I miss the Sony U, what’s next?

30 Comments

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?

30 Comments

David

I have both an HP TC1100 upgraded and a UX180 picked up on eBay about 6 months ago. I’m running office 2007 and XP right now however I really would like to boost the memory size form 1/2 GB to a full 1GB on the UX. Is anyone aware of a way to the do the memory upgrade (I saw the post for the drive upgrade).

JD

Thanks Scoobie & guys for the comments. I’m just reluctant to bog down the umpc with Vista unless It’s really necessary. In order to keep performance as max as one can get with these processors, I *might consider ordering XP Tablet model and just add on the voice recognition DNS9 and handwriting recognition software.
I’ll take your advice and look again at the Vista features and side by side comparison video.

That may sound wasteful to you all to use XP tablet over Vista, but i’ve had my share of underpowered chips for the OS of the day. When I upgraded a lowly Sony c1VN (733Mhz Crusoe) from WinME to XP Pro, wow did it limp along slowly just so I could have peace with only one OS among my PCs. The Sony UX with Vista and its faster chip at the store sure was slow to do much of anything likely from both overloading software trials and being a store demo. Oqo seemed more responsive.

Since I started out in the 90’s with a HP200LX, I’m from very similar origins in viewing this umpc decision making as is the author Mark Rosengarten at
http://www.the-gadgeteer.com/review/oqo_model_02_ultra_personal_computer
he shows the OQO side by side with something not much bigger than your checkbook.

My PDAs etc since then have just not been satisfying with all the compromises they entail. Enough screwing around already! I want something like these that fits in my large pocket or labcoat. If you can’t use the employer’s PC like you want to or WHERE you need to, then having these umpc’s ALREADY IN YOUR POCKET customized your own way is ideal to me. I’m leaning towards OQO Model 2 at its hefty premium.

Having all that power and convenience in your pocket without compromises would be fantastic. My first umpc (HP200LX) was not much bigger than a fat checkbook and instantly calculated emergency drug dosages based on complicated formulas in a macro-automated spreadsheet I still haven’t duplicated today in Excel. I felt the unit back then was a leap of faith to spend that serious cash, but your excellent detailed reviews remind us how many options there are in purchasing! Definitely agree to max out the memory and HD size. Too bad these things don’t have better video chips or they’d be PS2 killers and whoever makes it would be rich!

tnkgrl

James, it’s all about the top-of-the-line OQO Model 02 with EVDO and a double-capacity battery – it’s a no-brainer, really! Sure there’s no passive digitizer (no touch screen), but there’s an active digitizer (Wacom) so it’s ideal for inking…

James Kendrick

I used an OQO at the CES in January and my hands will work it just fine. The Everun is pretty cool do but I think it maxes out at 512 MB of RAM which is no bueno.

Mike Cane

Given your monster-sized (OK, TEXAN-sized!) hands, the OQO KB might be a problem for you, James. (So would that Lust Device of 2008 I linked to!)

It will be interesting to see what choice you make.

I am lusting for an Everun at the moment. But, like all moments, that could change…

James Kendrick

Good input from all, thanks. DC, I am not looking to replace the Fujitsu, I’m writing this on it as a matter of fact. I an talking about a one handed machine from a perspective of size and weight. There are places I’d like to take a PC but even the Fujitsu is too big. It looks like the OQO may be the best fit, but I’m concerned with the speed of the device.

scoobie

JD – Re the OS there are mixed views out there about this but Vista is a winner for me over XP for these couple of reasons:
– Handwriting recognition is much better than XP tablet
– Startup and shutdown times are much faster (as long as the device doesn’t come with lots of Sony bloatware installed).

Vista has some bugs, which Microsoft is fixing over time, but nothing visible to me. My OQO 02 with Vista Ultimate hasn’t crashed once yet (which is a first for any OS I’ve used)

JD

With all you tablet-based experts out there I have a question:
Just what is the benefit of Vista over XP on these umpc’s? It appears Vista requires so much more overhead/resources, that you’re just grinding the umpc to a slow crawl. What is the benefits of Vista in these small form factors? Are some tablet/digitizer based? Are there some benefits of real merit for multimedia or something these mobile units would be great for? Appreciate the update on that. I’d love to order myself a new umpc but don’t fully know the ins and outs of choices in operating systems now offered.

