The UMPC concept has been around for some time now, but in my opinion no company has yet produced a better-designed, more desirable device than OQO. When Riyad saw the company's first miniature PC at CES way back in 2005 he badly wanted to lay his hands on one.
It was about as small as you could imagine a PC being, squeezing in an amazing amount of functionality, but it was the design and engineering quality that made the OQO Model 01 so desirable. The company's latest version – the Model 02 – exudes the same technological pheromones.
It is just as small as the Model 01: at 142 x 84 x 25mm it's about the size of a small but thick ring-bound notebook. It still has that solid, military hardware feel to it. The screen still slides up in one smooth, fluid motion to reveal a QWERTY keyboard underneath. And the chassis is constructed of the same stiff magnesium alloy. Compared to the Sony UX1XN, a comparable Windows Vista pocket PC I looked at recently, this is a mile ahead in terms of engineering quality.
But the Model 02 hasn't stood still, and this latest version represents a pretty big facelift. The most obvious change is the colour scheme, which has gone from gunmetal grey and silver to a combination of matt and gloss black finishes, with the odd flash of brushed aluminium here and there. I liked the old colour scheme because it was different and still managed to look really smart. But though the Model 02 now merges into the crowd a bit more – everyone is doing gloss black these days – it still manages to pull the look off with great panache.
The lines of the diminutive Model 02 have been softened a little this time around, with curved sides where you grip the device. The Model 01 and 01+ were quite blocky and could be uncomfortable for long periods of time, but the Model 02 is much easier on the palms.
Flick up the screen with your thumbs and you'll see that OQO has gone to town on the keyboard as well. With the Model 01 and 01+ we had a usable but occasionally fiddly keyboard. The unusual circular keys were quite difficult to hit accurately and, though better than most smartphone keyboards, this made text entry relatively slow. However, the development guys at OQO have clearly been paying attention in keyboard classes, because the one on the Model 02 is a vast improvement.
The keys are now square-ish, so it's much easier to hit the keys in the first place, and they have more feedback to them too, so it's much easier to tell when you've actually hit a key successfully. More importantly, you can actually thumb-type quite quickly on it. It's never going to match a notebook keyboard for speed, but for writing short documents and emails it's perfect. Again, compared to the Sony UX1XN this is streets ahead, and much more convenient to enter text and web addresses than a plain tablet-based UMPC like the Ubiquio 701.