Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Made Some New Gadget Purchases Recently...

Hi Everyone.

My apologies for neglecting my blog. It's been a bit since I've posted here but I haven't been slacking on performing my first adopter duties. 

Since my last post I've:
  • Upgraded my Roomba to the new 500 series (which I've got some thoughts on)
  • Moved to the new aluminum iMac (which I've got some thoughts on)
  • Purchased the Zenn neighborhood electric vehicle which I've got some thoughts on.
My next posting will be about "ultra-mobility" but not in the computing sense. It will be about the Zenn (Zero Emissions. No Noise) electric vehicle and why I'm so excited about it and where things are heading.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Got the iPhone

I purchased an iPhone over the weekend and will be posting a review shortly. Here's a few quick observations so far:

Build quality is exceptional.

Touch interface is remarkable.

Touch keyboard employs some interesting technologies to improve accuracy.

In ultra-mobility mode, it is faster to get online and get email and surf the web on the iPhone than the OQO.

The iPhone seamlessly finds and connects to any open wifi hotspot. Failing that, it uses AT&T's Edge network. This means you're always connected. There is no sense of being online or offline.

Google Map is actually useful on the iPhone. It is easy to get to. Integrates well with touch (pinching in and out to zoom in and out works well). And displays live traffic info all the time thanks to the iPhone's always-connected ability.

Outlook integration is done very well. I was hesitant to purchase mainly because I was skeptical about Outlook integration. However, calendar events, contacts and even your mailboxes are all synced quickly and efficiently using iTunes. The only thing that isn't synced are tasks.

Browsing on the iPhone's 3.5 inch screen is remarkably usable thanks to Apple's ingenious intuitive touch interface. The phone intelligently interprets single and double taps to automatically scale up or down a web page to exactly fill the screen, leaving no wasted space around the borders.

I'm very interested in the touch UI on the iPhone. Microsoft and UMPC manufacturers in general can learn from what Apple has accomplished. It is obvious that Apple designed the iPhone from the ground up with touch as its primary interface mechanism. Unlike other touch devices, the iPhone has solved many UI problems associated with touch and it is clear that touch on the iPhone was not a bolted-on afterthought. 

Sunday, June 17, 2007

OQO Model 02 Review Part 3: Desktop and Laptop Replacements

This is part three of my OQO Model 02 review. In parts one and two I talked about the OQO's form factor and its tablet pc and voice recognition capabilities. In this part, I talk about how I use the OQO as my desktop and laptop replacement as well as my on-the-go computer.

Those of you who read my blog know that I've been promoting the OQO as the only true ultra-mobile computer on the market. That added mobility has opened up new use cases for the OQO and mobile computing. For me however, the OQO is not a companion PC, it is my main computer that I use everyday in addition to my laptop replacement.

A big reason why I purchased the OQO is because it is the only device that seamlessly crosses the threshold between the three primary PC modalities: desktop, notebook and ultramobile computing. Laptops have done a great job of slowly replacing the desktop modality and now we have this emerging ultra-mobile modality. To date however, no UMPC other than OQO has been truly ultra mobile. As such, these UMPCs have remained something between a laptop and the OQO. The OQO is the only device that offers true ultra-mobility and desktop and laptop modalities as well. This is a significant achievement because we can now carry our entire desktop computing experience with us whereever we go. Arcane technologies for syncing our files, emails, appointments, to-dos, and bookmarks are no longer necessary. I can tell you for a fact that my life is greatly simplied by having a single device that switches between these different modalities with alacrity.

Desktop Computing

Let's start with my desktop environment. I spend a great deal of time in this modality ergo I need a setup that is comfortable, expandable and powerful enough to carry out my day to day computing tasks. By way of comfort, I need a large monitor capable of displaying my development environment and a comfortable keyboard and mouse.

For expandability, the OQO docking station provides a powered USB hub with two ports back and one port forward. Additionally, the LG monitor features a powered USB hub with one port down and two ports left. On the occassions when I need to print something out, I use my Canon i80 Bluetooth printer with battery pack. The Canon sits on the top of the filing cabinet under the desk: out of site but immediately available. When I need to scan, I have a Canon USB powered LED scanner in a drawer. When I do dictation, I plug my Logictech USB headset into the front USB port on the docking station.

From a power perspective, I've created a power scheme on the OQO that has the processor set at 100% maximum. I have the fan speed turned down to three quarters silent. I found that if I turn the fan speed all the way down to 100% silent that I suffer from Blue Screens of Death (BSOD). Set your fan speed to 3/4 quiet and the fan noise is greatly minimized without the danger of the OQO overheating and you'll have plenty of power to carry out your daily tasks.

With my desktop optimized power scheme I have plenty of power to run multiple applications. It is not uncommon for me to run: a Flex server, the Eclipse IDE coding environment, several Flex applications, OneNote 2007, Outlook 2007, VPN and several terminal windows to Unix servers. I have never had a problem running this typical setup on the OQO. I find application swithcing fast, my compile times are good and my Flex applications run smoothly. Would I benefit from a faster processor? Yes, but the point is that I don't need it.

Here's a picture of my desktop environment. The Q1 is docked to the left. It's driving a 24 inch LG LCD monitor in landscape mode at 1900x1200 resolution using HDMI. I use the Logitech DiNovo Edge bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I like this setup because it is clean and simple. There are only three cables present: the power cables for the docking station and monitor and the HDMI cable to the monitor.

The LG monitor is ergonomically designed: it swivels at the base; its height is adjustable and the monitor itself is mounted on a armature that allows it to tilt horizontally and vertically. The viewing angle on the screen is an amazing 178 degrees. Additionally, the screen itself rotates. Here is the desktop setup with the LG monitor in portrait mode. The OQO is driving the monitor at 1200x1900 which gives me a huge vertical display ideal for coding and reading documents. You can see in the photo the sheer amount of text that fits onto a screen at this resolution.
Here's a shot of the DiNovo Edge keyboard. Its fact is laser cut from a single sheet of Acrylic. In addition to being aesthetically complimentary to the OQO Model 02, the Edge features a touch pad (orange circle) and a right and left mouse buttons. The keyboard can be used on its own without requiring a mouse. The vertical control above the touchpad is a capacitive touch controller for volume. The function keys at the top are user configurable but are pre-programmed for Skype, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Search and Windows Media Player 7 playback controls.

Notebook Computing

Notebook computing needs to satifsfy one requirement really well: transportability. Here, the single unit design of a traditional laptop trumps the OQO. For the OQO to be a notebook replacement is needs to be coupled with a docking station and keyboard. However, the OQO setup has some benefits over a traditional laptop. For starters, the combined weight of the OQO, docking station and keyboard is about 2lbs. Much lighter than most laptops and lighter than many ultraportables as well. Secondly, not a whole lot of extra effort is required to setup the docking station and keyboard with the OQO. It is amazing easy to plug the OQO into the docking station and a USB keyboard takes no appreciable time to plug into the docking station. I use the Samsung Q1's USB keyboard. It has an integrated trackstick so I don't need to carry a mouse and its shiny black finish makes it look like it was designed for the OQO. For my setup I also throw in the MyPower All 3400 extended battery by Tekkeon. The MyPower All combined with the OQO's own battery blast out an amazing 8 hours of charge.
The OQO Model 02 in Laptop mode. Pictured here: The OQO in the docking station, the MyPower All portable power supply by Tekkeon and the Samsung Q1 USB keyboard with integrated trackstick. This setup gives me everything and more that a laptop can offer: DVD drive, HDMI out, VGA out, 3 usb ports, wired ethernet, WWAN connectivity via Sprint, audio out and an incredible 8 hours of continuous, real world battery life. A true mobile office. Total weight for the whole setup: about 3 lbs.

