An office in your pocket
GCN Lab Test: Tiny but full-featured OQO runs a full operating system
- By Michelle S. Haase
- Oct 07, 2007
NICE TYPE: The OQO's screen slides up to reveal the thumb keyboard, with a track stick on the right and mouse-click buttons on the left.
The new OQO model 02 ultramobile PC would look at home in a piano bar. We almost thought we heard jazz wafting out of the box when we opened it.
This model, the successor to the model 01+, has had a major design overhaul. The company traded in the gunmetal-gray color for black, and also rounded the left and right sides for a sleek, sophisticated look. Even the air vents look cool: Instead of a standard mesh grate, the vent covers are circles of varying sizes, making them look futuristic.
The OQO is special because it's a tiny, one-pound device that is nevertheless a full-featured PC, running full versions of Microsoft Windows XP or Vista.
That differentiates it from similar-sized portable computers on the market, which generally run abbreviated operating systems and don't contain all of the features of a PC or laptop.
Our test unit came loaded with Windows XP and featured a 1.6 GHz VIA C7M ultralow-voltage processor, 32G solid-state disk (SSD), 1G of memory and wireless wide-area network connectivity through Verizon Wireless. Sprint service is also available. It uses the integrated Evolution-Data Optimized modem.
The SSD option offers better protection against bumps and falls than a conventional hard drive because SSDs contain no moving parts. What's more, they contain their own CPUs to manage data storage so they are also faster. At this time, 32G is the largest SSD commonly available.
But if you need more storage space and prefer a conventional hard drive, OQO offers them in several sizes up to 120G. These drives are shock-mounted and include drop-detect technology that parks the drive when the unit enters a free fall.
We loved the WAN connectivity that tapped into Verizon's cell phone network. It allowed us to connect to the Internet from virtually anywhere, rather than having to stay tethered to hot spots. The trade-off is that Web pages take, on average, several seconds to load, but the delay isn't enough to significantly interfere with workflow.
The model 02 offers several other wireless options as well, including 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0.
The OQO is 5.6 inches long, 3.3 inches high and one inch thick. It looks like a personal digital assistant on steroids and features a magnesium-alloy case to help protect the computer from damage.
The 5-inch screen is digitized so you can use the model 02 like a tablet PC ' if you order the $29 optional digital pen. The pen is included if you order the system with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, but we think it's a little stingy not to bundle it with other versions because the screen is digitized anyway.
We really liked the horizontal and vertical capacitive TouchScrollers located at the bottom right corner of the screen. They allow you to scroll by simply sliding your finger over them, so you can read documents or Web pages while in tablet mode.
When you do need a keyboard, the screen simply slides up to reveal it. It's clear the OQO engineers thought about real-world use when they designed this thumb keyboard. There is a track stick on the right and mouse-click buttons on the left, so you can move the mouse pointer with your right thumb and quickly click with your left.
In response to customer feedback, the model 02 features a keyboard backlight and zoom-in and zoom-out buttons, which are great to have when working with a screen this size. The only small hitch is the TouchScrollers don't work as well when the screen is zoomed in. However, the track-stick and arrow keys are not affected.
The screen is bright and clear at its 800x 480 native resolution, but the shiny, built-in screen protector creates quite a glare in bright light. The model 02 features an internal speaker and microphone, a Kensington lock, one USB 2.0 port, an audio jack and a cutting-edge High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port.
HDMI is an all-digital audio and video interface that allows you to connect any audio or video source to an audio or video monitor with just one cable. It supports standard, enhanced and high-definition video in addition to multichannel digital audio on a single cable. In the case of the OQO, you can use the HDMI cable to connect the unit to, say, a high-definition TV.
The model 02 also includes a dongle that plugs into the HDMI port. The dongle features an HDMI port, VGA port and Ethernet port. With the dongle in place you can connect the OQO to a VGA monitor and a Digital Visual Interface (DVI) monitor simultaneously.
Government users will be glad to know that the model 02 includes a hardware-based security engine that offers embedded Advanced Encryption Standard protection and a secure hash algorithm.
Our review unit came with the $399 docking station, which boasts one of the most clever ' and good-looking ' designs we've seen. The base is essentially the optical drive with ports on it. It's shiny black, like patent leather, and can fold flat for easy portability.
A curved metal arm rotates upward from the side of the base and connects to a cradle into which the model 02 fits. The cradle also rotates on the arm, so you can position the OQO at varying heights and at any angle you wish.
The base features one USB port on the front and two on the back, an HDMI port, VGA port, Ethernet port, audio jack and Kensington lock. Like the OQO, the docking station supports simultaneous output to one VGA and one DVI monitor. Our docking station featured a DVD+-RW/RAM Dual Layer drive. The company also offers a docking station with a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive for $299.
The OQO's standard, two-cell battery lasted just an hour and 20 minutes in our worst-case scenario battery testing, but it should perform much better in normal use. OQO rates the battery at three hours, so typical users should see performance somewhere in between. The optional four-cell extended battery lasted two hours and 48 minutes.
The system scored a 142 on the PassMark benchmark test, which is low, but not surprising considering the small size of this computer. Customers who buy the OQO are looking for portability over performance. In comparison, the convertible tablet PCs we recently tested scored between 250 and 450.
We were impressed with the amount of features and new technology OQO managed to pack into this tiny PC. Even the docking station is small and portable. You won't get laptop-like performance or battery life, but for users who need a full PC that can fit in a pocket, the trade-off is well worth it.