Electronic Design

A Must-Have UMPC Add-On

Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC) like Samsung's Q1B were out in full force at CES 2008 so I decided to leave my laptop at home. It was replaced by a combination of the Samsung Q1B UMPC, the iGo Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard (Fig. 1) and the Targus Rechargable Bluetooth Laser Notebook Mouse. I also brought along iGo's everywhere130 universal charging system and the iGo powerXtender that works with smaller devices like the Apple iPod. The question was: Can the combination replace the functionality of the laptop? The Answer: Yes. I have been using the Q1B for quite a while now. For those unfamiliar with the Q1B, it is an Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) with a 7-in touch screen. The 16:9 aspect ratio is ideal for watching movies or TV shows if you can get them onto the hard drive. That's significantly easier than plugging in an external DVD player to one of the two USB ports. The system runs Windows XP or Vista. Of course, this UMPC lacks a keyboard, and it comes with a standard 110V power brick. Adding the Bluetooth keyboard is natural, given the UMPC's Bluetooth support. Adding the iGo everywhere130 enables use on certain types of airplanes like the latest from Airbus. Depending upon the removable heads, the everywhere130 can plug into an AC outlet, a 12V automotive socket or the 4-pin sockets found on some planes. Another piece to the puzzle was Microsoft's Streets and Trips 2008. This includes a GPS receiver that turns the UMPC into a navigation system. iGo Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard The $129 keyboard is a marvel of mechanical engineering. It folds into a package about the size of two decks of cards (Fig. 2). The keyboard is divided into four sections that slide together when the unit is unfolded. There is a spring-loaded rod that locks the system into a fairly rigid pad that can be used on your lap. The spring tended to be a bit strong, and while the sliding keyboard sections are supposed to lock into place, I found that one side tended to push itself out with the help of that spring. A folded piece of paper, now a standard part of my combination, was added to keep the section from moving out, causing the keyboard to fold up when sitting on my lap. The 6-ounce unit is a full-size keyboard on par with most laptops, though it lacks the numeric keypad and function keys that are instead implemented as key combinations using the Fn key. The tactile feedback on the keyboard is excellent. The Bluetooth support is powered by a single AAA battery that seems to last (I have yet to change it). There is a small green status LED that blinks when connected and during Bluetooth discovery mode. The problem I have had from time to time was on a plane where it detected other devices — other laptops and cell phones picked up the keyboard. Then again, synching the keyboard before getting on the plane, where there were lots of people with Bluetooth systems, might not be such a good idea. I should have done it at home where there were fewer conflicts. Once linked the Q1B, the keyboard worked without a hitch. Using the keyboard with the Q1B has been a joy. The combination takes up less room than a conventional laptop in cramped quarters. The pair fit on the small flip-down airplane trays. Likewise, they worked reasonably well in my lap — though a large magazine helped. The Q1B's carrying case works well too. In more expansive environments, the combination works even better. The Q1B can be easily positioned for viewing by a small group although it pays to follow best practices for presentations, like using large readable fonts and minimizing the amount of text on the screen. Now that I've had a chance to compare the iGo keyboard with built-in UMPC keyboards and software keyboards, I can safely say there is no comparison. The full-size keyboard wins. The speed and accuracy are on par with a regular keyboard, making it sufficient for editing tasks like writing this article. I have tried smaller chores using built-in keyboards with some degree of success and almost none with the soft, screen oriented input. Given the price of the keyboard and most UMPCs, it is surprising that the two are not bundled together. It definitely makes a difference if you plan on making the UMPC your only computer. Getting used to the function key combinations for operations like page up and down does not take long, but it can be annoying if you switch between different keyboards on a regular basis. I would particularly have liked the ESC (escape) key to be a dedicated key because I used keyboard navigation a good bit and need this key on a regular basis. The iGo keyboard has proven to be pretty rugged. This is one peripheral that is a must-have for any UMPC owner. Mighty Mobile Mouse The Targus Rechargable Bluetooth Laser Notebook Mouse (Fig. 3) comes with a pair of NMiH AAA batteries and a USB cable for charging while in use. The Bluetooth Laser Mouse is lightweight and it comes with a carrying pouch that fits the mouse and cable. Hot keys can switch from 800 to 1,600 dpi on-the-fly for heightened sensitivity, but the added resolution is of less value with such as small screen. It is very handy when the Q1B is attached to a larger screen, running at full display resolution. Switching modes is easy with the keyboard, though tougher with the stylus and on-screen keyboard. Still, it is unlikely that you will use the mouse without the keyboard. Odds are you will have enough space to use the mouse if you are using the Stowaway keyboard. Together they allow the Q1B to easily match the functionality of a PC or laptop. I really liked the mouse itself. It fits easily in either hand and it is very responsive. It has two buttons and a scroll wheel in the center, and supports Windows and Mac. It is a generic USB device so it should work with Linux as well. Power Requirements The other device I tested with the Q1B was iGo's $149 everywhere130 universal charger (Fig. 4). This is another device that you don't want to do without if you travel with multiple electronic devices. It means carrying around one charger, not a whole collection. And it enables sufficient power in environments where conventional 110 AC power is not available. The input side of the system includes cords for the AC outlet and another for the car/plane outlet (Fig. 5). The latter has a cap that works with the automotive connectors. On the output side is a cable that accepts an adapter tip (Fig. 6). This tip plugs into your device. Tips are available for a range of laptops and other portable devices. A handful of the more popular tips are included with the charger. Additional tips can be obtained separately. The everywhere130 includes the dualpower accessory. This provides a second power output that can be used with a second device. If you need the same adapter tip for each device, you'll have to buy an extra adapter. Typically the devices are different and use different adapter tips, so you may have what you need already. The verdict on the everywhere130 is covered in one word: indispensable. For Portable Power The other gadget that showed up from iGo is the $15.99 iGo powerXtender (Fig. 7) battery-operated charger. This unit houses a pair of AA batteries (included). It uses the same type of tip technology as the everywhere130 but the tips are specific to the charger. I plugged the powerXtender into my iPod. The AA batteries in the charger recharge the batteries in the iPod. Units like the iPod can be used while charging and the charge rate varies depending upon the device.