JD

I found a Sony UX280 i think it was at a CompUSA store on display. They had the display all plexiglas protected in the display, covering important zoom + and – buttons, joystick button, etc all covered. I used my pda stylus to reach in there and play with it a bit. Well, I was messing with that thing over 40 minutes. It is slow to boot up, bogged down with stuff occupying the memory, etc but maybe also because it’s got Vista business running it to death.

What I notice most is Sony’s unit lets you zoom in/out, but you must zoom back out to continue doing anything! If you want to leave it zoomed in, you can’t select that icon or accomplish anything. I had to constantly zoom in just to read it or get it to be easier on the eyes, then zoom back out and remember what i saw, keeping that in mind as its location /orientation on the screen changed and remember where i was now it all looks different, then back to teenie tiny before I could continue. It only accepted double taps to start a program after coming back to unzoomed state.

…….OQO doesn’t have that problem! I found this odd and a deal breaker. I’ve never been fond of sony after my teenie c1x way way back when late 1999 I think it was – still love that thing. Now most comprable is Fujitsu you all speak of.
There’s just not the support with drivers/updates after a very short while with sony. They make great engineering feats then drop support.
I am glad sony’s gotten back in the game since dropping tiny pc’s after the c1 series then u750-likes and now the UX series. Sony had the virtual desktop once zoomed in, but at least you could act on it way back when with the c1x. OQO model 02lets you zoom in and continue working as expected. I was impressed.

Sure it’d be nice to have the fingerprint reader and 2 cameras of sony’s unit, but the keyboard and zoom problems are deal breakers.

Chuck

The Everun should run XP Tablet – the Vega does. The only one of your desires that the Everun does not meet is the 1 Gig of RAM. It only has 512.

Ash

Do what im doing. wait for the HTC Shift. It “appears” to be an amazing device with a usable keyboard. good luck looking for ur new device.

Scoobie

I forgot to mention the auto-rotate software (as on the iphone) does work on the oqo 02

If I were you James I’d go for the u1010 – if you can get one as they are selling well in Asia. It’s a lot cheaper than the oqo. All reports I have read about the keyboard are good. The tracker is a bit small, so you want to use a b;uetooth mouse when in keybord mode. The drive is a bit small but you could use the CF or SD interfaces to help or upgrade thr drive

Scoobie

I have a Sony u750p and an OQO 02. I also am very interested in the Fujitsu u1010 like you James.

I agree the original U50 and my u750 was a groundbreaking device but the oqo , despite being slower overall, edges it over the u750p for me. Why? 2 reasons mainly- the keyboard on the oqo 02 is a joy to use (I have small hands however), and it runs Vista very well. I have tried running Vista on the u750p and I didnt get it running as fast as it does on the oqo – bootup and shutdown is very fast on the oqo

I will most likely upgrade to the Fujitsu umpc however because it has a higher resolution and a better keyboard. The oqo has higher resolution of sorts via interpolated mode but its hard to read with sustained use I find.

By the way James, I notice you want a touchscreen – the fuji should suit you then and you can import them from australia from the 23rd july apparently (try ozdirect). For me though, after the sony touchscreen I have to say I prefer the active digitiser on the oqo.

The oqo is not perfect however, the fan I find annoying and it can get a little hot after an hours use

If anyone is interested in a u750p mine is for sale!

