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Living with Origami

Living with Origami

A few weeks ago Microsoft announced a new class of computer code named Origami.  Microsoft promised that Origami would change your life, go where no other computer would go, and provide you with an experience no Windows machine had yet achieved.  

For the last week I?ve been living off the Samsung Q1, the first?and arguably the best?of the first wave of Origami computers, and while I still see a lot of potential in this product, its appeal is limited by its shortcomings.  However, for the right person, it could, in fact, be vastly better than any laptop or desktop system currently on the market. 

Origami ? Things to Love

This product is just the right size for media.  If you want to use your Slingbox or Tivo-to-go capability, there is no product that will better present your TV or movies.  The screen is just big enough to get a decent movie experience, and you can share the film with one other person in a pinch.  It is vastly better than a cell phone or PDA at this, as size really does make a difference here. 

That means if you?ve learned to rip your movies or are using an on-line movie service, this is actually an easier product to use than a portable DVD player, as you can load a number of movies to watch.  On one trip I loaded 10 hours of TV shows and still had room for 3 full-length movies.  With the addition of a 20 GB or larger USB hard drive that I could pack, I could bring enough movies and shows to keep me (or the kids) entertained for the better part of a week on planes and in cars.  

Casual games work fine as well, once you get used to the touch screen, and the unique side controls actually work reasonably well with some of the games. Games designed for the tablet PC, like pool, seem to work reasonably well also, but this is far from a gamers? box.  

Music was actually rather impressive; the device has a good set of speakers with lots of depth and sound range.  While graphics isn?t a strong point, it is strong enough to do visualizations (basically graphic art which is rendered in time with the music), making this a visual, as well as audible, experience. 

Browsing the web on the Samsung Q1 is vastly better than a cell phone or PDA, and the display?thanks to Web Master?s continued default use of relatively low resolutions?is perfect for the web.  Coupled with built-in wired and wireless internet services, this is a browsing machine; if you spend a lot of your time on eBay or using Web services, you?ll generally be very happy with this product.  Pen input for navigating the Web is actually kind of handy, and since this is a touch screen, your finger works fine as a pointer if you?d rather not use the stylus (though you?ll want to keep the included microfiber rag handy for the fingerprints that will result).

Finally, if you need to write a document or an e-mail, it has a full Windows XP tablet addition, so you can do both.  I?m writing this column using this device, plus a small keyboard that was designed to work with Motion Computing?s Tablet.  Ideally, I?d want to use a fold-up wireless keyboard, but the one I have from ThinkOutside is just a little too small for my hands.  

Performance for light tasks is acceptable, and the stares you get when you pull this thing out of its sleeve, open up the picture-frame-like back, and set to work with it are priceless.  This product is so rare that it will get stares wherever you use it.  

So, if you want something that will fit in a purse or small case (but not in a pocket) and will generally be used for personal entertainment and occasionally for writing, or just for e-mail, this is actually a nice alternative to a laptop computer; however, it hasn?t reached its full potential yet. 

Origami ? Things that are Annoying

There is an ?unfinished? sense about this product.  Unless you are at the highest resolution (fortunately, you can change resolutions with a quick push on a physical button on the left side), windows often open with the activity buttons off the bottom of the screen, with no quick or easy way to get to them.  

This product uses the Intel Mobile Celeron processor which is actually noticeably slower than its more expensive Pentium M sibling.  The end result is that initial boot is slow, as is going in and out of suspend and hibernation.  Part of this may be due to the relatively little memory put in the product.  If there was ever an offering that screamed for the new hybrid flash magnetic drives, this would be it.  

Fingerprints; I love piano gloss black, but man, does it ever fingerprint.  Much like the black iPods, this looks really cool if you keep it polished, but I wish they had found a cool finish that required less upkeep.  You have to hold this thing in your hands much of the time and I found myself wishing they had bundled gloves along with the microfiber polishing cloth. 

Battery life is two hours.  If you want to watch the 15 hours of programming the device will hold along with all of your personal stuff, you?d better be near an AC outlet or have purchased the external battery pack.  I?m thinking a fuel cell would make this product truly amazing, as there is only so much you can reasonably do with batteries.  Still, I?d put the design floor at 4 to 5 hours for a device like this, and that leaves a big gap.  The whole point of the device is to be portable, but you really can?t be that portable if you have to be plugged in to power most of the time.  Fortunately the battery isn?t too large, so carrying a spare shouldn?t be a huge problem. 

This product really needs wide area wireless.  Without a PCMCIA slot (it has a CF slot) you can?t easily add a wide area wireless service without tapping into your Bluetooth phone.  With the data plans being kind of ?iffy? on supporting that level of connectivity, and with the typical pain it is to set up a Bluetooth phone, Origami is far from elegant.  This is a device that screams for wireless connectivity; the Flybook, which has integrated cell phone and is about the same size, sets the example here. 

Finally, this thing needs an attached keyboard.  Even though the Samsung uses an Intel design, the best Intel design has an integrated fold-out keyboard, which?when you are doing e-mail?would make a world of difference if you found yourself in a pinch.  External keyboards are relatively bulky and can be separated and lost.   People will use these for e-mail, so not having a keyboard?even a very small one?is a problem.  Yes, can you up a virtual keyboard, but it just isn?t the same. 

Conclusion

I actually like the device, but it needs another version before I?ll love it, and what drives incredible sales are products that cause folks to fall in love with them.  I think women will probably find that this device, as it currently is, fits their needs more closely.  They have purses to carry it and spare batteries in, tend to enjoy doing what the device does best (casual games, music, and light e-mail), and are not as focused on the things that drive performance.  Some of the smallest notebooks have been much more popular with women.  

Personally I?d like to fast forward one or two versions so I could find one that best meets my own needs; however, for the right person, Origami may be the best thing on the market today.  I?m just not that right person at this particular time.

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