This is my Booq Mamba S, over the shoulder gear bag. Booq bags are stylish, well designed and affordable. I highly recommend them. This bag is considered a medium sized bag. Its dimensions are: 14.5x12.5x3.5 and it weighs only 2.2lbs. I use this bag to carry around my mobile office setup. Total weight of the bag and all its contents for the mobile office: about 5 lbs. Very easy to carry around.

What's in my bag? Here's the contents of the Booq bag. From top left: The OQO in a CaseLogic case; the docking station; the MyPower All cigarette lighter adapter; the OQO car/airplane adapter; the Western Digital 160GB USB hard drive; the MyPower All 3400 portable battery pack; The Samsung Q1 portable keyboard.

Tekkeon doesn't make an adapter tip yet for the OQO Model 02 but here's a tip: Buy the cigarette lighter adapter tip that way you can plug the OQO's car/plane adapter into it for a whole lot of charge.
This is the interior of the Booq bag. The rear compartment is padded and holds the docking station, keyboard, OQO case, MyPowerAll and mini-dock connector. Stuffed in the compartment flap is the OQO car/airplane power adapter.


This is the whole reason why I have the OQO. I can quickly pull the OQO out of its docking station, slap it into my Caselogic case and head out the door in about the same time it takes me to find my mobile phone. For a device to be ultramobile it needs to do a couple things really well: it needs to be easy to transition it out of desktop or notebook mode; it needs to be compact enough to fit in pocket or purse and it needs to have good battery life to allow it meet your needs until you return it to its docking station.

OQO has done a great job with the docking station. It is very easy and fast to pull the unit out of the dock and be on your way. Size-wise, I've talked about the OQO's diminuitive size. Battery-wise you'll need to tweak the system once to optimize battery time but after that you won't have to worry about it.

As I've mentioned before, I've created a new power scheme called Neil Optimized. When plugged in, I have the CPU set to 100%. When running on batteries, I have the maximum CPU set to 60% (recall that 60% is the cut-off for descent handwriting recognition). With this power configuration, I can maximize my battery life to more than 3 hours. Once you have this power scheme in place, pulling the OQO from the dock automatically switches the OQO into power saving mode. Putting the OQO back in the dock switches the OQO back to full power. Easy.

To make your ultra mobile life easier you should grab the Caselogic portable hard drive case from any Best Buy or Office Depot. I picked mine up for something like $15. The case is designed to hold a portable hard drive but the OQO fits perfectly in the case and there is even a strap to hold it in place. What I like about the Caselogic case is that there is a pouch on the lid that can hold various things that you might need like your OQO pen, USB hard drive and headphones. Put them in the case and you'll never be without these essentials. The case is small enough to carry around in one hand, but I was given a nice leather purse and the case fits into it nicely.

These are the contents of the CaseLogic case. From top, left: The OQO digital pen, a short USB to mini USB to power the Western Digital hard drive or any other USB device; Zune headphones (got to love the magnetic strips on each ear piece that hold the ear buds together!); 2GB Lexar USB drive, the CaseLogic case with the OQO strapped in; a black polishing cloth to eradicate fingerprints and smudges.

This is my purse (yes, I call it exactly what it is). This is the bag I pick up when I head out the house at any given time. It holds my wallet, mobile phone, keys and the CaseLogic OQO case.


At the end of the day, the OQO is about ultra-moblity. Am I willing to put up with a little less desktop computing power to do this? Yes. Am I willing to plug a keyboard into the docking station in notebook mode in order to do this? Absolutely. The fact of the matter is, the OQO performs admirably in both desktop and notebook modalities. I have no complaints. But, even if it didn't I would tolerate it because the ability to pick up my desktop computer and walk out the door is worth it. Knowing that I have my entire desktop experience with me at all times is worth it. Not having to sync up and manage a duplicate set of files, bookmarks and emails is worth it.

In part 4, I will talk about OQO ultra mobile use cases. I'll recount some of my own experiences with using the OQO as a mobile computing platform and speculate on where I think the mobile computing space is heading. It should be fun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

OQO Model 02 Review Part 2: Pen Navigation, Handwriting and Voice Recognition

This is part two of my OQO Model 02 review. In Part One, I discussed the OQO's general form factor. As with all my reviews, Part Two will focus on usability, user interface and user experience as it relates to pen inking and voice recognition.

The unit I'm reviewing is the OQO model 02 with Vista Business installed. It's amazing how much you can get done on the OQO with Vista installed without needing to use the keyboard or mouse. In fact, this entire review is being done using voice recognition only. Even my outlines and notes were dictated using voice recognition.

Pen Navigation

While the OQO offers a superb Thumbstick for navigation, I prefer to use the pen and the built-in tablet navigation features of Vista and Internet Explorer seven. First let me talk about why I prefer pen navigation to the built-in keyboard and Thumbstick. First, I can hold the unit naturally. To use the Thumbstick I have to have the screen in its up right or open position and I have to hold the unit a certain way: my right thumb must control the Thumbstick and my left thumb must control the left and right mouse buttons. As I mentioned in part one of this review holding the OQO in landscape mode is just not as easy as holding it in portrait mode. So by using a pen I can close the screen and hold the unit in any way that feels natural to me including not holding the unit at all like laying it down on a flat surface or on my lap.

The OQO sports an active digitizer vs. what is commonly known as a touchscreen or passive digitizer. A touch screen allows you to use anything including your finger to touch things on the screen, drag-and-drop, push buttons. The disadvantage of a touchscreen is that you have to actually drag your stylus or finger across the screen to move the cursor. Because a touch screen can't differentiate between a pen and a finger it also can't differentiate between your hand and your stylus. So, when writing on a touch screen you have to be very careful not to let your hand touch the screen. Otherwise the touch screen driver will get confused and think your hand is your pen and vice-versa and you'll end up with a muddled jumble of scribbles on the screen.

The OQO's active digitizer solves these problems. The OQO's digital pen emits a magnetic signal that the active digitizer can track and read. This means you can hover the pen about a half inch above the screen and the OQO will read it. Move the cursor on the screen by simply pointing with the pen tip without actually touching the screen. This is more natural because when you want to group select you can simply press the pen down on the screen draw a box around your selection and release the pen. Very natural and simple. It also means you can hover the pen above a button or control to bring up its tool tip. these behaviors are impossible with touch screens.

Vista has two builtin features: Pen Flicks, and Grab-and-Drag that when combined with the OQO's active digitizer make pen navigation natural and my preferred navigational method when untethered from the keyboard and mouse.

Pen Flicks allow you to do basic navigation like scroll up, scroll down, page back and page forward in the browser and edit commands like copy paste and undo by simply flicking the pen in a certain motion. For example, to page up in any document simply flick the pen in an upward motion. To page down, simply flick the pen in a downward motion. To page back in the browser, flick the pen to the left. The gestural motions are very intuitive, simple and execution is fast. It works much better than using the Thumbstick to move the cursor up to the back button or over to the scroll bars.

Both the Internet Explorer Seven and Outlook 2007 incorporate a great tablet feature called Grab-and-Drag. Here's how it works: You put Internet Explorer Seven or Outlook 2007 into Grab-and-Drag mode (by clicking a button). Now the cursor looks like a hand. When you press the pen down the hand grabs the page. You can now pan the page by simply moving the pen around.

Grab-and-Drag and Pen Flicks work well together. I use Pen Flicks to quickly get to a part of a scrollable view. Then I use Grab-and-Drag to fine tune my position. I may use Pen Flicks to quickly get to a paragraph at the end of a document and then use Grab-and-Drag to scroll the paragraph as I'm reading it. The two work seamlessly together and are very natural to invoke and use.

Occasionally I will use the OQO's builtin Thumbstick and mouse buttons the pen navigation with Pen Flicks and Grab-and-Drag feel more natural and comfortable and frankly is faster.