DC

unfortunately James, your arguments really make no sense. ALL mobile PC’s require 2-handed operation (even the OQO). this is not a hardware problem, it’s just how Windows is set up.

now if you mean “hold in 1 hand, peck with the other”. maybe you have weak wrists or have been using the wrong UMPC’s, but i can do that no problem with the Q1U. but that seems like a ridiculous reason to base a device purchase on considering thats only a small fraction of the time how you will use it. most of the time you will resort back normal 2-handed use or hooking it up to a monitor/KB/mouse. you need to look at the large usage picture not your current niche gut feeling.

my guess is that you are growing tiresome of your Fujitsu experience & are looking for something fresh/exciting to replace it. so now it’s shortcomings are becoming more & more apparent. i remember at 1 time you had nothing but praise for it’s features (size/weight/etc), but now your back to wanting something else again with different features. see how easily your ideal changes? people dont have to believe me about human patterns, they can deny it if they like, but i see this ALL the time on UMPC forums. so what do you thinks ganna happen when you buy this miracle device? at first, you will love it & praise its small size, light weight, etc. but 2 years later you will diss it for the exact same reasons, being to small, screen to hard to read, etc. then you will go right back to wanting something bigger again. so many others out there have the exact same history as well. unfortunately though for bloggers their hypocrisy is documented, for most others it is not.

digitaldion

JK, I know exactly how you feel. I have a U50 in my cupboard… It is still a fantastic all round machine (it is quite small, however, the screen size is large enough to make it truly useful).

I had an OQO that I sold in order to buy a secondhand UX180. I am not sorry! The UX is still the perfect machine for me. It is small, useable, well built, and has great connectivity.

The thing I did not like about my U50 was the fact that it didn’t have a keyboard at all… I just need a simple keyboard to tap in a few characters every now and then.

Take a look here for a picture of my UX with a stowaway keyboard and battery geek external battery at Seattle Coffee…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitaldion/797948733/

You will also find some pictures of my U50, OQO and other devices in my flickr photos.

Thanks for the great blog!

chrisC

I feel the same way on my U750P – james. in fact that is the main reason why i never upgraded my U device not even to a UX.

Mnay people call it UPC device and not a UMPC due to the lack of bluetooth. BUT I proved them wrong. I have devoted my time to upgrade the device and was able to run a VISTA to this device. Due to the lack of support from SONY. No utilities and drivers are available for download on their support sites.

My U750P is a perfect VISTAGAMI DEVICE. Perforamnce is more than I expected when I upgraded it from XP and XP tablet. In fact its even better than before for I was also able to make the screen to rotate on 90, 180, and 270 from 0 deg. all buttons are perfectly working and machine is upgraded to 60GB. What else do I need… With my ENOFRA GSM/GPRS CF Card. i acan also make PHONE CALLS, SMS and INTERNET thru GPRS at any given time. ITs 1.1GHZ processor is perfect, 512MB memory meets my need and VISTA suports more memory on USB flash. WIFI is also included. I have also successfully run DIALKEYS, ORIGAMI EXPERIENCE etc.. and most importantly the 5inch screen is perfect for my a TABLET-PC. With all these mentioned above – Who can never miss this device….

For this matter, that keep myself a very active member of the YAHOO GROUP – VAIOU70… ALso for this reasons that I kept my device. IN fact I have 2 now…

Same as JAmes, I will the same way. Of all the gadgets I have, this is the only device | can never LEAVE without (well!! at least for people like me who is always on-the-go)…

Mitch Rusk

The OQO screen rotates, and it uses a wacom digitizer. Also, it interpolates to higher resolutions if needed. It also has built in cellular connectivity.

BUY THE OQO! :)

Mike Whalen

For what it’s worth, I think you’re experiencing, JK, is what all gadget fiends experience. On the one hand, it seems so simple to create what everyone wants in a single, but, try as you might, you can’t find everything you want. It’s an odd feeling, too, because, as you say, there’s so much diversity. It seems a no-brainer to have it.

But as I’ve used, bought, and shopped gadgets over the years, it is the one reality. :-(

Dave Haupert

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)!!

Rob Bushway

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

Dave Gray

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

Ron P.

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!

gork

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).

G. Scott

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.

Joshua Hall

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

Chrisboff

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.

Chris K

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.

Ron

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.

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