1 and it substitutes the Q1’s CompactFlash slot for a now more common Secure Digital slot. It also adds a fingerprint scanner, built-in web and snapshot cameras, and cellular networking. Probably the most talked about addition is a split thumb-keyboard across the face of the unit. This was almost certainly added as a response to the many reviews of the Q1 that complained of the lack of a keyboard. The Q1 was easily the most widely-reviewed of the first batch of UMPCs (some mainstream publications made it look like it was the only one on the market), and it isn’t surprising that Samsung would feel the need to address this widely mentioned item.

The upgrades to the T770 are more internal improvements rather than added features, although it does reportedly add an SD card reader and a camera. It is expected to retain the biggest advantage that the T700 had over other UMPCs, which is the use of 2.5″ hard drives, which currently allows a maximum of 160GB of on-board storage with the potential for 200GB or higher drives in the near future.

Coming down to the bottom line, I guess the obvious question that any UMPC early adopter has to consider is whether or not either of these second generation devices might prompt an upgrade. Personally, I’m tempted somewhat, but still definitely in a “wait and see” mode. Some of the bells and whistles of the Q1-Ultra are attractive, but I definitely would have a hard time giving up the 160GB hard drive capacity that I have on my current UMPC. As for the T770, I do get frustrated sometimes by the fairly weak performance of the T700, but I would definitely need to see strong indications of substantial improvement before I would shell out for an upgrade.

That said, I do see it as a positive sign that the first two companies to ship Origami UMPCs are still committed to the concept and are still working to advance it. In a time when all too many mainstream publications are ready to declare the whole UMPC idea a “failure”, it is very reassuring to see two of its main champions clearly acting like they disagree with that assessment.

Report and Photos from TabletKiosk Road Show

Friday, October 20th, 2006

On Thursday, October 19th, TabletKiosk hosted the first of their series of Road Show events. This event was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel of Orange County, CA, just a few blocks away from the Disneyland Resort and the Anaheim Convention Center. While it took quite a long time (over 2 hours) for me to drive there from the San Fernando Valley on a Thursday afternoon, it was an enjoyable event. As an added bonus, I ended up waiting out traffic after leaving the event by going for a nice dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Catal at Downtown Disney.

The event was primarily an informal opportunity to get some hands-on exposure to TabletKiosk’s UMPCs and Tablet PCs and accessories as well as an opportunity to network with staff members from TabletKiosk as well as members of the UMPC/Tablet PC community. I did feel like the event was targeted more at prospective UMPC buyers than at current owners (I actually was doing a bit of “salesmanship” of the concept myself), but it still was a nice opportunity to see most of TabletKiosk’s products in person while also meeting a few other members of the community.

There was no formal program and no major announcements were made, but they did have pretty much all their current systems and accessories on display and they also showed up a few prototypes of new accessories. They also had a drawing where they gave away 10 gift-bags of Intel swag as well as one $300 gift certificate to TabletKiosk.com. Unfortunately, I did not win anything.

The next events will be held on November 9th in Orlando, Florida and November 30th in Houston, Texas (a previously-announced 11/2 event in Ft. Lauderdale, FL has been cancelled). TabletKiosk is also promising to visit quite a few more cities with similar events during 2007.

After the break are some photos from the event. Clicking on any of the photos will take you to a larger, higher-resolution image.

(more…)

Thoughts on TabletKiosk i72xx Series

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

TabletKiosk last week announced two new eo UMPCs, the i7209 and i7210. Both models have similar form factors and are re-branded versions of the UMPC marketed in Asia under the Founder brand-name. In some ways, these new models are a step up from the already (and still) available eo v7110, although the older model also still has some key advantages as well.

The key difference between the two TabletKiosk UMPC product lines is the choice of processor and chipset at their core. With the i72xx series, the “i” stands for “Intel” while the “v” in v7110 stands for “Via”. The i7209 is based on the Intel Celeron M while the higher-end i7210 is based on the Intel Pentium M. Both models also use the Intel 915GMS chipset, with integrated DirectX9 3D graphics. Both also have a 1.3 megapixel camera, an SD card slot, and 7.1-channel sound built-in. Finally, these new models also each come with a docking station that provides Ethernet, VGA, S-Video, and additional USB connectors.

