UBiQUiWHO? is probably the first question you asked yourself when you saw this review... and you're probably not alone
UBiQUiO was initially a North American mobile computing services company, that was then acquired by MobilePlanet, who were in turn acquired by Expansys. Therefore, UBiQUiO is nowadays wholly owned by Expansys - a familiar name in the Windows Mobile space, but as a reseller of devices rather than as someone with their own brand. Despite having been around for a good few years, it is only recently that UBiQUiO branded devices have started to come to market. The previous efforts have been somewhat forgettable, including the distinctly unimpressive UBiQUiO 401, a rebranded Gigabyte G-Smart.
So to the UBiQUiO 501... our object of interest today. A rebranded TechFaithWireless device (that incidentally will also be coming to i-mate as the JAQ3), the 501 shows a lot of promise with it's diminuitive size, Pocket PC Operating System (therefore with touchscreen) and QWERTY thumboard.
In a market that all of a sudden seems to be somewhat flooded with such devices, can the 501 hold it's own? Can the 501 emulate the success of it's TechFaithWireless sibling - the i-mate SPL - with a positive review? Read on to find out!
Buying the UBiQUiO 501
The UBiQUiO 501 is available exclusively from Expansys.
UBiQUiO 501 - £299.95
For comparison, i've included the prices of some of it's rivals (although, the 501 is unique in a lot of respects, so it's hard to really identify it's rivals)...
Fujitsu Siemens LOOX T830 - £494.95
HTC TyTN - £494.95
Samsung i320 - £339.95
HP iPaq 6915 - £359.95
HTC S620 - £319.95
Vodafone Treo 750v - not available SIM free from Expansys, available locked and SIM free from Vodafone, £380 + £20 imei-check unlock
As you can see, the UBiQUiO 501 comes in cheaper than any of it's rivals. Food for thought indeed!
Unboxing the UBiQUiO 501
Inside the compact, smart, blue box you will find the following...
- a manual
- a quick start guide
- an ActiveSync / Outlook CD
- a wall charger
- a 2.5mm headset
- a miniUSB sync / charge cable
- a 1250mAh battery
- the device itself!
No carry case is included.
Hardware - overview
The 501's specifications are definitely in the middle to low rather than high end, in the realms of 'tried and tested' rather than trailblazing! That's not necessarily a bad thing of course!
A quick run through the specifications...
- Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Edition AKU 2.2
- GSM/GPRS tri-band
- TI OMAP750 200 MHz
- 64MB RAM
- 128MB ROM
- WiFi 802.11b/g
- Bluetooth 1.2
- 2.5" QVGA Colour TFT
- 2 Megapixel Camera
- miniSD expansion
- miniUSB connection
- 1250mAh battery
- 122mm x 65mm x 13.5mm
The device is thin - in fact the thinnest Pocket PC in the world at this time! A 13.5mm Pocket PC is something of a rarity, and the diminuitive size is definitely the 501's party piece. It's not overly heavy either, tipping the scales at 135g. The inclusion of 802.11b/g WiFi is a plus, and goes some way to compensating for the lack of 3G connectivity.
Expansion is via miniSD which means that you won't have to reinvest in microSD should this be your format of choice, and connectivity is via a miniUSB connection.
The camera is a 2 Megapixel affair, albeit a typical phone camera, i.e. average quality (at best).
There's no denying the TI OMAP750 processor is getting long in the tooth. Coupled with the 128MB ROM, it will be interesting to see how this processor copes with running the Pocket PC OS, and how long the battery lasts - is it a typical performance v battery life tradeoff?
The lack of 3G / HSDPA connection should be considered, although in all honesty the number of Pocket PC devices that offer this is still quite low. Unfortunately, the 501 also lacks EDGE support. As a tri rather than quad band device, the 501 isn't ideal for US customers or frequent US travellers.
The 501 runs Windows Mobile 5 for Pocket PC AKU2.2, and while we now expect AKU2 to be included as a minimum, it's a shame no to see AKU3, which brings with it useful enhancements such as WPA2 support.
Despite the thin size and good thumboard, for me the design of the device is still somewhat 'industrial'. The design and choice of plastics could be 'sexier', but we'll come to this later in the review. I wouldn't want to lose any of the apparent durability however.