Handwriting Recognition

Handwriting recognition on the OQO model 02 can be smooth and very accurate but you have to know how to set things up correctly. The most important thing to remember is that speech recognition consumes lots of processing power. The Via C7 - M is incredibly good at power management. This means it steps down processing power whenever it can. Unfortunately handwriting recognition can suffer if the Via steps down the CPU and there aren't enough CPU cycles left for the handwriting recognizer. If the OQO's processor is anywhere between sixty percent and one hundred percent handwriting recognition accuracy is good. Anything under 60% and you're likely to see handwriting recognition errors.

There are two problems that occur when the processor is running at under 60%: First, the text input panel (T IP) is slow to start recognition. If you're not expecting this, you'll begin to write but the T IP won't show your digital ink. Thinking you've done something wrong, you'll probably go back and rewrite what you thought the TIP missed. Unfortunately, the TIP did not miss what you wrote it simply was lagging. Now, as you're rewriting the T IP tries to catch up with you and you end up with a jumbled mess that is generally misrecognized as a complete non sequitur.

A similar problem can creep up in the middle of writing in the TIP. Everything may be fine until a background service or process kicks in and the TIP is left with no CPU cycles. Suddenly, you run out of digital ink and quite naturally go back and rewrite what didn't show up. Once again, the TIP catches up with you when CPU cycles become available to it and you end up with a jumbled mess.

After some experimentation I found the 60% CPU threshold is a good minimum when running on battery power. Create your own power scheme and set the maximum CPU to 60% when running on batteries. Now you can disconnect and take notes in meetings to your heart's content.

The other thing you'll want to do when you get your OQO is disable the pen buttons on your Wacom pen. Why? Because you will inadvertently hit them while writing and trigger a right click. Dreadful. I've enabled the eraser mode so I can flip the pen upside down and scrub out mistakes like I would with a pencils eraser. Call me old school but 12 years and a public school and five years at an engineering school are hard to break.

Voice Recognition

I was fortunate enough to work at Apple's Human Interface Group, a part of the Advanced Technology Group awhile back. My team focused on speech recognition and synthesis so voice recognition is something that's near and dear to my heart. Back then I had a $14,000 DEC speech synthesizer that sounded like Colossus from the Forbin project and a dedicated speaker dependent voice recognizer box that was 10 times the size of the OQO and couldn't do dictation. Man, have things changed.

The speech recognizer in Vista is superb. It requires no training (although training will dramatically improve recognition) and is speaker independent.

It's amazing sitting here with no keyboard or mouse in front of me. As I mentioned before this entire review from start to finish has been done using only voice recognition. I find voice recognition is much faster and oftentimes more accurate than handwriting recognition; which is faster and more accurate than typing on the built-in keyboard on the OQO (at least for me).

Running voice recognition on the OQO will take between sixty percent and seventy percent of the CPU. You can use voice recognition in power saver mode, when the maximum CPU is set to 50%, but you will notice a slowdown in recognition. Accuracy will not be affected.

Do not attempt to use the OQO's built in microphone for speech recognition. It simply does not have the fidelity for good recognition. Go out and buy yourself a good USB microphone and you won't be sorry. I use the logic tech USB microphone -it's good quality and doesn't look too dorky.

To show you how big of a dork I really am, I also purchased NaturalReader 2007 a speech synthesis package for Vista. The $39.00 download adds toolbars to Outlook 2007, Word 2007 and Internet Explorer Seven that allows any text in those programs to be read aloud. Not terribly useful but comes in handy I want an Email or an RSS feed read to me while I'm working on something else.

What I'm really interested in are how alternate forms of input and output can enhance the ultra mobile experience. Keyboards and mice are great when you're sitting at a desk but the whole purpose of the ultramobile platform is to be mobile -in the field, on a factory floor, in a car. In these environments voice commands and dictation and speech synthesis could provide solutions for interesting new use cases.

Imagine a mechanical engineer in the field examining an oil pipeline. As the engineer examines the pipeline she enters her notes into a special application using dictation. A special language module helps the application recognize engineering terms specific to this task. The application accepts voice commands and responds with speech synthesis. Using WWAN, the engineer can pull up specs from the home office and have the application read those specs back to her, all while she's busy physically examining the pipeline. This use case demonstrates how an ultra mobile PC like the OQO combined with speech recognition and synthesis allows the user to perform computing tasks while engaged in a completely unrelated activity. In this case the OQO conforms and adapts to the user's environment to provide desktop application and functionality where none previously existed.


The OQO Model 02 provides a wealth of alternate input mechanisms and performs all of them admirably. Its active digitizer combined with pen flicks and Grab-and-drag is a natural and intuitive way of navigating. Vista's handwriting recognition is superb and the OQO's processor has no problems keeping up provided the CPU is throttled no less than 60%. One of the most exciting alternate input mechanisms is the promise that voice recognition holds with a device like the OQO. Ultra mobility means moving about and often times neither a pen nor the OQO's built-in keyboard are ideal input devices. As speech recognition and synthesis technologies advance it will be interesting to see the new use cases that arise out of ultramobile platforms like the OQO in the field.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

OQO Model 02 Review Part 1: Form Factor

Dimension and volume

  • OQO is the definition of "ultra-mobile"

The OQO model 02 is quite compact and small. It is less than half the size of my Samsung Q1 P and weighs about 50% less. This means the unit can be picked up as quickly as a mobile phone as you're heading out of the house. The OQO's size is one of the main reasons why I purchased the unit and I'm happy to say I'm actually carrying it around with me almost everywhere I go.

Is the OQO's ultra-mobility useful?

You bet. Here's an example of how size matters. The other day, I was called into an impromptu meeting. We met in an office where there was no network connectivity. There were 4 other people in the meeting, none of whom brought their laptops. During one part of the meeting we were reviewing a bug list for a software product. All of us were given printouts. The printouts did not contain all the needed information. Normally, the meeting would have adjourned but because I had my OQO with Sprint, I was able to log onto the VPN and bring up the detailed bug reports from the website. We breezed through the bugs, completed business and adjourned.

The fact of the matter is that people prefer not to carry around their laptops. They like to transport them from home and work and then back again but generally, once a laptop is docked, it stays docked until the next transport. My experience has been that the OQO's size makes it more likely for me carry it around at all times and that is when interesting use cases come up.

Construction quality

  • Quality craftsmanship
  • Solid and durable

The unit feels solid and durable. There is a high-quality of craftsmanship throughout - no cheap plastic here. The unit is tight. Gaps and tolerances are amazingly fine and consistent. The sliding mechanism on the screen just feels great. The magnesium alloy body hides scratches and blemishes very well. The screen comes with a pre installed screen protector, which is a nice touch. There are nice touches all around: from the elegantly designed cooling grids to the noticeable lack of "VIA Inside" , "Genuine Windows Vista" and "Windows Vista product key" stickers.


  • Large and bright
  • Extremely readable
  • Flush with no extraneous controls around screen
  • Very satisfying screen movement

I've gotta talk about the OQO's screen. I was skeptical about its size and quality even after reading rave reviews about the screen. I was coming from a 7 inch screen on the Samsung Q1P and that's a nice screen size. But surprisingly the 5 inch screen on the OQO's simply looks exceptional. It is bright and extremely readable. It's clear that you're dealing with a premium LCD screen. While text is naturally smaller on the 5 inch screen compared with 7 inch screen I can still comfortably read web pages with the OQO sitting on my lap.

Here's the second biggest reason why I bought the OQO: it sports a flush screen with no extraneous controls to disrupt handwriting. This means you have an exceptionally smooth and uncluttered surface on which to write which is critical in pen computing. One of the biggest problems I have with my Samsung Q1 P is its bevel and its pseudo joystick on the left. Being a left hander, I find myself hitting the pseudo joystick in the middle of writing and moving the cursor to a new insertion point or form field. This is not a problem on the OQO. Writing on the OQO is smooth, silky and just like writing on a 5 inch notepad.

The OQO sports an active digitizer versus a passive (a.k.a. touch screen) digitizer like the Q1P. I would take the active digitizer over the touch screen any day. If you pen a lot, you'll appreciate the active digitizer on the OQO. You can rest you hand on the screen without worrying about vectoring. This is more natural and comfortable during longer periods of note taking.

