First Look: OQO Handheld PC Fails to Excite

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OQO's Model 01 Ultra PC.
Who wouldn't want a full-featured PC the size of a PDA? That's the promise of OQO's long-anticipated Model 01 Ultra Personal Computer, a 14-ounce handheld device that runs a full version of Microsoft's Windows XP. Unfortunately, poor design decisions and sluggish performance make the Model 01 a better concept than an actual product.

I tested a preproduction version of the $1999 unit with Windows XP Pro (the XP Home version sells for $1899). At launch the 4.9-inch-wide by 3.4-inch-tall unit comes in just one configuration: 256MB of RAM, a 20-GB hard drive, integrated 802.11b Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a 5-inch (measured diagonally) touch-sensitive display with 800-by-480-pixel resolution.

At the heart of the unit is Transmeta's 1-GHz Crusoe; this processor was unexceptional when it launched years ago, and it hasn't improved with age. You can't blame the CPU entirely for the 01's poor performance, but it clearly plays a role in the unit's painfully slow application launches and leisurely Web page refreshes.

Design Distractions

I might be willing to overlook the unit's unhurried performance if the Model 01 was just a bit more logically designed and more comfortable to use. The horizontally oriented display slides upward to expose the QWERTY-style keyboard--a design that seems clever until you realize it prevents you from tilting the top of the display downward to prevent glare. Instead, you have to angle the whole device.

The display itself is the perfect width for viewing Web pages configured to display well at 800 by 600; but visit a site with wider dimensions and you'll be doing plenty of side scrolling in addition to the vertical scrolling you'd expect.

Input proved frustrating. Designed for thumb typing, the keyboard itself has a decent tactile feedback, but I found the placement of some keys odd--and the spacebar was too hard to reach with either thumb. I became fairly adept at using the TrakStick input device on the right side of the keyboard and the two mouse buttons on the far left, but I had less luck using the included stylus. More than once I found myself repeatedly tapping the touch-sensitive screen trying to get a program to respond.

The Model 01 has navigation buttons and ports (the unit includes both USB 1.1 and FireWire ports) along its left, bottom, and right sides. Though I found the placement of several ports questionable, the headphone jack's location is particularly bothersome. The jack resides on the bottom-most right corner of the unit, and once you plug in your headphones it's nearly impossible to continue thumb typing because the headphones' plug is in the way.

Hot Under the Collar

OQO promises up to three hours of run time between charges of the lithium ion battery, but I wasn't able to net much beyond two hours in my informal tests with Wi-Fi enabled. The unit becomes noticeably warm after a short amount of use, and during one longer session I noticed parts of it were actually hot to the touch (the unit's internal fan became louder, too).

In addition to the unit, its charging cable, and a basic case, OQO throws in a docking cradle, plus a port replicator cable that includes video-out, audio out, an ethernet port, and additional USB 1.1 and FireWire ports--everything you need to transform the Model 01 from a slow handheld into a super-pokey desktop.

I wanted to like the Model 01. I like the idea of a handheld PC, and I'd certainly be willing to sacrifice some comfort and performance to have one. Unfortunately, OQO's first offering requires giving up dramatically more of each than I'm willing to surrender.

Model 01 Ultra Personal Computer

Preproduction product, not rated
Handheld features Windows XP, but poor design and performance make it tough to recommend.
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