Hardware - around the device
So let's work our way round the device!
The front of the device is fairly evenly split between the 2.5" QVGA landscape screen and the hardware buttons / QWERTY thumboard.
Starting from the top, you'll find a single LED in the top right, above the speaker, which is in the centre with a 'chrome effect' grille. The speaker sits at the top of an 'bevelled frame', which contains the screen and the hardware buttons. The screen is slightly set back into the device, meaning that it has a degree of protection, and shouldn't come to any damage should you place the device face down. Below the screen sits the UBiQUiO logo, above the hardware buttons.
I'm pleased to say that the UBiQUiO 501 comes with the full complement of hardware buttons. As well as the silver directional pad, you'll find hardware buttons for the on screen soft keys, 'Windows' and 'OK' buttons, green and red buttons, and Messaging and Internet Explorer buttons - excellent.
Just below the bevelled panel, on the left hand side, sits the microphone hole.
Next we come to the thumboard. As well as the alphabet keys, the keyboard features a tab key , a function key, a shift key and a clipboard key (more on this later), a space bar approximately twice the size of a regular key, a 'conv' key, arrow keys, a backspace key and a return key. You'll also notice a dedicated '0' key that forms part of the number pad layout.
The keys are formed from very hard plastic, and feel very durable. They, like the rest of the device, are a very dark metallic grey, with white writing. The numeric keypad keys are marked in blue where appropriate.
The device has a fairly bright white backlight on the keyboard and hardware buttons.
Over to the back of the device!
At the top right you will notice the 2 Megapixel Camera, which has a silver surround. There is no flash or self portrait mirror, and below the camera sits prominent '2.0 MEGA PIXELS' and unusual 'MPEG4.p3.MINISD' branding. Below this, still on the right hand side, sits the loudspeaker.
2/3 of the back of the device is occupied by the battery cover, which has a 'Designed for Windows Mobile' logo. It also has a pair of very slightly raised 'feet', made of the same material as the rest of the device. The battery cover fits well, but it easy to remove when required.
The base of the device is home to the stylus silo. This contains a telescopic stylus, that on my unit was a little stiff in the silo - although I imagine this will loosen over time. In use the stylus feels acceptable, but nothing more.
The top of the device is home to the lanyard loop and the miniSD slot, which has a small plastic dust cover. The cover feels quite sturdy, unlike on some devices!
On the left of the device you will find the volume up / down buttons, a camera button, and the power button. The power button is thoughtfully recessed to try and prevent it being pressed accidentally. The right of the device is home to the 2.5mm headphone socket, the miniUSB socket, the IR eye and the reset pin.
The bottom of the device has no connections / buttons.
The software on the 501 consists of a Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC AKU 2.2 that is very much a base build. The only additions to the standard applications are UBiQUiO's own Camera application and the Esmterec Java runtime.
The included voice speed dial is the familiar 'Cyberon Voice Commander', which requires voice training for each specific contact / function.
The UBiQUiO camera application is reasonable, with a number of different modes (Photo, Video, Portrait, Self Shutter, Burst), different lighting moves (Auto, Daylight, Fluorescent, Tungsten and Night) and a number of image effects. Video can be recorded up to a paltry maximum resolution of 176x144.
As someone who very rarely uses Java, I can't honestly say i've extensively tested the esmertec Java runtime on the UBiQUiO 501, but strangely the new GMail java client doesn't seem to work, requiring installation of an additional JRE (such as the one provided free of charge by IBM).
Unlike most devices, no PDF reader is included but hey - no big deal - as the excellent PocketXpdf is free anyway!
So what's the 501 like to use?
First impressions are of a device that is well built and solid (probably due to the hard, dark plastic used in it's construction). The device isn't ugly, but it's not overly pretty either - the only way I can think of to describe it is 'industrial'. Despite the thinness, sexy it ain't! Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder however, and some people I have shown the device to have been immediately impressed.
From a hardware perspective, everything works well.
The volume and camera buttons feel good, and having the power button set back is a thoughtful design, even if it makes for slightly strange tactile feedback when it is pressed. The same applies to the main hardware buttons on the device and the thumboard keys - they all respond with a reassuring click, providing the impression of a well built device. The hardware buttons are all thoughtfully placed, and pleasant to use. My only slight criticism in this respect is that I would prefer to have had the dpad set a few mm higher, but it is still more pleasant to use than a number of devices I have reviewed in the past.
