It’s been a crazy week at the home office — Mobile Tech Manor — with gadgets everywhere and business as usual. Unfortunately my attention was largely focused on a family crisis that dominated everything going on at the Manor. I spent some quality time with a device that is pretty compelling but definitely not for everyone.
Is that a computer in your pocket?
I spent a lot of time playing with the Viliv N5 UMPC supplied by Dynamism for evaluation. The N5 is not available for purchase but will be in a couple of weeks. The best way to describe the little N5 is it is a pocket computer — essentially a netbook in a little clamshell form. I have used pocket computers for years, and the Viliv N5 is as good as any I have tried.
The first thing that stands out while using the N5 is the silky feel of the case. It is not slippery at all, and the covering Viliv has put all around the case feels really good in the hand. It’s the first thing people say when I hand the N5 to them — “it feels good.” I admit I found myself stroking the case more than once, that’s how good it feels in the hand.
A nice covering is not what makes a pocket computer a good gadget, however. That determination lies in the features packed in the small form and how well they work to make the device a productive tool. That’s where the N5 really shines. It has an Atom processor which performs in the N5 as expected — nothing outstanding but good enough to get things done. The little keyboard is better than expected with good key travel and easier to use for thumb typing than I thought it would be. Viliv did make some design choices that I don’t like, likely due to the daunting task of fitting so much functionality in such a small package.
The evaluation unit has 1 GB of memory which is just enough to run Windows 7. It uses a 32 GB SSD for storage to help with performance and battery life. It’s got integrated 3G which works as expected. The performance is good enough, but nothing to write home about.
Using the Viliv N5 is a decent experience, but there are a few design choices that tempers that somewhat. The keyboard is good, but Viliv has packed so much into the QWERTY keyboard that it sometimes creates problems. The “L” and “K” keys are smaller than all the other keys, and this makes typing a little harder than it should be. The problem is there is only so much room to work with, so Viliv had to compromise on the keyboard. Virtually every key has a special Fn assigned to it, and while that makes it easier to control system functions it does get in the way occasionally. It’s impossible to use the Ctrl – + combination to zoom in the web browser, as the “+” key is a Fn key that prevents that.
The N5 takes a special route for mouse control by using a small optical pad located between the keyboard and the screen. This little pad works extremely well, far better than I expected, and it makes zooming around the screen easy. The screen is a touchscreen so it can be operated by touch, but things are so tiny on the screen that is not really practical. Viliv decided to use two standard keys on the keyboard as the two mouse buttons, and while that works most of the time it is a bit different. Most UMPCs have special mouse buttons and I find myself looking for them from time to time.
The display on the N5 looks good, but it is so small it can be difficult to work with. It is only 4.8 inches and displays at a high resolution (1024×600) so things are awfully tiny. That’s why touch is not really a viable method to use on the N5. I could easily forego the touch capability as I find the optical mouse works so well I don’t use it at all.
The design of the screen hinge creates a situation that some have complained about, and with good reason. The display bends back behind the base of the N5, and that makes the unit unstable for typing while sitting on a table. Dynamism is aware of this flaw, and I am told the production units will ship with a special rubber foot to eliminate this rocking. I don’t have one of those so I can’t comment on if that addresses the issue.
I find myself using the N5 in my hands, typing on the keyboard with my thumbs. It’s really the only way I can see the tiny things on the screen anyway, and this method works well. The N5 is a fully functional Windows computer, and I can see this serving as the main mobile system for many. The price of this evaluation unit will be $799, which is pretty expensive compared to cheaper (and larger) netbooks. It may be a worthwhile purchase for road warriors who must have the most mobile gear possible. The model without integrated 3G will be $649, which may make more sense for those always near Wi-Fi. I will shoot a video of the N5 soon as it really must be seen to appreciate how much functionality it packs in such a small case.
Apps of the week
I didn’t spend as much time playing with apps as usual due to circumstances but a on of the of apps I’ve mentioned in the past got a significant update this week. The iPad (s aapl) app iThoughts HD is my mind mapping tool of choice and the developers made a free update that adds some features and cleans up the interface. Don’t miss this update if you use the app.
I also installed the Kindle app for Android on the EVO 4G — I did that the second it was released. I have since been using it and really like reading e-books on the big EVO screen. The app does seamless syncing of books and reading position as do all the other Kindle apps which makes it easy for me to switch between the iPad and EVO for reading. I use the device that makes the most sense given the situation, which is where Kindle shines.
My step-daughter had a baby a couple of weeks ago and while Mom is doing fine baby Taylor has been in the intensive care nursery since birth. Her condition is not life-threatening (thankfully) but requires constant monitoring. Mom and Dad are understandably upset as are the rest of the family as they cannot bring the new family member home. The scary thing is that the specialists are stumped what is causing her problem, and they have been running a battery of tests with no definitive answers so far.
It’s going to be an atypical holiday weekend for our family as a result, and we hope to have some good news soon. Please keep them in your thoughts.
e-Book of the week
I am reading a great thriller this week that is highly unusual. Imagine if all of your favorite mystery writers got together to write a novel. That’s how Watchlist came about. It is started by Jeffrey Deaver and each of the 22 writers pick up with a chapter after the beginning. We’re talking real heavyweight mystery writers: David Hewson and Lee Child to name just two of them. The story moves right along, with each author bringing his own flavor to the novel. It is breathtaking to experience this collaboration, and I am anxiously turning the pages. Well, tapping the screen, to be more exact.
That’s the week as it happened at the Manor. It was a busy week made even more so by the family stuff. I’ll do this again next week, same time, same channel.