No integrated stands

  • No notebook mode

One thing I really like about my Samsung Q1p are the two stands integrated into the back of the unit. Samsung designed them in a way where they do not add any additional depth to the unit. There is an 80° stand for working with the Q1P as a notebook and a 20° stand for working in pen mode. In 20° mode, the Q1 lays almost flat on a desk but is propped up just slightly to make it easier to jot down notes. Perfect for meetings.

I don't find much need for a 20° stand on the OQO . Simply lay the unit down on a flat surface and write on it. It's no different than writing on a 5-inch note pad.

Would a 80° stand be useful for OQO? Yes. Without the dock, there is no easy way to use the OQO in notebook mode. You can carry around a cheap book stand (the kind found in Barnes and Noble) or you can purchase the Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard which has a stand that attaches to the keyboard. Either way, it's just another something to lose.

No integrated pen holder

  • Full-sized pen is easy to hold
  • The belt clip case does have a pen holder

Some people have a problem with the Tablet and Vista versions of the OQO not having an integrated pen holder. However, here's the tradeoff: The OQO's pen is a real pen, not a tiny, toothpick-like stylus. The designers at OQO could have integrated a slot for a tiny stylus but I think their decision not to is the right one. Having used the tiny stylus on the Samsung Q1, I can tell you writing with a full sized pen feels better. It is has better ergonomics and I tire less quickly. I would take a full sized pen over a pen holder. Besides, the belt clip case does have a pen holder and I believe this case ships with the XP Tablet PC edition of the OQO.


  • Easy, even natural to hold in portrait mode
  • Not-so-easy to hold in landscape mode (pen mode)
  • Difficult to hold when the power supply is connected
  • Nice keyboard and track stick

Most of the time I use the unit docked. When I do undock it, I generally use the pen as my primary mode of input and not the keyboard. This is faster and more comfortable for me.

I generally ink in portrait mode. I find the OQO's form factor ideal for portrait mode. I can easily hold the unit in one hand like a note pad and write with the other. In 800x480 mode, I have plenty of vertical space and Vista's auto-expanding TIP uses all that space as I need it. I never feel cramped and the bright, readable screen is easy on the eyes.

The vent placements also work for me. Holding the unit in my right hand, my thumb only partially covers the long intake on the right side. The exhaust vent on the left side is above my grip and so I never feel the exhaust.

Weight distribution in portrait mode is great. My hand does not tire and I do not feel a need to shift my grip.

Note taking in landscape mode is not as easy. The OQO's weight distribution makes it difficult to find a comfortable place to grip. There is no affordance on the unit to facilitate holding. While straight, clean lines are pretty and all, they are not ideal from an ergonomic standpoint.

Still, it is easier to hold the OQO in one hand than a larger 7 inch device. Larger devices have more weight hanging out beyond your grip which can create an uncomfortable leverage point on your wrist. This is not really a problem on the OQO.

There's been a lot of talk about the keyboard on the OQO - mainly praise for its improvements over the model 01. Having never used a model 01's keyboard I cannot attest to that. However, I can say that the quality of craftsmanship on the keyboard and thumbstick are superb. Truthfully, I hardly use the keyboard except for passwords and to change the screen brightness.

Speaking of screen brightness, it would have been nice if OQO included an on-screen menu to control commonly used functions like screen brightness and volume. The Samsung Q1 has such a menu that is easily accessible and I use it a lot. OQO, you listening?

Fan noise

  • Definitely noticeable
  • Only revs up when needed
  • Quiets down quickly
  • Can be managed

Let's face it: the law of thermodynamics is not working in the OQO's favor. Heat drops off by a power of 3, the further it moves out from its source. A small increase in this distance results in a significant reduction in heat. Conversely, a small decrease in the distance results in a significant increase in heat. While the VIA process is amazingly efficient (the C7-M has a maximum thermal design power (TDP) rating of something like 10 watts), its diminutive size confines even that little bit of heat into a very small space. Heat builds up quickly and so a fan is needed to push it out of the unit.

In any case, enough of basic thermodynamics. We're talking UMPCs here. The bottom line is this: The OQO is noisier than I would like. It is noisier than the Samsung Q1 by quite a bit. However, I am willing to live with it.

Firstly, the fan only revs up when needed. The moment the OQO can turn it down, it does. This results in brief bursts of higher fan speeds, usually when opening an application or when visiting (no kidding. Cnet needs to optimize their site. All that Flash and heavy DHTML consumes cpu cycles. Multiple those cpu cycles by the TDP of those processors times the number of people visiting Cnet and you get a lot of wasted wattage which is bad on the environment).

Anyways, I digress. The point is that the fan noise is not that bad really. Additionally, OQO has provided a nifty control panel that let's you adjust the fan for either performance (more noise) or silence (less performance). Find the value that's right for you. What I do is keep the slider right in the middle and then use Vista's power management to throttle back the cpu. When I really want it quiet, I go into Power Saver mode which throttles the cpu back to 50% and hushes the OQO down pretty quickly.


The OQO's form factor is ideal for my needs. It is small enough to carry around like a PDA but has a large enough screen to be readable and useful. Quality and craftsmanship are high. You would expect this given the premium price of the OQO. While the integrated keyboard is much improved over the model 01, I find inking more natural. Inking in portrait mode is the best I have seen. It's form factor is ideal for this. Fan noise can be a problem but generally the OQO does a good job of minimizing the amount of time the fan stays revved up. User control of the fan is a nice touch.

In Part Two of this review, I will dive into inking and using the OQO as a pen tablet.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

OQO Model O2 Review: Overview

There are plenty of great general and unboxing reviews of the OQO 02. This review will focus on usability, user interface and user experience aspects of the OQO 02. The review is broken down into 5 parts. Each part is a separate blog posting that will occur over the next couple weeks.

  • Form Factor: In this part of the review I talk about the physical characteristics of the OQO as they relate to usability. I'll also talk about the capacitive touch scrollers, the keyboard, thumbstick and docking dongle.

  • Pen Tablet: This part of the review will focus on the OQO's active digitizer and pen. I'll talk about what it's like to write on a 5 inch screen as well as how the OQO's VIA processor impacts handwriting recognition.

  • Desktop and Notebook Replacement: I'm using the 02 as my desktop replacement. I'll talk about what I do on a day to day basis and what my user experience is when using the 02 as a desktop replacement. Usage scenarios will include Flex development and daily usage of Microsoft Office 2007 (including OneNote 2007). I'll talk about power schemes, fan noise, CPU performance and share tips on how to get the most out of your 02.

  • 5-inch Use Cases: I'll talk about portability and compare 5-inch versus 7-inch usability and use cases. I'll share use cases that are unique to the 02.

  • Conclusion: I'll wrap up all my findings and give the OQO 02 a final score based on usability and user experience.

    If you have specific questions that you would like covered, please let me know. I'll be happy to factor those in.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When Size Matters

A recent poster asked why I chose to buy an OQO Model 02 over the Sony UX. I think the UX is an incredible micro-PC and Sony has done alot to promote microcomputing and UMPC's. However, the question is a fair one and I thought I'd bump up my response to this blog posting. When it comes to UMPC's, adding a fraction of an inch here and there really adds up. Read on...

The UX, while small is almost twice the volume of the OQO. At first blush it seems that the UX is roughly the same size as the OQO but in actuality it is not.

The UX dimensions are:5.91”(W) x 3.74”(H) x 1.27-1.50”(D)
The UX volume is:33.16 cubic inches
The weight of the UX is:1.2 lbs.

The OQO dimensions are:• size: 5.6"(W) x 3.3"(H) x 1.0"(D)
The OQO volume is:18.48 cubic inches
The weight of the OQO is:1 lbs.

As you can see here, the volume of the UX is 33.16 cubic inches and the OQO is 18.48 cubic inches. That's quite a bit smaller. It means that the OQO will literally fit in your pocket while the UX will not. Also, the UX weighs 20% more than the OQO.

