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OQO Model e2 UMPC

Probably the world's best ultra-mobile PC

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Review OQO may sound like a city in Japan, but it’s actually a company that makes ultra-mobile PCs - handheld computers capable of running a full-size operating system. It’s been around for seven years, and was founded by a team of ex-Apple engineers. The Model e2 is the company’s third shot at a UMPC, following in the diminutive footsteps of the Model 01 and the Model 01+.

Of the current crop of UMPCs, to our eyes the Model e2 has by far the coolest design. The lines are clean and uncluttered, and the glossy screen-surround contrasts with the matt black casing. With a scarcity of buttons on the front, it could pass for a media player rather than a computer.

OQO model e2
OQO Model e2: media player styling

Where rival UMPCs resemble bulked-up gaming devices, complete with joypads and buttons, the Model e2 is dominated by its display. It’s actually an active digitiser panel, so if you specify Windows XP Tablet Edition as your operating system, you’ll be able to control the device using a stylus. There's still a Qwerty keypad though, revealed by sliding up the top.

The dimensions are slinky. It’s just about possible to shoehorn the Model e2 into your pocket, although you’ll attract a range of glances - and possibly the odd injunction - with that UMPC-shaped bulge if you do.

The 5in screen boasts a native resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. Images are smooth, although Sony's UMPC – the VAIO VGN-UX1, reviewed here – offers a sharper resolution of 1024 x 600. The OQO's screen was fine for working with documents, but when it came to viewing web pages we found ourselves having to scroll all over the place in order to see an entire page.

However, there's clearly an awareness of this awkwardness - the e2 has two touch-sensitive strips by the bottom right corner of the screen in an attempt to overcome the problem, letting you scroll up and down easily at the swipe of a finger.

Another plus comes in the form of hardware zoom buttons. Offering an interpolated 1200 x 720 pixel resolution, it’s easy to view web pages as they’re intended. The downside here is that the images lose clarity, something you always get when you run an LCD past its native resolution.

The keyboard incorporates a pointing stick between the buttons. This took a while to get accustomed to, with the smallest actions resulting in seemingly disproportionate responses, but once you get the hang of it it’s quick and precise. There are two buttons on the left-hand side of the device which work just like the buttons on a mouse.

OQO Model 2
Black box

The Qwerty keys themselves are among the most usable we’ve tried so far on a UMPC - and the ambient backlighting is excellent in poor light - but they're not perfect. The keyboard's designed to be used with your thumbs, so touch-typing isn't really an option. The biggest problem we had was with the width of the unit – the centre keys were slightly too far from the edge to reach comfortably.

Despite these quibbles, it's a lot nicer to use than either Sony’s UX1 or the tiny buttons built into Samsung’s Q1 Ultra – the Model e2's biggest rivals. Each of the Model e2's raised keys offer a slight movement so you know your actions have registered. The dedicated numeric pad is a welcome touch too, although it can still take forever to winkle out those lesser-used characters.

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