OQO model 01 review

Price when reviewed

Last month, we reviewed Toshiba’s impressive Libretto U100, a tiny 986g notebook packed with all the features you’d expect in a much larger system. But shrinking a standard notebook to such a small size simply doesn’t work in a practical sense: you still have to enter and view information at some point, and small keyboards and screens end up being awkward to use.

OQO model 01 review

But the OQO model 01 makes even the Libretto look bulky. Despite being only the size of a large PDA, the OQO runs a full version of Microsoft Windows XP Professional. However, rather than simply creating a tiny notebook, OQO has gone for a radical approach. The problem with the Libretto was that the standard notebook layout forced you to place it on a desk or on your lap to type on the keyboard, as you would with any other notebook. Not only was the keyboard cramped, but the screen was uncomfortable to read at this distance.

The OQO, on the other hand, is used more like a PDA. You can therefore hold its tiny 5in, 800 x 480-pixel screen much closer; just bear in mind that text is still very small. Instead of a keyboard, the OQO has a keypad with buttons akin to a phone or BlackBerry. You can tap away with your thumbs while you walk around. It isn’t an ideal way to key in data, but it certainly allows more freedom as you never need to sit down or find a table. In reality, while it’s faster than typing into a mobile phone, anyone with more than pencil-thin fingers will make frequent typing errors. It’s more suited to accessing data – surfing the Web, tweaking presentations or checking email – than creating it.

That does rather waste all that expensive hardware needed to run Windows XP, but there’s another possibility. The OQO has a Wacom digitiser system and a stylus pen. Alas, it doesn’t come with handwriting-recognition software but it would likely be too sluggish given the limited CPU power. There’s also a decent trackpoint and mouse buttons, as well as a handy scroll wheel to help navigation.

Back at the office, you can connect the OQO to a full-sized screen, keyboard and mouse – effectively using it as a computing engine. But instead of a docking station, there’s a novel docking cable. Mini-FireWire, USB, headphone jack, Ethernet and D-SUB VGA are strung out along the cable at intervals of about 130mm. The power adaptor plugs into this cable (or directly into the OQO body), so you can recharge and connect to a network and peripherals in one go. It makes for a comprehensive tangle of cables, though, and the USB is, rather disappointingly, version 1.1.

There’s another USB 1.1 port and a mini-FireWire on the device itself, and if it wasn’t for the slow transfer speed, the OQO would be a fantastic tool for offloading and viewing digital images in the field. Elsewhere, the OQO also has Bluetooth and 802.11b wireless LAN.

Build quality is for the most part solid. The metal main section (just 11mm thick) has a quality feel, and the screen slides back on a rack-and-pinion system to reveal the keyboard. Unfortunately, we have our doubts about the transflective screen itself, which is a touch dim and flickers too much for comfort. It’s readable outside though.

Tiny though the device is, there’s still a silent fan inside to keep air circulating, and software provides a slider to set cooler running or higher performance. It’s certainly needed, as the device gets hot to the touch when pushed. In fact, our demanding benchmarks wouldn’t run all the way, throwing up numerous errors likely due to overheating. This machine isn’t designed to be thrashed to this extent, but it’s disappointing not to achieve a final score from even a single run. Still, we had no trouble running standard office applications even when driving an external display (up to 1,280 x 1,024), although in comparison to a standard notebook it’s noticeably sluggish, especially on boot-up.

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