These are all nice enhancements over the previous model. The Intel processors and chipsets should provide a decent performance boost over the Via, particularly with the Pentium M based i7210, likely to be the fastest performing UMPC yet available. Until some hands-on reviews of the units start to be circulated, it won’t really be known whether the battery life is better than what was found with the v7110, but improvement is very likely. The better video and sound capabilities should give these new models an advantage over the v7110 for multimedia features, also competing pretty strongly with what the Samsung Q1 offers in this area (other than its instant-on capabilities).

The main area in which the v7110 continues to have a big advantage is customization of the memory and hard-drive configurations. With the older model, you can select configurations of 256MB, 512MB or 1GB of RAM, while the i7209 is only available with 512MB and the i7210 comes with 1GB. Even more significantly, the v7110 uses 2.5” hard drives, which provide a considerably wider range of choices than the 1.8” drives used in the i72xx series. The i7209 comes with a 30GB drive while the i7210 comes with a 60GB, each running at 4,200RPM. Surprisingly, TabletKiosk doesn’t appear to offer the opportunity to customize the i7209 with more memory or a larger hard-drive, although I would think that such upgrades should be possible.

The v7110 is available with hard-drives ranging from 40GB all the way up to 160GB and at speeds of 5,400 or 7,200RPM. Obviously, the v7110 is capable of substantially higher storage capacities and much faster performing drives. They do also offer the ability to send the unit back for later upgrades to the larger drives or memory (at a pretty substantial cost, of course) or the components to perform those upgrades yourself are pretty readily available, assuming you are pretty comfortable with that kind of fairly delicate computer maintenance.

With the faster processors and other added features, the i7xxx series does cost more than the v7110. The i7209 is priced at $1,099 and the i7210 costs $1,399. By comparison, the v7110 starts at $899 for the minimum configuration, with 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Even if you upgrade the RAM to 512MB to match the i7209, the price is only $998 and that is with a larger, faster hard drive. If you upgrade both the RAM and hard drive to match the i7210, the v7110 comes to $1,239. The price of the v7110 doesn’t exceed that of the i7210 until it is upgraded to either a 100GB 5,400RPM drive or a 60GB 7,200RPM drive, either of which comes to $1,423.

My v7110 has 1GB of RAM and the slower 100GB hard drive, meaning that I paid the above referenced $1,423 price, only $24 more than the i7210. Obviously, if I were purchasing my UMPC today, I would have to give serious consideration about which model to buy. I’m honestly not entirely certain which one I would have chosen if I were making the decision cold, but I don’t regret my purchase. Doing a quick check on my hard-disk, I have about 40GB free currently. That means that trying to carry everything I have on my eo currently, the hard-disk on the i7210 would be completely full with memory cards or external USB drives as the only option for adding additional storage.

I certainly would appreciate the extra processing power, improved multimedia features and, likely, improved battery life of the newer model, but portability of data was really the prime motivation for me purchasing a UMPC. In fact, that is the main reason why I choose the eo over the Samsung Q1. I use my eo to carry around essentially all of my personal and professional documents, my entire digital photo collection, all of my purchased tracks, as well as a fairly large number of tracks that I have ripped from CD at a lossless bit rate. If anything, I suspect that my storage needs on my UMPC are apt to increase, if anything.

While the new models would be more appealing to me if they used the faster, higher-capacity 2.5” hard drives, I still think that they are a strong addition to TabletKiosk’s UMPC line. More importantly, these new models indicate a definite commitment to UMPCs on the part of the company. Already, they have added several new accessories that are compatible with all of the available eo models. I’m sure that these new models will fit the needs of many potential customers better than any others currently available and overall that is a big positive for the UMPC in general.

Report and Reflections After eo Recall

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

Last week, I sent my eo in for the recall service intended to improve the battery life. Although TabletKiosk had initially stated that they simply would be replacing a defective part, by the time they actually started performing the recall service they had decided to simply transfer the hard drive, memory (if expanded), and back panel (with the serial number and Windows activation number), to an otherwise completely new unit.