Of course, for my trip, I accidentally left my USB cable for the iPod at home and would not have been able to recharge it without the powerXtender. The general availability of AA batteries makes the charger valuable. Operation is simple. Pop in a pair of batteries. Plug in the device. Turn on the power switch and wait. UMPC On The Go Microsoft's Streets and Trips 2008 is a mapping application initially designed for PCs and laptops. It includes a USB GPS adapter that enables navigation. It actually works better when used with a portable PC like the Samsung Q1B UMPC. The PC "roots" of Streets and Trips is quite apparent, making for distinct advantages and disadvantages on a UMPC. On the plus side, the functionality of the system is far greater than a stand-alone GPS navigation system. Route planning can get much more sophisticated, assuming it's done before you drive. On the downside, you can't use the mouse/menu interface while driving. The real-time interface is more finger/touch screen friendly, but it is not yet in the same class as standalone GPS navigation systems. The program is available in a number of versions. The top-of-the-line version supports real-time information updates including traffic and gas prices. The system can already handle location of nearby services and areas of interest. The FM receiver (Fig. 8) for this service can be part of the GPS adapter. Actually, the GPS adapter plugs into the center of the receiver, so you only need one USB cable. The top-end version of Streets and Trips includes a one-year subscription to this service. It's only available in some areas based on the FM transmissions, but I found it handy. I am going to concentrate on UMPC integration of Streets and Trips. I will say that the program works quite well with a PC and it is really designed for a large screen that is normally found on a laptop or PC. Those using the current version on a UMPC will need a little patience but that's already a requirement of using Windows applications on a UMPC. The biggest problem with using this application on a UMPC its the dependence on the mouse as well as the user interface that assumes menus are easy to read and access. This is not the case, even with a pen when sitting in a car trying to figure out where you want to go. It is much easier when using the system in a hotel room with the Stowaway keyboard and a USB mouse. Still, having preplanned routes makes it significantly easier to use on the road. The interactive GPS navigation mode (Fig. 9) is what will be used on the road. This has a finger-friendly interface (top of the screen) and an easily readable status area (bottom) but the map area and general interface are where any standalone GPS system beats Streets and Trips. The Streets and Maps interface is essentially limited to recalculating the route and switching the day/night view mode. Repeating audio directions is just a two-touch process but zooming or changing routes is not available in this version. Support for these kinds of actions is simply a matter of programming, so hopefully that will be different in future versions. Driving directions are based on routes. Routes can be created on the road, but you need to pull over and pull out the stylus because this part of the program (as with most of it) is mouse- or menu-based. Fingers do not work. Selecting a predefined route is a few stylus touches away, as is starting the GPS and driving direction support. As I noted, the system requires some patience, but the results are good once into the driving interface. The audio directions are a must. This is where the system is on par with standalone GPS systems. Directions are given prior to turns, and a status line indicates the relative distance to the next transition. Once I had to get used to was the view. The map area showed a zoomed-out view compared to the more conventional, 3D perspective lane view popular on many standalone navigation systems. The inability to zoom or hide the directions even temporarily is a deficiency I would like to see removed. Unfortunately, the zoom control requires the stylus and moving back to the conventional Windows interface. As a UMPC user, I have no problem using Streets and Trips as a GPS system, but I might think twice in passing it along to the less tech-savvy. Anyone who successfully utilizes a Windows-based UMPC will likely have the expertise and patience to make good use of the program. I will definitely be using it to find my way around. Related Links iGo Microsoft Samsung Targus

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