The innovative company's latest ultra-mobile PC will be useful for those wanting PC features in a small package. But it's not for everyone
Several years ago, a San Francisco startup called OQO became the first company to put a full Microsoft (") Windows operating system on a handheld device. Sales at first were less than stellar, marking an inauspicious debut for what has become a promising category of handheld computers dubbed ultra-mobile PCs. Since then, some recognizable names in consumer electronics—including Sony (SNE), Samsung, and Asus—have joined the ultra-mobile PC parade (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/28/07, "Asus R2H: A Geek's Dream Come True").
OQO hasn't been standing still. In January, it introduced a follow-on device aptly called model 02. For people who crave PC features in a small package, OQO model 02 fits the bill nicely.
Weighing in at just over a pound, the model 02 doesn't feel as sleek as some of its competitors, but measures just 5.6 in. by 3.3 in. by 1 in. The five-inch 800 by 480 widescreen LCD is bright enough to read in most lighting conditions, though not big enough to accommodate Web pages without scrolling.
A key feature in the 02 is the inclusion of high-speed wireless Internet access from either Sprint Nextel (S) or Verizon Wireless, owned by Verizon (VZ) and Vodafone (VOD). In areas covered by the companies' EV-DO network, for the applicable monthly fee, the 02 provides blazing-quick Internet connections for checking e-mail and browsing Web pages. Streaming video, on the other hand, was more of a challenge, with images appearing more as quick slides of screens than moving pictures—at a volume you had to strain to hear.
For the model 02, OQO dumped the much maligned Transmeta processor used in its first version for low-power processors made by chipmaker Via Technologies. The 1.5-GHz model, with 1 GB of memory, did not perform as well as Intel (INTC) chips used by Samsung and Sony in their latest models. Other than streaming video, however, the 02 offers respectable performance for standard productivity applications, including Microsoft Office.
The test model also included Movielink for accessing videos online, and the eReader downloadable book application. The eReader, while a good idea, fell short of a good experience. Words were too small to be read comfortably, and the zoom feature on the model 02 made them too big to see a whole page without much extra scrolling. But unlike streaming video, the downloaded MovieLink version of Mission: Impossible III stored on the 60-GB hard drive played without a hiccup, and looked beautiful in full-screen mode.
Navigating with the backlit QWERTY keyboard, located behind the sliding LCD, also takes some getting used to. While it is an improvement over model 01, it's also a bit cramped and requires the user to type with thumbnails. Number keys are laid out in cell-phone fashion on the far right.
Mouse buttons sit on the far left, and a small pointing stick in range of your right thumb helps you navigate on-page. OQO also offers an optional stylus to tap the screen directly, though there's no place to store it.
Cool Features, Notable Absences
An eye-catching add-on is a sleek black docking station that includes an optical combination drive, with a metal arm attached to hold the model 02. The base comes with one USB port in the front and two in the back, a rear headphone jack, Ethernet port, VGA connector, and High-Definition Multimedia Interface out jack to attach to a full-size monitor.
Other nifty features deserving a mention: technology that protects your hard drive in case you drop the device, and a double-capacity $199 battery that lasted four hours (the standard battery conks out at just under two hours).
What was missing in the OQO? I was disappointed there was no built-in memory card reader—though one could be connected via USB. And it lacks a digital camera, now standard fare with smartphones.
The model 02 isn't for everyone. At $3,000, it's expensive with all the extras added (though a barebones version can be had for about $1,500), and many ultra-portable PCs can perform better for cheaper. But for consumers and business users looking to step up from a smartphone without the extra baggage of a PC will find the model 02 a nice addition to the pocketbook or briefcase.