First Look: FlipStart E-1001S and OQO Model 02

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At a Glance
  • FlipStart Labs FlipStart E-1001S

  • OQO Model 02

Note: This review was updated and corrected on April 16, 2007.

If size and weight were the only criteria, a couple of ultrasmall PCs--the FlipStart E-1001S ($2000) from FlipStart Labs and the OQO Model 02 ($1998) from OQO--would be at the top of every traveling PC user's wish list. But when it comes to performance, functionality, ease of use, and affordability, both machines come up short.

Handheld PCs

Head-to-head the FlipStart has the edge over the OQO Model 02, thanks to its roomier keyboard, slightly bigger display, and built-in camera.

One look at either of these handheld PCs tells you they're unlike any portable computer you've ever used. (See "How Small Is a Subminiature Laptop?" for video of both units.) Clearly they are not great for text-intensive tasks such as word processing and e-mail unless you're a wizard at thumb typing.

You'll be squinting to make out characters on their small screens, too--even with their zoom capability. (Both products have extenders with VGA ports for linking to an external display; in addition, the OQO has built-in HDMI output.)

Design Aesthetics

The OQO looks like a big, buttonless smart phone. You slide the 5-inch, 800-by-480-resolution LCD to reveal a miniature keyboard--more accurately a thumb board designed for two-handed use. The unit has an integrated track stick--a nubby eraserhead that you slide with your thumb or fingertip--and capacitive touch scroll bars on the lower right side of the LCD. But when I used these pointing devices to move the cursor around the screen, my fingers tired quickly. The Model 02 itself has only one USB 2.0 port. An optional docking station that contains three USB 2.0 ports, ethernet, and other connectors is $299 equipped with a DVD-ROM/CD+/-RW drive or $399 with a multiformat DVD burner.

The clamshell FlipStart resembles a miniature laptop and invites use with two hands while it's perched on a desk. The device has a 5.6-inch, 1024-by-600-resolution SVGA wide-screen LCD and comes with both a track stick and a mini-touchpad. I much preferred using the latter.

A BlackBerry-like jog wheel on the FlipStart's right side aids in navigation. Its keyboard has arrow, <Page Up>, <Page Down>, <Home>, and <End> keys, plus single keys for <Alt>-<Tab> and <Ctrl>-<Alt>-<Delete> functions (the OQO Model 02 keyboard has zoom-in and -out keys, but no Windows or other special-purpose keys). The FlipStart also has a 1.3-megapixel still/video camera above the keyboard.

The FlipStart comes with a 30GB hard drive; my OQO test unit had a roomy 60GB drive (its base configuration calls for only a 30GB drive). Both machines have built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and both support EvDO mobile data services, though you'll have to sign up for a service contract.

Both devices also have their own control applications, but I found that the FlipStart Control Center program made accessing the device's hardware, networking, and other settings easier. The FlipStart's InfoPane--similar to Vista's SideShow display in concept but not function--puts a 2-inch LCD on the top of the case so that you can see your Outlook inbox, calendar entries, and other information without opening the device.

Modest Performers

Performance is hardly a strength for either unit. Considering the FlipStart's 1.1-GHz Pentium M ULV CPU and 512MB of RAM, and the OQO's 1.5-GHz Via CPU and 1GB of system memory, the devices' low WorldBench 5 scores (57 for the E-1001S and 37 for the Model 02) are no surprise. We tested both units using Windows XP Professional, but both are available with Windows Vista as well.

OQO says new battery firmware will extend the life of the device's removable battery; an optional double-capacity battery is $199. In informal tests with the original firmware and standard battery, our unit ran out of juice after 2 hours, 25 minutes of use. (The standard battery is rated to deliver 3 hours of use on a charge.)

The FlipStart did much better on this measure, lasting 3 hours, 40 minutes on a single charge--its rated longevity.

Both of these devices are so small that mobile professionals can take them places they might not take a laptop. The OQO wins on sheer tininess, but I found that the bigger FlipStart was ultimately the more usable machine.

OQO Model 02

A smaller, sleeker system than the FlipStart, but its slide-out keyboard can be tiresome.
$1998 (without $299 or $399 docking station)
Current prices (if available)

FlipStart E-1001S

Its clamshell case and relatively large keyboard make this mini-PC easier to use than the OQO.
Current prices (if available)
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At a Glance
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