These two factors add up. They make the UX quite mobile to be sure but not nearly as mobile as the OQO. I would not be apt to pick up the UX and just take it with me as I head out the door. While I would be with the OQO.

This is an important distinction that I think other UMPC manufacturers need to consider as they design their future UMPC form factors. If you're going to design something like the UX, you may as well scale up the screen to 7 inches like the Q1 because I'm not apt to carry it around anyways. I believe the OQO hit the right size to make the transition into a new category of mobile computing, which is why I believe it is currently the only UMPC that can address these ultra-mobile use cases.

Just my thinking though. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

OQO 02 Review Coming...

I have had my OQO since Saturday, about 3 days and will post a full review shortly. However, I wanted to let folks know that I am very happy with the OQO. It has delivered on its promise and met or exceeded all my expectations. It has been acting as my full-time desktop replacement (having replaced now my Samsung Q1p) for the last 3 days. I have no complaints.

I am pushing the OQO perhaps more than most users. I am a Flex developer and so my OQO is what I am doing all my development work on. That work means I am running a Flex server, and the Flex Builder Eclipse IDE for doing Flex compilations. It also means I am testing my Flex applications, known for taxing any CPU on the OQO. I have not been slowed down.

A couple quick observations (I don't want to give too much away):

  • I was really reticent about the fan noise. I am happy to report that my OQO and I have reached an understanding and fan noise is no longer a primary concern for me. I'll explain what settings I'm using to get the results I want in my full review.
  • I was really worried that the CPU wouldn't be powerful enough to carry out my daily workload demands. I was wrong.
  • I was unconvinced that I needed the built-in keyboard. I coming around to appreciate the presence of the keyboard and find myself using it more and more (I'm a pen person so this is a big deal!)
  • I was right that I would carry the unit with me more because of its diminuitive size. The OQO is truely pocketable, like no other UMPC on the market and that is quite exciting for me. I will share what new use cases I have run into in future postings.

So that's a quick synopsis of my 3 day experience with the OQO 02. I could not be more happy and I look forward to you guys sharing with me your use cases and experiences with the OQO and other UMPCs.

Friday, May 18, 2007

UMPC Triumphs over Pen and least this once today

I hit a milestone today. I actually chose my UMPC over a nearby pen and paper. I was at client's store today overseeing the beta-launch of a new order management system. The store manager was using the system and suddenly offered up a great idea for a UI change. My instinct was too quickly locate a pen and paper to jot the thought down. My eyes caught a pen across the cash wrap but there was no paper in site. There were a few receipts but I thought better of confiscating any of those. In the moment, I realized that it would be both faster and better if I simply brought the Q1 out of standby and jotted the notes down in OneNote. And that's exactly what I did.

The significance of this only hit me later. Here was a perfect example of how the UMPC actually won out over a tried and true method of note taking. It occured to me that in order to win this particular battle, the UMPC had to meet the following criteria:

  1. Physically, the Q1 had to be more readily available than a pen and paper.
  2. The Q1 had to adapt to my environment (e.g. I was standing in a crowded and busy cash wrap.)
  3. The Q1 had to snap on from standby quickly.
  4. A method of text entry had to be immediately available (OneNote's side note).
  5. Text recognition had to be accurate and speedy.

In previous times, one or all of the requirements would not have been available. Either the device would have been too large to have warranted my picking it up as I headed over to the store, or the text recognition would have been too inaccurate. For me however, today was the first time that all these elements came together to create a successful note taking experience.

There were some rough spots and I want to capture those now:

  1. The cash wrap area was small and the counters were full with merchandise. This necessitated that I hold the Q1 in one hand and write with the other. While the Q1 is small, it is a bit too large to accomplish this task naturally.
  2. Hibernation. While my Q1 was in standby it could have easily gone into hibernation mode in which case the resume time would have been too slow and this use case would have failed. Lesson learned: the UMPC should be aware of its environment and usage. For example, accelerometers could tell it that it is being held. HID drivers could determine if the pen has been used recently or is being used. The UMPC could then use this information to prevent itself from going into hibernation until it was placed down again for some amount of time.
  3. OneNote defaulted to ink mode and not recognition mode. When I selected a place on the note, the TIP did not appear. This setting should be user configurable.

I'd like to end the post with the benefits of the Tablet over Paper:

  1. Because the cash wrap was crowded and busy, it necessitated that I stand and write. I would have had a difficult time trying to write down any notes on a single sheet of paper while standing. The Q1, while a bit bulky was imminently usable while standing.
  2. Because I use OneNote to take all my notes, I now have all the benefits associated with the notes being digital: they are searchable, can be integrated with Outlook Todo tasks, filed and emailed easily.
  3. I saved a tree.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Inking in Vista

I'm looking forward to using ink on the OQO. Its smaller form factor (almost the size of a 3x5 notepad) and its completely flush screen will mean I can hold it in one hand while inking. Here are some other reasons to consider upgrading to Vista if you're a pen user on a passive-digitizing system like the Samsung Q1:

  • Personalized handwriting recognition.

  • Adaptive handwriting learning.

  • Floating Text Input Panel (TIP).

  • TIP-aware input fields.

  • Handwriting auto complete.

  • Double-click word correction.

  • Pen flicks.

  • Grab-n-drag in Internet Explorer

  • Dynamic visual feedback on pen actions.

  • Touch Pointer -Finger as an input device.

Personalized Handwriting Recognition

The handwriting recognition in XP Tablet Edition is very good. The handwriting recognition in Vista is better. I find that it makes less mistakes and makes what appears to be more intelligent choices in its recognition based on what I'm writing. For example, it knows when I'm entering in a web address and looks for things like .com and .net. When I start writing a number, it knows to consider numbers as likely follow-on characters. It recognizes patterns in numbers as well, for example phone numbers. Vista includes control panel options for teaching it how you write. You can train Vista to learn that you put a slash through your zeros for example but never dot your I's.

Adaptive Handwriting Learning

Coupled with a better handwriting recognition engine, Vista employs an adaptive learning system. This means that it learns how you write, as you write. You don't need to train it. I am notorious for forgetting to cross my T's. At first, Vista misrecognized when I didn't cross my T's. Now, it has learned to expect it and generally correctly recognizes words even when I don't cross my T's. The end result is a natural interaction with the tablet, one where both the user and the device adapt to each other.

Floating Text Input Panel

By default, Vista now docks the TIP at the left edge of the screen. This is nice because the TIP is out of the way yet always available, even when an application is in full screen mode (like OneNote). The user simply clicks on the tab and the TIP flys out from the edge like a roll of paper. Click the close button and it flys back to its docked position. There is a nifty feature in Vista that allows you to selectively hide the TIP when you're not in pen mode (like when your UMPC is docked on your desk). Should you pick up the pen, the TIP magically appears, docked and ready. Pretty slick. I like this feature because it solves one of the problems with XP. In XP, you have to click the TIP icon in the task bar to explicitly open it. This means you have to exit full screen mode to open the TIP. When in pen mode, this explicit exiting of full screen mode, clicking the TIP icon in the task bar and resuming full screen mode bogs down the experience. Vista has elegantly solved this problem.

The floating TIP also means that it can expand as you're writing in it. In XP Tablet Edition, the TIP is always docked at the top or bottom of the screen. Once you fill up a line in the TIP, you have to insert it and then start a new line. In Vista, the TIP automatically grows, adding new lines as you approach the end of the current line. The TIP will add as many lines as will fit on the screen. This improves and streamlines the text inputting experience.

TIP-aware Input Fields

Click in any text input or text area control in Vista and a little TIP icon pops up next to the field. Clicking the icon automatically opens the TIP. In XP Tablet Edition, you have to either leave the TIP open at the top or bottom of the screen at all times, taking up precious screen real estate, or you have to explicitly click the TIP icon in the task bar and then put the cursor into the text input control. Eliminating both these requirements in Vista further streamlines the inking experience to the point where inking is natural and unobtrusive.

