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Summary:

The past couple of weeks I’ve been really missing the Sony U71 (don’t worry Ron, I’m not going to ask for it back).  I have spent quite some time trying to figure out why, after all I have no shortage of cool gadgets to play with […]

Sony_u71_handheldThe past couple of weeks I’ve been really missing the Sony U71 (don’t worry Ron, I’m not going to ask for it back).  I have spent quite some time trying to figure out why, after all I have no shortage of cool gadgets to play with use productively.  I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing more useful for me than the ability to pick up a device in my hand, head out the door and still have a complete computer to do anything I might need to do while I am running around.  That need was filled very well by the Sony U and I miss that portability.  I find that even UMPCs are too big for that kind of mobility, I really need a handheld device.  Based on my thinking I have been looking around to see what device(s) are out there currently that might work.  Sadly, I haven’t found any.

It is kind of funny that I can’t find the handheld device I want given all the diversity in the mobile PC world right now.  We have UMPCs of all shapes and sizes, from the standard 7-inch screen models down to the diminitive OQO.  The bigger devices are too big for the kind of mobility I am referring to.  I really want a device that will fit in one hand for ease of mobility and use.  Standard sized UMPCs just aren’t mobile enough for me.  After a lot of thinking about this I decided to list what I want in such a device:

  • fit in one hand for usage
  • screen size around 5 inches
  • resolution of at least 800×600 (depends on screen size)
  • full Tablet OS (XP or Vista)
  • good buttons and controls on the front of the device optimized for hand usage
  • rotatable screen
  • at least 1 GB of RAM
  • at least 60 GB hard drive
  • good processor power
  • decent touch screen that works well with inking
  • integrated 3G (EVDO preferable)
  • Bluetooth for use with peripherals (keyboards, etc.)
  • WiFi of course
  • dockable for use on a desktop

I look at this list and it seems to me that this shouldn’t be so hard to find but my investigation proves otherwise.  Every handheld device I’ve examined falls short, sometimes woefully so, in one or more key areas.  Let’s look at the current choices:

Sony UX- I used one of these for a while and I found the integrated keyboard to be near useless.  I also had trouble using the screen with the extended resolution (1024×600) as I found prolonged use to be tiring.  Too bad because it fits nearly all other criteria with the exception of the Tablet bits.

OQO Model 02- the OQO has a nice keyboard but I think the lack of a touch screen would make this handheld less convenient to use.  It’s pretty pricey too, although that’s not on my list.  I have been playing in the handheld realm long enough to realize that you have to pay to play.

Digital Raon Everun- this innovative device comes as close as any to meeting my criteria.  Unfortunately, until a Vista version ships there is no Tablet functionality which is important to me.

Nokia N800- I include the N800 even though it’s not really a PC because it delivers a lot of the functionality on the list.  I do feel I need a real PC so I can do anything that I might need to do on the fly and the N800 just doesn’t deliver.

Fujitsu U1010- this mini-UMPC looks really interesting and might be a good fit.  I think that the keyboard will be too small to be truly useful for someone like me who writes a lot and if that’s the case I’d rather it not be adding weight and bulk to the device.

FlipStart- too heavy and bulky plus the lack of a digitizer screen renders it useless to me.

Sadly, this is pretty much the entire list of available gadgets that I have to choose from, and as you see none of them really hit the mark.  Of all of these devices the OQO comes closest to fulfilling my needs, but I’m not sure it’s close enough.  Having a screen that rotates to portrait orientation is very important to me and I can’t recall anyone mentioning the OQO can do that.

Anybody got any suggestions for me?

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  1. Personally, I’m waiting on the Everun. I know it wouldn’t fill all the gaps by any means but do you think you could get by with a copy of Ritepen installed on it? I’ve come to prefer it over the TIP.

  2. Well, I’m not going to defend the UX thumbboard. I’m not some sort of masochist, after all. However, on the U71, you didn’t HAVE a keyboard. You also lack that built-in option on the N800, for that matter.

    In both cases, you still have Bluetooth, and can easily hook up a keyboard when you need it. Better still, if you just need to jot down some information, or punch in a quick URL, you have something, it’s just not very good. You can’t have it both ways, after all, and the UX is more of a feature/CPU powerhouse than an ergonomic ideal. (I’d go so far as to say that the UX is downright uncomfortable.)

    I would advise increasing the font size on the UX and trying to use it like the U for a bit before writing it off entirely. Treat the crappy thumbboard as an emergency option, and see how you like it that way.

  3. Well it looks like your going to have to compromise. I’d say depending on how much money your willing to spend go with either the Everun or the OQO 02.

  4. Joshua Hall Friday, July 20, 2007

    James,

    I recall you installed Tablet PC edition on you U70 with a MSDN subscription. If you don’t still have the software Newegg selles this software for about $100.00. I think the everun would be a good device for you. Think like Kevin Tofel. There is a model with WWAN access. You could install your own EVDO mini pci express from a novatel u720 in the device. 3G and Tablet PC in small handheld screen rotatable device. It has bluetooth, so you can use you stowaway keyboard and mouse. I still look at your smallest portable desktop, from time to time, on the archive page and wonder why you have not gone back to that setup you once had and loved.

