Imagine our excitement when a brand-new Q1 from Samsung – one of the much-hyped Origami devices that have been in the news so much recently – arrived at PC Advisor. Using the Tablet PC Edition of Windows XP, we were itching to put the Samsung through its paces to see just what it could do.
But we were immediately struck by a conundrum: what exactly is the Q1 for? It's too big to be a PDA, too small to be a laptop, and the lack of optical drive precludes it from being a portable DVD player – although you can get one at an additional cost. Samsung says it functions well as a PMP (portable media player), with a 7in screen and a 40GB hard drive.
You can play movies on it, if you're prepared to spend the time to rip them on to your hard drive, and there's plenty of space for MP3 files. We found the audio playback pretty good, though headphones would be advisable if you don't want to irritate fellow commuters or attract teenage hoodlums.
AVS Now software installed on a partition of the 40GB hard drive gives a Media Center-like dimension to its usability – it instantly turns on so you can view your photographs, watch your movies, or listen to music.
Computing on the go
One use for which the Q1 would be perfect is the Webaroo service. Connecting to a wireless network at home or at a hotspot will allow you to update the web packs you've installed, then you can take the Q1 wherever you want and surf the web offline.
That's not to say you should use it everywhere you go – we can foresee some embarrassing stylus-down-the-toilet incidents. Once you get used to it, incidentally, the stylus is easier to use than the trackpoint or trackpad on a conventional laptop, but we found ourselves unsure where to hold the Q1 when doing so – it doesn't fit neatly into the crook of your arm, but is too big to grip comfortably with the fingers of one hand.
The screen doesn't have any kind of equivalent to Sony's excellent X-black technology, which allows for deep, vibrant colours without giving too much reflection. Instead, as with traditional LCD panels, the screen has a filter in front of it that prevents glare, but makes the colours dull. The viewing angle, especially on the vertical plane, is poor, and even at the lowest resolution, we found that certain Windows dialogue boxes couldn't be viewed at all.
A bigger problem than the screen is the Q1's standard battery – when playing a DVD the cell is good for only one hour and 40 minutes. If the movie is any longer than that, you're in for a disappointment. Even normal Windows usage is likely to drain your battery after three-and-a-half hours – you might hope for more from a device of this nature. Fortunately, you can purchase more powerful cells for the Samsung.
Whatever you do, don't let the kids near it – not only do palm- and fingerprints show up starkly on the bezel of the unit, but the edges of the screen look like an ideal collection point for gunk and gunge. And all this talk of children brings us back to the stylus. Operating the Q1 without it is no bed of roses – we certainly don't recommend using a pencil or knitting needle as an alternative – so if one of your little angels loses it, you'll be lumbered with a largely useless device until you get your hands on a replacement.
Finally, the Q1 isn't ideal for left-handers, especially those who learned to write with their hand hooked right around to avoid smudging ink. You're likely to find yourself inadvertently touching the screen quite a lot, especially when using the handwriting recognition feature offered by the Tablet PC input panel.
Imagine designing a gadget without any accepted precedent and without knowing whether it will sell a billion units or disappear without a trace, all under the glare of publicity that goes with any new project Microsoft announces.
Well, that's exactly the situation Samsung found itself in not so long ago. So credit is due to the firm for having the bottle to stick its neck out and launch an Origami device before anyone else.
Now the learning curve can begin. The Q1 certainly won't be the product that defines the future of Origami; it's merely a prototype whose progress the whole industry, not just Samsung, will learn from. We're going to find out what functionality people want, the price they are prepared to pay, and (perhaps) whether the concept is going to work.
Taiwanese manufacturer Asus is likely to be the next to bring an Origami-based product to market – and rumour has it that this will be significantly cheaper than the Q1. Let's face it, £800 is a lot of money to pay for something that is essentially little more than a PMP with one or two extra bells and whistles.