I was very pleased with TabletKiosk’s flexibility and efficiency handling the recall. After getting the initial return authorization, I exchanged periodic emails with them until they confirmed that they had everything in stock for performing the recall work. This let me avoid sending it back before they were ready to quickly turn it around. Once they were ready, my desktop PC had gone in for repairs and I didn’t really want to be without my eo. TabletKiosk was very accommodating, immediately agreeing to hold the replacement unit until my other system was repaired.

Once I did send it back, the turn-around was about as fast as it possibly could be. I sent it back via UPS next-day delivery on Tuesday. On Wednesday afternoon, I got an email with the tracking number for the return shipment even before the tracking showed my shipment as delivered. TabletKiosk was so fast that they were able to complete the transfer and ship the unit back to me before UPS could update the tracking data on their website. I had my replacement eo by 1pm on Thursday.

The new eo works pretty much as expected. The battery life is definitely improved, with about 2 hours of use now readily achievable under normal use. This still isn’t stellar, and is still less than the 2.5 hours originally advertised, but it is a definite improvement and it absolutely improves the usability of the eo. Once the extended battery becomes available in a couple weeks, I honestly think that the battery life will be sufficient for pretty much all my needs.

Otherwise, the new eo seems pretty much identical to the previous one. I have seen some reports that the heat dissipation has been improved in the replacements, but I can’t really say that I have noticed much improvement. The device still gets pretty warm, mainly over the vent on the left side. It never had been overly bad on my eo, though, so it is definitely possible that mine simply was not as bad as some of the others from the first shipped batch.

While any recall is inconvenient, now that this one has been completed I can honestly say that it was a pretty painless experience. By transferring the hard drive from the old unit to the new one, no data was lost and there was no need to re-install anything or to do any restoration from backups. TabletKiosk’s efficiency resulted in me only being without my eo for almost exactly 48-hours, which is an exceptionally short time for a mail-in recall.

Of course, TabletKiosk certainly should have been aware of the battery life issues prior to shipping the first batch of devices and should have at least notified buyers ahead of time with the option to complete the order at that time or not. Even with the battery life issues, I have gotten nearly 2-months of good use out of my eo, thus I am glad that they didn’t delay shipping the product for this issue. I simply feel that being more up-front about the issue might have given them better publicity and, possibly, reduced the overall cost of the recall.

Based on the relatively few people reporting on the recall online, I suspect that they ended up with a lot of returns for refunds. The only other blogger that I have seen reporting experiences with the recall is CTitanic from Ultra Mobile PCs Tips. While I’m sure there were some other eo buyers that kept their unit but don’t participate in the online UMPC community, I do think this suggests that the percentage that didn’t return their systems was likely pretty low. I still think the eo is an excellent device and, after the recall, it now is very competitive with the Samsung Q1 and other similar devices in this class. I really hope that the recall hasn’t tainted the overall reputation of TabletKiosk or the eo and that it ends up selling well.

Update on eo Battery Life Issue

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

Yesterday, TabletKiosk sent out a notice to all of the purchasers of the first batch of eos announcing a voluntary recall in order to install a hardware fix that should improve battery life. They have indicated that they found a faulty component that was causing a significant portion of the excess power drain on the units.

The email stated that the units will need to be sent back to TabletKiosk for the repair and that they will be shipped back within 72 hours of receipt at their facility. The email provided contact information to request return shipping instructions. I sent them a request for those instructions yesterday, but have not received a reply yet at the time of this writing. It was unclear from the email whether they would cover the cost of return shipping or if that will be the owner’s responsibility.

In addition to offering to repair the devices, the email also offered a 25% discount off the purchase of any one eo accessory purchased before the end of July. I requested that they apply the discount towards my pre-order for the extended battery.

While I’m not that happy about having to do without my eo for a few days, I am glad that they found a cause for the problem and that they are offering to correct the existing units. With the battery life improved, the eo will be a substantially better and more useful device. It is expected that any units shipped going forward will already have the hardware fix installed, which makes it much easier for me to now recommend the eo to people who believe its feature set will meet their needs. (more…)