Handwriting Auto-complete

Probably one of the best features in Vista. Just like when you type into a field, as you begin writing in a field, Vista will pop up a menu with what it thinks you are trying to type, based on what you've typed before. You can either ignore the list or if what you're writing is already there, select it and be on your way. What a time saver and another example of how inking is integrated into the Vista experience.

Double-click Word Correction

Another important advancement in Vista. Anything that's been converted to typed text can be double clicked (or tapped) and Vista will pop up all the alternate words that it recognized for your handwriting. This allows you to keep on taking notes without worrying about correcting errors. When you get a chance, simply go to a misrecognized word and double click it. Generally, the word you intended is presented. Vista will now learn from its mistakes and try not to misrecognize that word later. Coolness.

Pen Flicks

Pen flicks are pen gestures that basically assign an action to a pen motion. For example, flick the pen in an upward motion on the screen and Vista will page the document down, almost like you're flicking the page itself up. Flick the pen left and you'll page back in the browser. Flick it right and your go forward. Pen flicks also allow you to do common tasks like copy, cut and paste using gestures. Pen flicks works not just in IE but any Windows application. They are another example of how Vista treats the pen as a true interface device. The basic thinking is, once you have the pen in hand, navigating and basic commands should be executable via the pen, much as they are via a mouse or keyboard.

Grab-n-Drag in Internet Explorer

IE 7 has a grab-n-drag mode that lets you use the pen to drag a page around. Imagine laying an open newspaper down flat on the kitchen table, then sliding it around under you with your hand. Grab-n-drag works the same way. It is very intuitive and is my preferred way or scrolling content around on a page. In combination with pen flicks, you can quickly page up or down to a part of a large document using flicks and then use grab-n-drag to fine tune your location within the content.

Dynamic Visual Feedback on Pen Actions

Unlike a mouse, a pen on a passive digitizing system like the Q1 does not have buttons. So, the operating system doesn't have an explicit way of knowing what a right click is. To solve this problem, Windows by default maps the right click to pressing and holding the pen down on the screen. There are several problems with this approach. First, no one can hold the pen completely still while doing this, so the OS has to give you some leeway for a jittery cursor as your pressing down. Jitter too much however and the OS will cancel the right click operation. Second, a certain amount of time has to pass after you press down (and while you're jittering a little bit) for the system to know that you're right clicking and not just pressing the pen down to draw or write. In XP Tablet Edition these two problems can bite you because it does not provide any feedback for how it is interpreting your actions. You simply press the pen down and if after a few seconds the context menu doesn't show up you assume it didn't work and you try again. Vista solves this problem by providing visual cues for things like right clicking. When you right click in Vista, an animated circle appears under your cursor. As you hold it there, the animated cursor draws itself out in a clock-wise motion. When the animation completes a full circle, the double click is recognized. As simple as it seems, this visual cue improves right click accuracy and provides feedback for a right-click failure. Very nice.

Touch Pointer -Finger as an Input Device

Vista also recognizes that our chubby little fingers are also input devices. While it is natural to point and gesture with the finger, it is difficult on small screens to accurately interact with on-screen controls like buttons and links. Vista has made a novel attempt at trying to solve this problem and as a UI designer I give them credit. The Touch Pointer mode in Vista (which is on by default) presents a mouse affordance proxy whenever you touch the screen. This touch pointer has two parts: a cross hair and a mouse affordance proxy that you use to drag the pointer around. So how you use it is: you point to the button on the screen. If you didn't hit it, the touch pointer appears and you simply drag the cross hairs over the button by dragging the mouse affordance proxy with you finger. Then you click the affordance proxy for the mouse button which is turn clicks the button under the cross hairs. It sounds complex but it is dead simple and quite useful.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Response to a PC Magazine Editorial on UMPCs

Michael J. Miller, former Editor-in-Chief at PC Magazine recently wrote a blog entitled "Where an Ultra Mobile PC May Make Sense". In it he talks about his hands on experience with the new Samsung Q1 Ultra ultra mobile PC and how the unit with its smallish keys could not replace his notebook. The following is my response to his article.

I see your point but wanted to point out that the Samsung Q1 can easily be converted into a notebook pc in a matter of seconds using their organizer pack. I have one and use mine in this way all the time. A usage scenario goes something like this:

I get up in the morning and my Q1 is already connected to my 20inch Sony monitor. My bluetooth keyboard and mouse are automatically paired to the device when in range. I do my morning routine, check my email, my blog. Then I pack up my Q1 into its organizer case and head to a client. At the client, I simply open the organizer case and my Q1 is now a laptop. The case has a stand and keyboard built in. Later in the morning, I have a meeting at the client. I pop the Q1 out of the organizer case and head into the meeting. I take my notes unobtrusively using a pen with the Q1 resting on my leg. It is comfortable, quiet and natural. After the meeting, I head back to my moteling cube and pop the Q1 back into the organizer and resume my work. When I get home, I take the Q1 out of the case, plug in the monitor and I'm back to my desktop configuration.

I do this almost everyday. I use my Q1 as my desktop and notebook replacements and have the added ability of an ultra mobile tablet pc. This convergence has simplified my life: I don't have to keep files in sync and all of my files are with me all the time. I think as the technology matures, we will see the processing power and battery life of UMPCs increase dramatically. This will allow them to meet the needs of more people.

I'm pretty convinced that UMPCs are the way of the future, but hey I also bought the first Mac Luggable (weighing in at 16lbs.) and couldn't understand why people didn't get it!

Friday, May 4, 2007

The OQO 02 Represents a Tidal Shift in Computing

I don't think I have ever been this excited about a product...ever. Well, maybe that R2D2 remote control robot that I hounded my parents for for Christmas back in 1980 comes close. But those were the foolish antics of a child. I'm now a grown man yet acting like a child waiting for Christmas to arrive. Why?

There are a lot of reasons: It's sexy. It's cool. It's beautiful, no doubt. But the biggest reason is because it represents a tidal shift in computing and tidal shifts don't happen that often.

The computer industry has seen one other such shift and that was in 1984 when Apple introduced the first Mac. Remember that Super Bowl ad when the Mac was first introduced? The Mac ushered in an incredible change to the nascent consumer-oriented computer market. The excitement that the first Macintosh created back in 1984 was unique because it changed how we think about computers and how we relate to them. The computer was no longer for geeks and hobbyists. It was about fun and how everyday people could use one.

In the years since 1984 I haven't experienced anything remotely similar to the charge of excitement I felt when the original Mac rolled out. Yeah, we had the IBM Peanut (don't tell me you don't remember the Peanut). Yeah, we had the first Mac Luggable (the 16lbs. behemoth pictured at right that I still have tucked away in my garage). Yeah, we had the Palm. But nothing, not even from Apple has come close to that original excitement.

But I'm telling you that the OQO Model 02 is giving me that same level of excitement. It is exciting because the OQO represents that rare and significant shift that only occurs once every 20 years or so. The OQO model 02 is changing how we view and relate and ultimately how we're going to use computers. To date, we have been tethered to the desk. Our entire computing experience confined to the the desktop on which our monitor and/or laptop rests. Yes, the laptop is transportable but only from one flat surface to another. It is not mobile.

Our computing experience has not really changed since the first PC was introduced in 1981. 1981. 26 years ago. It has been 26 years that we have been tethered to the desk. Longer if you consider the first Apple and the Elf build-it-yourself kits. 26 years of innovation, yes. 26 years of incremental improvement, to be sure. But it's been 26 years focused on a singular computer use case: sitting at your desk.

