Hands On With the UMID Mbook BZ

Posted on March 30, 2010

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I see so many different gadgets that you’d think I’d seen it all, but once in a while something different passes into Mobile Tech Manor. Such is the case with the UMID mbook bz, a tiny clamshell that has a number of features designed to yield a solid mobile work experience. I have been using the UMID for a couple of weeks, and I am still delighted to find new things it can do.

What is the UMID?

Ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs) take different forms, and the mbook bz is basically an itty-bitty netbook. The hardware components are those of many netbooks, and the clamshell form leaves no doubt it is a close cousin to larger notebooks. The full QWERTY keyboard is not big enough for touch typing, but it has the full complement of keys you will find on the bigger keyboards. The UMID has just the right compromises to make this the most mobile notebook I have used, without creating undue hardships during that use.

What’s in the Box?

The mbook bz ships in a box as small as you’d expect, but they’ve packed quite a bit in the small package. Inside is the mbook device, the battery, wired headset, Quick Guide, VGA dongle, power adapter and the Miccrosoft Windows XP Home Edition CD. A neoprene case from UMID was also in the box but I am not sure if the base package includes it. The packaging is well designed, and impart attention to detail that good things are about to unfold.

Hardware

The UMID mbook bz has I am reviewing is configured with typical first generation netbook components:

  • CPU: Intel Atom Z515 (1.2 GHz)
  • Memory: 512 MB (DDR2)
  • Storage: 16 GB Solid State Disk (SSD)
  • Display: 4.8-inch resistive touch screen (1024×600)
  • Radios: Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g), Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • Webcam: 1.3 MP
  • Ports: USB, 3.5mm headphone, 10-pin VGA (dongle included), microSD
  • Battery: Li-Ion, 7.4v, 2600 mAh
  • Dimensions: 6.33 x 3.79 x 0.75 inches
  • Weight: 0.8 lbs.

The unit feels very solid in the hand, with no loose parts. The display hinge is nice and tight, and stays solidly closed without a latch. Opening the screen exposes the 4.8-inch touch screen with a large bezel to accommodate various controls. On the left of the screen is a mono-speaker and the two tiny mouse buttons. On the right of the screen is the 1.3 megapixel web cam, with the optical touch pad below.

The touchpad is an interesting feature for such a small laptop, and with practice serves well. It is hyper-sensitive until adjusted to preference in the control panel, and I find I usually reach for this tiny touchpad before touching the screen to move the cursor. The mouse buttons are too small, making them very hard to hit in a hurry. They must be pushed very deliberately to make sure the click is registered.

Moving down to the keyboard finds 56 keys, with a few keys not positioned where expected due to space constraints. The keyboard is too small for touch typing with even the smallest hands, so it’s a matter of practicing the hunt and peck technique to get used to the key placement. There is a Windows key as expected, and four arrow keys.

Almost every key on the keyboard has an alternate function triggered by holding the blue Fn key. There are the standard functions for F1 – F12, Caps Lock, PgUp/Dn, Ins, Del, Home and PrtScr. UMID has also included controls for the device with Fn key triggers: Brightness Up/Down, Volume Up/Down/Mute, Standby, Battery Status, Web Cam On/Off and a browser home key. There is also a Fn key that fires up the AudioRecorder for recording quick voice notes.

Above the keyboard there is a touch control that fires up a system control panel when touched while holding the Fn key. This control panel gives touch access to change screen resolution on the fly, and even allow for saving of profiles for two different users. You may not want to share your mbook, but you can.

There are two buttons just above the keyboard: Radio On/Off and Power button. To the right of that are two LED indicators: Power and HDD activity. Below the keyboard is one big LED that indicates radio activity (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi).

Included Software

UMID is trying to create a productive device right out of the box, as indicated by the preinstalled software on the mbook.

  • ThinkFree Mobile (office suite)
  • LogMeIn Ignition
  • ThePot (mbook touch interface)
  • Bluetooth Soleil (control software)
  • USBC Client Utility (mount mbook as USB drive to other computers)
  • Touchside (touch screen settings)

ThinkFree Mobile provides word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs that are compatible with Microsoft Office 2007. The programs are easy to use and work well on the mbook for document creation and editing. The inclusion of ThinkFree goes a long way to making the UMID productive from the first power on.

I am a frequent user of LogMeIn for remote access to my various computers, and the LogMeIn Ignition included on the mbook is a wonderful tool. I have used it to run my MacBook from the little mbook, and the speed is simply amazing. LogMeIn Ignition is optimized to make working with larger screened computers easy to do on the little mbook. This program on the portable UMID makes for a powerful support tool for the IT professional.

ThePot is a special interface included on the mbook to provide touch-friendly control over the system and various functions. There are buttons for playing media, changing settings and accessing the web. The interface can be minimized to an icon on the screen for doing normal work, although the icon always stays on top of other windows negating the usefulness of doing so. The interface has controls for the media player on the bottom of the screen, and user programs can be added to the launcher.

The Bluetooth Soleil is an interface for working with the Bluetooth, facilitating finding new device for pairing. It is a bloated piece of software and I never use it.

The USBC Client Utility is designed to facilitate connecting the mbook to another computer via a USB cable. Files can be copied back and forth, and folders can be synced when connected. I have not used this so can’t comment on the features.

Hands-on Impressions

When I first heard about the UMID mbook bz, my reaction was “why would anyone want a little notebook?” I still had that impression when the evaluation unit arrived, but I admit it has grown on me quite a bit.

I frequently head out the door for short trips, and while I don’t want to bring a laptop along (and the gear bag it requires), I like to have a fall-back position should some unexpected free time present itself. The smartphone is not quite enough for these moments, yet a notebook is overkill. These trips are perfect for the UMID.

The mbook nestled in its form-fitting neoprene case is not much bigger than a phone and it’s great for these outings. I can grab it on the way out the door, and rest easy knowing if I am confronted with time to kill, I can do so with a full computer in my hands. The case has a little pocket on the front just perfect for my Verizon MiFi so I can get online no matter where I am.

The little keyboard on the mbook precludes a lot of text entry; I wouldn’t even consider doing this review on it. But it’s a good way for inputting a modest amount of entry, far more than I’m comfortable doing on a phone, and in a pinch I can do anything on the UMID that I can do on a bigger laptop. That’s pretty liberating for something that fits in a jacket pocket.

I find the performance of the mbook to be as good as most netbooks I have tried, not surprising given the same components are on board. The 16 GB SSD is not very big but it is pretty fast, so things move right along. The screen is very easy to read in most lighting conditions, and the touch screen is nice to have when needed.

I often wish the screen would swivel around into a true slate configuration. I think UMID missed the boat in this one area. The device is the perfect size to use as a slate in the hand, yet it’s stuck with that clamshell form. The screen does go almost all the way back to a flat form, but it’s not the same.

Pros and Cons

Mobile devices are highly personal in nature, and no two people will usually have the same impressions of a given device. With that in mind here are my pros and cons of the UMID mbook bz:

Pros

  • Highly portable
  • Good performance
  • Outstanding remote access via LogMeIn Ignition
  • Good software selection included

Cons

  • No swivel screen
  • Touch screen is too small for easy finger control (stylus is fine)
  • Price- the mbook is only available through importers such as Dynamism and is $549.

Thanks to the folks at Dynamism for supplying this loaner device for the evaluation.

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(via JKontheRun)

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Posted in: Computers, Technology