The thumboard is nice to use, it's interesting to see exactly how different thumboards can be between devices. The difference between the UBiQUiO 501 and, say, the Treo 750v for example, is marked. While the 750v has soft keys with a muted click, the keys on the 501 are rock solid and click loudly. This isn't a bad thing per se, it's just different. For me personally, I like the thumboard. The shapes of the keys are good, I find myself rarely making errors, and can type more accurately than I can on either the 750v, T830 and perhaps even the Samsung i320. If you're going to be banging out a lot of emails on your device, bear this in mind!
As I mentioned previously, there are a number of additional keys on the 501. The inclusion of a tab key is useful (also on the T830 but missing on the 750v), and the function and shift keys are to be expected. What is in a interesting addition however is the 'clipboard' key. Pressing this, as you would imagine, brings up the the clipboard menu when entering text. A neat idea, but the implementation is not quite perfect... there is no way of selecting text from the keyboard (e.g. with shift and arrows), so to cut or copy you need to touch the screen anyway - unfortunate. I previously mentioned the 'Conv' button that sits to the right of the spacebar. This opens up Comm Manager, and unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any way to reassign it. I'd like to see this button listed in the standard 'Settings' buttons applet. Finally with regards to the thumboard, the 501 has 'full time' arrow keys. Unfortunately, this means that a press of the function button is required to get a comma or full stop. I definitely use those more often that I do the arrows (which I can achieve with the dpad too), so that's one aspect i'm not keen on.
As we mentioned above, the 501 runs the somewhat long-in-the-tooth OMAP 750 processor... so how does this impact performance?
If i'm honest, this isn't the fastest Pocket PC i've ever used, but you wouldn't expect it to be. In the time i've had it, i've used it in the same way that it will be used by the majority of purchasers... as an e-mail warriors companion. In that regard i've found it perfectly capable. There is very little noticeable lag navigating around the OS and the messaging application, i've been browsing the web and using IM no problem too. If you are buying the 501 as a video playback tool, then you might want to think twice but again, I don't think that is the device's target market.
On the flipside of this, I have found the battery life on the UBiQUiO 501 quite formidable, and among the best of the Pocket PCs I have at the moment. I've been using 24/7 push mail for well over 3 days now, with some web and IM use (admittedly no calls), and the battery still has a small amount of juice left. I can't quite believe it myself, and am trying to think if i've plugged it in at all - but aside from the occasional USB hookup to install an application, the device has been unplugged.
WiFi on the device has performed fine around the house, connecting to my 802.11g network with no problems. Bear in mind that, with AKU 2.2 on the device rather than AKU 3, WPA2 encrption is not supported. It looks likely this can be achieved using a third party solution though (more on this coming soon).
If you're looking for a solidly constructed Pocket PC device with a QWERTY thumboard that will slip into your Pocket, then the UBiQUiO 501 could well be the device for you. It's not particularly sexy to look at (although it's far from ugly) and the specifications are OK rather than outstanding, but I get the impression it set out to perform a particular role - challenger to the Blackberry - well, and that it does. Due to it's thin size, it's a fairly unique offering. The Samsung i320 / HTC S620 are thin and slightly smaller, but Smartphones with no touchscreen. The Treo 750v is similar, with better specs, but it's a lot thicker. The T830 and Hermes are also much higher spec but again, much thicker.
Bear in mind too that the pricing on the UBiQUiO 501 undercuts all of it's likely rivals, and you could have quite a compelling case for the device!
All in all, a decent effort from UBiQUiO, and their OEM, TechFaithWireless.
I would like to see an AKU3 build released for the device (and I will consult with Expansys as to whether this is likely), and it's also worth bearing in mind that the same device we have here is waiting in the wings from i-mate, with a slightly more rounded overall look, and an 850/1800/1900 tri-band option.
I'll leave you with the pic of the 501 with some of it's rivals.
From top to bottom...
- HTC S620 (Excalibur)
- Samsung i320
- Treo 750v
- MDA Vario II (Hermes)
- Fujitsu Siemens T830
- UBiQUiO 501
and an easier to view picture of it and it's thumboarded friends