Now along comes the OQO: A full featured, connected desktop computer, that fits in the palm of my hand. The OQO is the first desktop computer that I can literally pick up like a mobile phone and go on my way. The OQO isn't just transportable, it is ultra mobile. Its diminutive size means I can carry it with me all the time. I can have my entire desktop with me all the time. All my work files. All my media. All my email. All my contacts. All my client data. All my software. All my bookmarks. My entire computing experience is with me all the time. Having your entire computing experience with you all the time opens up exciting new use cases for computing. These are use cases that we have never seen and that have never been possible until today and that is exciting. Imagine how everyday things, things we take for granted, change...

" That presentation file isn't on my Blackberry and my co-worker really needs it right now to close the deal. I wish I were back at the office." No problem, you have your desktop PC and all your documents right there in your pocket. Find the file, edit it if you need to and send it right from your OQO. Isn't it nice not having to remember to sync?

"Oh no, the client called and said their servers went down. I better rush back to the operations center to restart them." Or, I can open a remote server terminal window on my OQO and login into the servers directly and take care of the problem.

"I'm going to be fired. I have a Skype call with those investors in 3 minutes and I'm stuck in traffic because that tanker truck hit the overpass and melted it and now I have to take this ridiculous detour." Thank God you can Skype in from your OQO and no one will know the wiser.

"Are you enjoying the Salmon darling? Hold on... What's that? What do you mean I checked in the wrong file and now the site is displaying pictures of the release party?!" Good thing you have your OQO and your entire development environment right in the palm of your hand. Comment out that easter egg line, recompile and repost right from the OQO then it's back to Salmon with wasabi ginger sauce.

I think you get the picture. The significance of this anytime/anywhere computing is so monumental (and I don't use that word lightly) that it is almost impossible to foresee all its implications. These examples only show how a small form factor device like the OQO will radically change the ways we already use the PC. The ultramobility of these devices will also usher in entirely new use cases for PC computing. New applications. New user interfaces. New computing experiences are waiting to be discovered.

What does it mean to our productivity, our interactions, how we work, play, socialize, entertain, relax when the PC is with you all the time. Think about how much time we spend behind our monitors now. How will those experiences change? What is the next killer app for these devices (and believe me there is one waiting to be discovered)? These questions excite me and for the first time, I (almost) have the product in my hands that will allow me to explore them.

Why am I so excited about my OQO? Because I can't wait for the future to arrive. The chance to be that guy who fixes the website and averts a crisis while at Aqua. Who restarts a downed server for the client while at the bookstore. Who forwards the presentation and saves the account while at the movies. Who wouldn't be excited to be that guy?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Broke Down… Ordered the OQO 02

After some deliberation I decided to break down and buy an OQO model 02.

Now I know, I just bought my Samsung Q1… actually, between the last blog posting and this one, I purchased another Samsung Q1 but this time the Q1p which is the upgraded Pentium M processor and memory (I gave my original Q1 to my sister). In any event, I love my Q1p. Really, it is a desktop and laptop replacement and I couldn't possible hope for anything better.

So why did I buy the OQO 02? Well, for one thing I had to. The thing is just too sexy. Another reason is that… oh forget it. There is no other reason. I won't pretend to have some "really good reason" for buying something so expensive after I have just purchased another something that was a little less expensive to replace an original spur of the moment purchase of something expensive that I didn't need.

The end result is that it will be arriving sometime in the next two weeks, provided OQO meets the scheduled and promised dates to get Vista-fied OQO's out the door next week. And, this lead me to the main thrust of the posting: Given that I'm now committed to the OQO, how do I hope to use it and what does it mean to this brave new world of UMPC's?

Believe it or not I waffled for days back and forth on weather to purchase the OQO. I mean, I have an almost perfect setup now with the Samsung Q1p.


The purpose of the UMPC initiative is to make computing ULTRA mobile and while the Q1p is very mobile, the OQO is half the size of the Q1p and theoretically should be that much more mobile.

By "more mobile" I mean that the thing is small enough to put in your pocket or drop in your man-purse. The Q1p just isn't that small so while I can easily carry it around the office or the house, I'm not apt to just grab it like my mobile phone when I go out. With the OQO this will theoretically happen… we'll see. If it does happen, then new use cases should pop out of the added mobility. I'm interested in these use cases and the implications they have on the hardware design of UMPCs as well as the software/solutions that might reveal themselves.

That's my first great interest.

My second interest with the OQO centers on user input: its keyboard and the active digitizer on its 5 inch screen. First on keyboards. There are two camps out there in the UMPC universe. One adheres to the strict mantra that UMPC's should be keyboardless (I'm an adherent of this camp). We believe that handwriting recognition is required and that any UMPC with a keyboard is nothing more than a smaller laptop or a glorified Blackberry/PDA in the case of the thumbboard. The other camp, the side that is wrong, believes the opposite: that all UMPC's should have keyboards or at least thumbboards. I won't try to make their argument here because I haven't bothered to try to understand it although it appears that they may be winning given that the new Samsung Q1 Ultra ultra mobile PC (that's the real name) will ship very soon and it has a split thumbboard on either side of the unit, kind of like wings. There are a lot of arguments on both sides and I won't go into the details here but I figured I should try the OQO with its keyboard/thumbboard just so I can say I own one and clobber the opposing camp with the "see, I own both and I can tell you definitively that you are wrong" argument. No one in their right mind will believe that a sane person would drop over 2 grand to acquire a gadget just to say they own one to win an argument. Brilliant.

Regarding the active digitizer and the 5 inch screen that the OQO sports: I am curious as to the ideal size of a UMPC's screen. The Samsung Q1 has a 7 inch passive digitized LCD screen. I find that screen works for me when I'm not using the Q1p with an external monitor. I can view full web pages, work on Word documents and do most of my office productivity work without considerable eye strain or unnecessary scrolling about. Will reducing the screen size to 5 inches be too small? Ah, that's the question. I don't have an answer right now however there are enough reviews out there that are praising the screen on the OQO and claim that the software interpolation it uses to scale graphics up to 1024x600 is very good and quite usable. We'll see.

Active vs. passive digitizing - another war zone. I have not taken a side here yet. For those in need of a refresher course, the Samsung Q1 uses a passive or "touch" screen. This means that anything from a pen to your elbow will work on the screen. The disadvantage is that anything from a pen to your hand will also potentially screw up handwriting recognition. Because passive digitizers don't care what touches them, you can do cool things like use your finger to point and click and drag and drop. It's a cool feature. However, that same inability to distinguish your finger from a pen means that you have to be careful when you're writing to ensure that your hand doesn't touch the screen as you're writing. Otherwise, the digitizer gets confused and starts to scribble, wildly interpreting between your pen tip and the pressure points created by your hand dragging across the screen. Needless to say handwriting recognition starts to get pretty creative with its misinterpretations at this point.

Active digitizers like that found on the OQO take care of this problem by requiring a special pen to be used when writing on the screen. This magic pen is recognized by the digitizer. It uses a magnetic field to tell the digitizer when it is close to the screen (like hovering the cursor above a button) and when it is pressed down on the screen. This means that unless your finger is generating a magnetic field, it and no other object will be recognized as an input device. Drag your hand across the screen to your heart's content while writing - the digitizer will not get confused and subsequently will not misinterpret your handwriting. Nifty. Of course the drawback to active digitizers is that since your finger isn't putting out a magnetic field, you cannot point and navigate with just your finger. The digitizer won't recognize it. Nothing will happen except you'll smudge your screen.

So I'm interested in better understanding the trade offs between these two technologies. From a user experience perspective is an active digitizer better than a passive digitizer? I don't know but I'm sure I'll form an opinion after using the OQO for awhile.

And that's it. I purchased my third UMPC but I think the purchase will yield interesting use cases and answer some important questions that are still being debated about UMPC's. Also, the OQO 02 is currently the only UMPC on the market that is truly ultra mobile (in the sense that you can just pick it up and go). I'm interested in seeing how that added mobility affects my computer usage.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you on this blog.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

i'm a umpc convert...

