Friday, April 25, 2008

Stone UMPC review

It was just before the "Easter" break and being signed off from work for a couple of weeks I got to use another of the sub-notebooks doing the rounds. The Stone UMPC (I think UM = Ultra Mobile) is a rebranded Belinea s.book 1 and runs Windows XP Tablet Edition, has 1GB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive (unlike the Elonex ONE or Asus EeePC). As it's running XP Tablet it has a small stylus hidden in the top and what feels like The World's Smallest touch-pad - seriously, it's tiny. The keys are also slightly smaller than what might be considered 'normal', which reminds me of watching delegates at the Naace Conference in Torquay this year carrying EeePCs around, yet struggling to type on the tinier-than-you-think keyboards and squinting from behind glasses at the smaller-than-I'm-used-to screen. Ah well, such is the price of fashion...

Anyway, my main interest in the UMPC is how it works with our BucksGfL tools - in particularly our Moodle sites, our Adobe Connect server and (just as important in my opinion) the RIAs which are increasingly available and commonplace.
Well, most of the answers to those are fairly straightforward - it's running Windows, right? Well, sort of... of course, it's a doddle to install a recent version of Flash to access the Connect server, and Moodle just does what it always does (even on my N95), which is work in a browser without any second thought. It's where the RIAs come into play that the only slight glitch appears. If you've a normal laptop, then you know it's struggling when the fan comes on and the ensuing hum is the equivalent of a cry for mercy from an overwarm and overworked processor. It's immediately apparent when using the UMPC that the fan is on a lot of the time - and almost always when using something like Aviary, Splashup, or even Google Documents. Use Firefox or Internet Explorer with a couple of tabs open - and the fan joins in, even if the pages loaded are fairly low-key. This gives you an idea of the heat being generated inside the machine and boy does it get hot.
One of the interesting aspects of the device is the modular bay to the right of the screen. In the test machine I had this was occupied by a Skype-compatible phone, which connected by Bluetooth and so could be removed from the slot, with Skype being controllable from the handset. This can be swapped for a GPS unit or a webcam which would make things much more usable in terms of using the device to access a videoconference on Connect. Unfortunately, the machine in question wasn't supplied with a webcam, so it was time to improvise.
The Nokia N95 has an excellent camera and, like most modern phones, Bluetooth. The UMPC has Bluetooth as well, so using a simple (and - of course - free) application called Webcam Wherever I Go (WWIGO) it's possible to set the UMPC up with a webcam. WWIGO (currently in beta) only works with Nokia devices, but once installed a client program on the N95 sends the camera's input to any other Bluetooth device, such as the N95, it even shows up in the Flash Player's camera menu as a Flash-compatible webcam, so can easily be used with Connect, or Splashup, or any Flash-based RIA.
Searching Stone's web site it's nigh on impossible to find the UMPC, but the Belinea is available online for around £400 - so is the loss of functionality / capacity and smaller size desirable compared to a similarly priced "standard" laptop? The small touch pad can be got round by using one of the two USB ports to plug in an external mouse into and it can display on an external screen or projector through its DVI connection.
The UMPC is a nice device, but would I have one? Have a look...

8 comments:

  1. As mentioned above the Belinea version is about £400 on Google - I've not seen prices for the Stone version...

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  2. Oops just spotted £400 for Belinea, is this the same thing? Seems very expensive! An entry level laptop is a good bit less. This market is targeted to go well below £200 a machine, Perhaps below £100 in a year or two with improved quality. I have a Samsung UMPC I bought on e-bay for £400 nearly a year ago. It's one of the worst IT purchases I have made. Dog slow and fiddly to use for anything sensible. My old Psion netBook is more usable and 8 years old! Small screens and keyboards can be usable and the benefit is portability and lower cost. Psion was actually too far ahead of its time.

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  3. Thanks for this useful post Ian.

    Tess

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  4. Thankas for this really useful post Ian.

    :-)

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  5. Hi Ian and Ian
    This is another Ian
    Good review.
    Would you say the format is something you can see being used in education?

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  6. Hi Ian - yes, I could see it being used in education, however I'm not sure "where"? In class? At home? Somewhere in between? Would a school invest in as many of these as it would in "traditional" desktops or Macbooks, for example? I think that the UMPC concept brings "child-sized" computing at a (mainly) reasonable price, but it's not sure how these will be bought. Well-off parents giving their children another leg-up? Those with less access to technology getting a nudge forward to keep up with their peers? So far, it appears to be ICT advisers evaluating them...
    Ian.

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  7. Ian
    I was being a little bit sneaky as we have been using teh format since August with every pupil in our, very small, high school.
    The pupils use them to replace notebooks and handouts.
    Have a look at my blog to see more info http://islayian.blogspot.com/

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