The Samsung Q1 Ultra is a well-designed UMPC (ultra-mobile PC) that's full of potential. Unfortunately, much of the Samsung Q1 Ultra's potential remains unrealised.

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The first generation of UMPCs was released last year by Samsung and a handful of other vendors. (Read our Samsung Q1 review here). These devices are "tweeners" sized between laptops and smaller mobile devices such as PDAs. They run Windows but, like smaller mobile devices, UMPCs have touchscreens.

First-generation UMPCs were not hugely well reviewed, on the whole. Complaints focused mainly on display quality and price. The second-generation Samsung Q1 Ultra shores up some of those initial shortcomings - but not enough of them to make the world sit up and take notice.

The Samsung Q1 Ultra - initial impressions

Almost 9in long by about 4.7in wide and 1in thick, the Samsung Q1 Ultra is marginally smaller than the first version of the device. It weighs 0.7kg.

After switching on the Samsung Q1 Ultra, the first thing we noticed is its 1,024x600 7in display, which is sharp, bright and extremely viewable for basic tasks. Handily, you can switch the Samsung Q1 Ultra's display from its default landscape to portrait mode by pressing a button on the device and, from the menu that appears, selecting the option to rotate the display.

A quick look around the Samsung Q1 Ultra found an impressive amount of storage and input/output capabilities. The model we reviewed had a 50GB hard drive, a SecureDisk memory card slot, two USB slots, an ethernet slot and video input for standard monitors. The Samsung Q1 Ultra comes nicely loaded with other features such as a built-in 1.3Mp camera, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which connected quickly and without hassle.

Browsing the web using Internet Explorer was a satisfying experience with the sharp display. The Samsung Q1 Ultra's ability to switch to portrait mode was particularly helpful for web browsing.

However, it didn't take long to become frustrated by the slowness of the Q1 Ultra. The test device with an 800MHz processor and 1GB of RAM was flat-out underpowered, with applications taking an annoyingly long time to load. A version of the Samsung Q1 Ultra is available with an even-slower 600 MHz processor.

Copious input

The first generation of UMPC devices drew criticism from some reviewers because they didn't have a keypad. This updated Samsung Q1 Ultra has a keypad with keys about the same size as you'd find on a smartphone, but Samsung shouldn't have bothered.

Strangely, the keypad is split in two, with one half to the left of the display and one half to the right. The split nature of the keypad made typing any but the shortest messages even more annoying than thumb typing on a smartphone. Let's see ...is the "B" key to the left of the screen or to the right? Samsung could have either made the device smaller or the display larger by not including the keypad.

Plus, there are so many other input and navigation methods available on the Samsung Q1 Ultra that it's hard to figure why Samsung thought the keypad would be an improvement. For entering text, the device has handwriting recognition, an onscreen soft keyboard that you can tap with the stylus and so-called dial keys, which consist of semi-circular keypads in the lower corners of the display for typing with your fingers.

For pointing and selecting, the device has a mouse button to the left of the display that can double as a joy stick. To the right of the display there's a toggle wheel that replicates the arrow keys on a keyboard with an Enter button in the middle.

Also, you can perform tasks such as highlighting text by dragging a finger or the stylus across the screen. When you do that, a mouse appears on the screen. Touch one of the mouse buttons and it's just like clicking either the right or left button on a physical mouse.

That's a lot of ways to input data and navigate through the interface, all of which are preferable to the woeful, unnecessary keypad.

Unrealised multimedia potential

The Samsung Q1 Ultra came with Windows Vista Home Premium Edition, which has been optimised for touchscreen devices. As such, it has the same tools for playing media as other versions of Vista. And it did, indeed, play music well. Playback sounded satisfyingly crisp and clear.

Video playback, however, was a different story. We watched a number of YouTube videos. Because of the Samsung Q1 Ultra's slow processor, playback of higher-quality videos was jerky, images were sometimes pixilated and colours were often oversaturated even after numerous tweaks were made to the contrast and other settings.

This means the beautiful bright screen is a boon only for use with basic applications and for viewing still images. That's a shame because, with all its other capabilities, the Samsung Q1 Ultra could potentially appeal to mobile video fans who otherwise would be tempted to buy video-centric media players such as the Archos 704 (see review here). That device has slightly smaller overall dimensions than the Samsung Q1 Ultra but it is half as expensive and its display is about the same size.

A lesser disappointment is that, with a few minor exceptions, the only preinstalled applications were those included with Windows. That lessens the Samsung Q1 Ultra's appeal to those who need to do more than check email, browse the web and view or listen to media. Samsung says it will release a higher-priced version of the Samsung Q1 Ultra aimed at business users.

Samsung Q1 Ultra: Specs

  • 228x124x24mm
  • 0.69kg
  • ultraportable PC
  • built-in stereo speakers, wireless LAN aerial, camera, Bluetooth aerial
  • Intel A110/800MHz
  • 512KB-L2 cache
  • 1GB DDR II SDRAM, 400MHz - PC2-3200
  • card reader
  • 60GB, 4,200rpm
  • 7in TFT active matrix 1,024x600 (WSVGA)
  • Intel GMA 950
  • ethernet, Fast Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR
  • 1.3Mp camera
  • keyboard
  • lithium ion battery, up to 4 hours
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 1-year warranty
  • 228x124x24mm
  • 0.69kg
  • ultraportable PC
  • built-in stereo speakers, wireless LAN aerial, camera, Bluetooth aerial
  • Intel A110/800MHz
  • 512KB-L2 cache
  • 1GB DDR II SDRAM, 400MHz - PC2-3200
  • card reader
  • 60GB, 4,200rpm
  • 7in TFT active matrix 1,024x600 (WSVGA)
  • Intel GMA 950
  • ethernet, Fast Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR
  • 1.3Mp camera
  • keyboard
  • lithium ion battery, up to 4 hours
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 1-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

Samsung's Q1 Ultra is intriguing, but more for its potential than its reality. Ideally, UMPCs would be media powerhouses that would be comfortable for light business tasks such as editing documents and for web browsing and email. However, the Samsung Q1 Ultra, while a useful mobile web and email tool, isn't optimal for other mobile uses. It is about as expensive as many laptops but not as comfortable to use. It's far larger and more expensive than most mobile devices but isn't more adept at tasks such as media playback. In other words, this could be a great device, but it isn't compelling in its present form and price. On the other hand, if it had twice the processor speed and half the price, the Samsung Q1 Ultra would deserve to be a huge hit.

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