From a recent post I made at about an article they wrote on "Why You'll Never Buy a UMPC":

granted, i am a technophile but i converted to the umpc for a couple reasons.first, i want to simplify my life. i used to have a desktop pc. i got rid of it for a laptop. the laptop performed all the tasks i needed but gave me the ability to transport my computing needs when and where i desired. the laptop was a transportable desktop. granted, the laptop didn't have the power and expandability of a desktop but the ability to move from location to lcoation trumped those benefits of a dedicated desktop. for gameplaying, i purchased an xbox 360 and suddenly there really was no need for a desktop. i replaced my vaio latop recently for a samsung q1p and have not regretted it. the samsung q1p while not as powerful as my laptop does meet at my daily computing needs just fine and does it in a smaller, more mobile package. i have the q1p connected to my 20in sony lcd monitor. i use a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and so i have basically a desktop system in a package the size of a paperback. when i need to go to a client's office, i have pop the umpc into its leather case and go. 5 seconds. i now have a laptop as the leather organizer case has an integrated keyboard. at the client, i pop the q1p out of the organizer and take it into meetings. i take handwritten notes quickly and efficiently. when i get back to my desk at the client's office, i put the q1p back into the organizer case and use it as a laptop. so the q1p has now simplified my life by acting as my desktop, laptop and ultra mobile pen based computer. all in a smaller and lighter package.

second (and i realize this is going to sound strange but it's important to me) i am on a quest to eliminate noise from my computing experience. i hate noise that eminates from technology. i work at my home office and it's quite peaceful and quiet. i spend a lot of time on my computer. the fan noise from a desktop annoys me to no end. it's constant hum continually demands attention and let's you know "hey! i'm a computer and am comsuming lots of power. so much in fact that i need this enormous fan to cool down my cpu!". i researched a lot of laptops and settled on a sony vaio b/c it had dual cores that ran cooler and a smart power management system that controlled (and allowed the user to control) the fan speed. this greatly cut down on the ambient noise of computing. however... when the fan did kick on it could be noisey. my umpc is virtually silent all the time. when the fan does kick on it is brief and quiet and doesn't remind me that my electric meter is spinning out of control.

and that brings me to my third point (which is also questionable and will cause you to roll your eyes): power consumption and the environment. i want to do whatever i can to reduce my carbon signature on the environment. i drive a hybrid, buy only the highest rated energy star appliances and have switched all my light bulbs out for fluorenscent bulbs. an extreme, i know. in any case the power footprint of a umpc is something like an order or two or three *magnitude* difference in power requirements. my umpc has a thermal rating of something like 5 watts of power. my desktop pc had a tdp of something like 95 watts. that's a big difference that was actually reflected in my power bill which dropped significantly after i replaced my desktop pc. i like the fact that i'm using technology that has significantly reduce my daily power consumption.

i've been ranting here for awhile so i'll stop with this last point: mobility. i know, a lot of people will say that a laptop is just as mobile as a umpc but my experience has been that it is not. not nearly. think about it. a laptop has a unique design that requires it to sit open with the keyboard on a flat surface and the monitor flipped up. this means that while you can transport the thing around you are really just moving from one flat surface to another. you cannot easily use a laptop while standing or while laying on the couch or in the car or while walking about. the laptop is transportable but not truly mobile. the umpc on the other hand is both transportable and mobile. because it has no keyboard you can hold it in one hand. you can stand and use it, lie on the couch and use it, walk and use it. these things sound trivial but once you are unteathered from the desktop or table you'll find that you use the umpc more - at least i do. i enjoy actually writing in my own handwriting my blog while reclined comfortably on the couch. in the morning i drink my coffee in the kitchen while reading the news in one hand. it's natural and convenient. i don't have to drag my coffee up to my office and sit at my desk to get my morning started. the screen is not so small that it is unusable and not so big that it is unmobile. its form factor meets the needs of a new generation of mobile computing that i think people will embrace because it is where we are heading.

i believe the umpc will replace the notebook in the long term. as processors reduce in size and increase in performance and other technologies like samsung's new led screens reduce power requirements and battery technology improves, we'll find that umpcs can do everything that we need them to so and give us the benefits of truly mobile computing. current generation umpcs are just the start but if they are any indication of where things are headed then i think computing is heading in the right direction.

just my 1.5 cents.

cheers everyone,


Sunday, March 11, 2007

RitePen Does Me Wrong

This is not a rant against EverNote's RitePen. EverNote is a great company that makes great products (including RitePen). This is an essay about user interfaces and UMPC's and what solutions work best and when. In case you've never used RitePen it is a simple utility that allows you to ink anywhere on the screen at any time and then automatically converts that ink to text. For anyone who has used a browser on a UMPC this potentially solves a glaring problem: inputting text into fields.

Setting up the use case: Because the screen real estate on a UMPC is mere precious than a home with a yard in San Francisco, I always surf in full screen mode.

Knowing this, here's the out of the box experience you'll go through to surf to a page:

  1. Hit F11 to exit full screen mode.
  2. Click the TIP icon in the task bar.
  3. Put the cursor focus into the URL text field.
  4. Enter a URL in TIP and hit enter.
  5. Close the TIP.
  6. Hit F11 to enter full screen mode again.

Now some will say that I should simply keep the TIP open and the screen out of full-screen at all times but this results in about 75% of the screen taken up by the TIP, browser title bar, menu bar, command bar and status bar and leaves only 25% of the screen for actual content. Not acceptable. So here's where RitePen can clear things up.

Remember that RitePen allows me to ink anywhere on the screen at anytime and automatically converts the ink strokes to text. This means the RitePen experience should ideally go something like this (remember we're already in full-screen mode):

  1. Put the cursor focus into the URL text field.
  2. Write the URL directly on the screen using RitePen's digital ink. RitePen converts the ink to text and automatically inserts the text into the URL field.
  3. Write the enter key gesture directly on the screen to start the search.

This is a much better user experience. It permits us to remain in full-screen mode and eliminate 3 steps. Basically, the RitePen use case follows the same steps we'd follow if we entered the URL using a standard keyboard for input. Only we are inking instead of typing. This is desirable from a use interface perspective.

So how did RitePen do me wrong? As they say "God is in the details" In this case the details are found in how RitePen handles errors in recognition which unfortunately I find happens more often than using the built-in TIP recognizer . The real use case went something like this:

  • Put the cursor focus into the URL text field.
  • Write the URL directly on the screen using RitePen's digital ink. RitePen converts the ink to text and automatically inserts the text into the URL field.
  • The recognized text is incorrect. A floating correction window appears with a list of alternate spellings none of which is what you wrote.
  • As you try to find the correct word from the list the popup window fades away into oblivion...
  • You are left with the incorrect URL in the URL text field so you highlight the text and write the URL again on the screen only to find it is misrecognized again but in a different way.
  • You exit full-screen mode.
  • Turnoff RitePen in the task bar.
  • Click the TIP icon in task bar to open the TIP.
  • Enter the URL and hit enter.
  • Close the TIP.
  • Enter full-screen.

The problem with RitePen is with its correction window which pops up after every recognition. Unlike TIP, there is no correcting along the way. With RitePen you write everything on the screen in one fell swoop and then pray to the recognition gods that it comes back correct. If it doesn't you're going to have to struggle with using their popup correction window.

Problems with the correction popup: First it cuts away too quickly. While this is adjustable I found it difficult to strike a balance between staying on screen long enough to click it and "pin" it down when I need it and short enough to not be a nuisance when no correction is needed. Second, it is difficult to add a delete characters. Correcting an individual character is easy but it is frustratingly difficult to add or delete a letter at the end of the word or phrase and almost impossible to do so in the middle of a word. These limitations mean you'll find yourself closing RitePen's correction window and simply trying it again or using the TIP.

The moral of the story is this: If RitePen's recognition were better you would have a great user experience... but it isn't and their correction implementation is seriously flawed leaving us with a worse use case then simply sticking with the built-in TIP.

In my next posting Ill share the ideal solution I've found for entering text in a browser.