    Thanks,

    Joshua A. Hall

  5. The OQO can easily rotate the display. There is a dedicated function on the keyboard for rotating the display at any time (FN+; = Rotate).

    I use it for meetings to take notes in portrait mode.

  6. I personally like active digitizers as you do not have to worry about your hand bumping the screen and messing up your writing. Vectoring is still an issue on some touch screens but active digitizers don’t have this.

    I personally would take either a active digitizer or a touch screen as I don’t have either on my laptop (a Lenovo Thinkpad T60 with a extended battery….a bit big but not bad to carry every day).

  7. Well I would normally have been one of the first to respond to this post, but I was busy digging a moat around my house this morning and had trouble with the drawbridge. ( Just in case James decided to come by!) I can absolutely understand why you miss the unit. SONY just plain was ahead of their time with the “U” and I’m sure continues to be with their UX line.. As you have stated, for a 3 yr old unit (almost 4) it still has specs that keep up with today’s UMPC offerings. You took such great care of it that it looks and runs like it just came out of the box. It is serving me VERY well. I run VISTA on my primary Desktop as well as my IBM X60 and TC 1100, so it sets right on the desk in its dock and performs all the daily XP duties. But then, when it comes time to leave the house, the real beauty comes in. I just grab it and place it in my Proporta gadget bag and go, with a fully functioning XP machine on my shoulder, weighing in at less then 2 lbs with ALL of the required accoutrements. And the real beauty is, it just plain works. The battery is always charged and everything is always working. It is absolutely the only way to go! I just cannot say enough about this machine. I have had every type of name brand, top of the line PDA / Smartphone there is (and still do). I have always had a laptop/ subnotebook or tablet of one kind or another for the last 10-12 years and NOTHING has been as functional and convenient as this “U”. NOTHING!

    James, I thanked you many times before, but it has not been enough. This machine is absolutely FANTASTIC and I can not thank you, and Kevin, enough for such a fantastic prize. BTW, I’m pretty sure I was dreaming , but I thought I saw a screensaver come up on the “U” that said “Tell James Hey For Me!!” Nah, couldn’t have been. Or could it?

    Got to go, the Electric Fence contractor is here to give me an estimate. Can’t be too safe you know!

  8. JK,

    Thanks for your continued commitment to the tablet-scape. Based largely upon your enthusiasm and reviews on the P1610, I’ve been really enjoying my more mobile tableting experience (coming from the Motion M1400VA). I’m seriously interested in the OQO, and have been monitoring the boards closely…it really is very close to the ideal in ultra-portability. Two major observations for you:

    1. Some of the guys over at http://www.oqotalk.com have written some code that capitalizes on the hard-drive motion detector to allow automatic screen rotation. It’s a work in progress, but I think they’re almost there.

    2. I think we’re approaching a wall in usability vs. size. The keyboard on my P1610 is awesome, but couldn’t be any smaller. And, the convertible form is so convenient. But, obviously, it’s not pocketable. Anything pocketable is going to be a thumbpad. At the end of the day, my Fuji is about as small as I think I can go without losing productivity. I think with a faster processor and an SSD drive, it would be as good as this level of productivity gets.

    So, then, for maximum productivity with all the benefits of mobility, it’s the 1610 form factor.

    For the maximum portability, and reduction in productivity, it’s the OQO form factor.

    How could the two form-factors really ever converge into something that achieves both ends of the spectrum equally? Thoughts?

    Thanks again,

    Dave

  9. Rob Bushway Friday, July 20, 2007

    Like G. Scott points out, the OQO does rotate to portrait. Personally, I couldn’t imagine using touch on the OQO.

  10. Dave Haupert Friday, July 20, 2007

    I have the OQO 02 myself and love it- it’s quite frankly fulfilled my gadget lust for the last month now and made it so that I didn’t even think about getting an iPhone (may seem unrelated, but I use the OQO with iTunes and have basically a 60GB video ipod that supports coverflow and that lets me purchase tracks online via wireless (not just wifi but Sprint EVDO as well!))

    I think I’d prefer it to use a passive touch from what it does now, as I never really carry around a pen, but to be honest, I’d likely turn that input off if it were that way for fear of accidentally hitting the screen. I like the mouse trackstick thing and button combo enough that if feels totally quick and natural.

    re: screen rotation, Inded you can hit Fn-R to rotate to portrait and it’s not as fast as an iPhone at rotating, but does so within about 2-3 seconds. And the auto-rotate iPhone-esque function that people on OQOTalk.com wrote supposedly is just about as polished as needed. People seem to love it. I personally don’t use reader programs much so I don’t want it switching when I move it around.

    Lastly, I find the keyboard to be superb. I have 4 kids and inevitably when you work from home your wife will ask you to watch 1-4 of them while she runs errands, doctor visits, and such. I think the ability to walk around the house following a bunch of toddlers around while still working has probably paid for itself already in what would have been lost time from work. Of course, now I need to worry about the converse- it’s fine to do that when watching them when I’m supposed to be working, but I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t be doing that when I’m supposed to be spending quality time with them (ie, weekends and after work)!!

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