Frankly - we love the OQO e2 - a luscious ultramobile PC.
An ultramobile PC is a full PC in a nearly pocket-size unit. OQO, founded in 2000 by ex-Apple engineers, is the most distinctive of the ultramobile PC makers, producing over the years a series of increasingly gorgeous-looking devices, leading up to the OQO e2, a European model with HSDPA mobile broadband, that has the potential to be a really mobile networked PC.
The OQO 01 had good reviews and, following decent sales from online stores, the company launched a Europan version of its next model - the OQO e2 - in late 2007, followed swiftly by an HSDPA-enabled version, which can get up to 3.6 megabits per second (Mbps) from cellular networks.
At the moment, the OQO e2 is available only in Europe, with a typical model costing around £1,200, including 1.6GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 120GB hard drive, as well as 802.11abg Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Model 01+ is still available at around £400 inc VAT (with a 1GHz processor, 500M RAM and 30G hard drive, 802.11b and Bluetooth) - but this lacks HSDPA and other new features.
Whatever else the OQO e2 has, it has lashings of style. It's designed to generate iPod-like love and envy, from the plain black box it arrives in, to the sturdy matt black aluminium case and luxurious 5in screen, which has a native resolution of 800 x 480.
The OQO e2 has the minimum of slots and buttons, and several very nice touches. Four white LEDs on the battery indicate the charge level when pressed, and flash during charging to indicate the current level of charge. There is also a thicker battery that lasts longer than the pretty-accurate quoted three hours of the normal battery.
Other items on the sides include a docking/power connector, HDMI connector (it can drive an external screen at up at 1,920x1,200), a headphone socket, a single USB slot and a slot for a Kensington lock.
The OQO e2's screen slides to one side to reveal a keyboard which makes good use of multiple functions on each key - but is not big enough for touch typing. The OQO e2 is designed for use with two thumbs.
Overall, the OQO e2 weighs about 450g or 1lb, with the standard battery.
It may be stark and simple, but the OQO e2 has options. The HSDPA version comes with Vista or XP Pro, and hard drives from 60GB to 120GB, or a 32GB solid-state drive, with prices ranging from £1,175 for a 60GB hard drive version up to £1,558 for the 32GB SSD, each with XP Pro or Vista Business and HSDPA.
Other OQO e2 versions are available with XP Tablet, but OQO doesn't currently ship that OS on the HSDPA version, because there is less demand for that operating system.
Many users may miss the fact that the OQO e2 has an active digitiser screen, since it only responds to a special pen, which OQO doesn't ship as standard, since most users don't use it, and the rest would complain about paying for something they didn't need.
Digitiser pens are available for around £18, and might be worth buying if you want to use the OQO e2 closed up, as both Vista and XP will respond to it.
Al models also have two capacitive scrollbars, that respond to a finger touch, to navigate within windows.
The OQO e2 has docking options, including a lovely-looking docking station (£160) - which supports the device on a metal arm that puts it at a good height to work on a desk, and holds a slot-loading DVD drive. The station weighs about 590g, but on the road, it's probably easier to carry the port replicator which packs an Ethernet port and video connector to drive the screen.
We used a Vista OQO e2, which responded reasonably well to word processing, email, browsing and IM. Using Vista, we got fed up as the OQO e2 slows down mysteriously on random tasks (how long does it take to "calculate the time remaining" till it can delete one icon from a desktop, for instance?). But that is Microsoft's problem not OQO's - choose a well-specified machine for your chosen operating system and you should be okay.
The OQO e2's screen iss crisp and bright - although not for outdoor use - and if text was hard to read, there are buttons to zoom in and out. The screen can also be rotated - useful, if you have the pen, for handwriting input on something like a reporter's notebook.
The keyboard is cleverly laid out, though the OQO e2's keys are too small and close together for touch typing. Backlighting responded to the ambient light within a second or so, making it easy to see the keys.
The joystick button has a nice rough sandpapery surface, like a Thinkpad Touchpoint only better. Once we got used to its responsiveness, it was a pleasure to use, moving in a natural way and scooting round the OQO e2's expanded desktop if we were zoomed in. Combined with two keys for left and right clicks, it makes a good substitute for a mouse.
Most of the keys have at least two functions, so the OQO e2 has to have four "shift" keys, Shift, Control Alt and Fn. Some of them have to become second nature - Fn+/ is the only easy way to control the wireless, for instance. The shift keys each have a green LED: press them once, and they stay active, the LED flashing slowly till another key is pressed, making it easy to press combinations like Fn+/ one handed. Press them twice and they stay locked till released with another press.
Using the OQO e2 on cellular data is very straightforward. There's a SIM card housing under the battery, and the OQO's wireless management application sends you straight to a bundled app called Mobilink where you select your network - all the UK's mobile networks were pre-programmed in the model we had.
With the whip antenna extended, the OQO e2 got good connections and kept them, indoors and in moving vehicles. 3.6Mbps was rare, and in a brick-built home in south London, there was only 325 kilabits per second (kbps) download available from the T-Mobile network, but most sites worked fine, and in most places, the experience was as good as a 1Mbps DSL line - so mobile broadband is no exaggeration.
The OQO e2's antenna pulls out from the righthand edge of the device and looks pretty thin, but has a well-made joint and appears surprisingly robust, standing up to general use, including browsing by responsible children in the back of a car.
Wi-Fi was easy to set up, once we learnt to ignore the Mobilink app which persisted in saying it was disabled (Mobilink generally was irritating, over-animated, and over-generous with pointless sound-effects. Luckily you only need to use it once).
We found the OQO e2's normal battery gave about 2.5 hours use on cellular data, and the device was pretty good at saving its state so it was possible to carry on where we left off even if the battery ran out.
The OQO e2 did, however, run hot. After a few minutes the fan came on, and holding the OQO was like holding a small, warm animal.
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