Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review of the ExoPC (so far - another work in progress)

I bought a slate (ExoPC) as an e-reader, travelling entertainment device and for portable Internet access. It's early-adopter stuff (drivers, drivers & drivers) and, while it does all the things I bought it for, it's far from perfect.

The ExoPC UI Layer. Very quick and easy to use, but also unfinished
Left side. There's a docking port underneath and a stand and stylus on the way.

For those interested in the tech side: Intel Atom N450, 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 32GB SSD, 1 x SD slot, 2 x USB, 1 x mini-HDMI and a SIM card slot with nothing behind it. Audio I/O 3.5mm. 1.3 Mp webcam. 1366x768 11.6" capacitive touch screen, 4 hours battery life, if you're lucky. Broadcom chip for HD video via the m-HDMI. Runs Win 7 32-bit Home Premium out of the box. Cost A$762 delivered from Canada.

So here's my rankings so far:

 E-reader 7.5/10
Pros - covers every file format, backlit, good screen size and resolution. Big plus compared to a Kindle is glorious colour. Magazines etc look great. Also the speed of screen refreshes/page turns is very quick. Some e-paper screens I've tried blank out for a ridiculous time between pages. I'm a fast reader dammit.
Cons - too heavy (nearly a kg), short battery life, occasionally dodgy touch screen. The touch screen issue has been reported by other users but seems to be improved by new drivers (for me anyway). It's actually quite a bit better than other capacitive screens I've tried and can only get better with, yep, new drivers.

11.6" ExoPC linked to 54" Panasonic. One cable.
Mythbusters from ExoPC. Quality is as good as the file allows

Travelling entertainment 8/10
Pros - runs VLC, MPC - anything really. Got a cheap cable from Deal Extreme to hook to HDTV and it works fine. 1080p video + audio to a 54" plasma looks great, audio out to an amp or headphones is also great. Just the thing for motels or apartments when we're travelling.
Cons - It'll do a flight to Melbourne but not an international. I'd give it 9.5 if the battery life was better.

HDMI cable on the left, 3G modem on the right. Slate with fingerprints in middle.

Portable Internet access 6/10
Pros - great screen, especially compared to a smartphone.
Cons - weight and size mean I won't use it easily or often on the go, but fine at the destination. Needs a USB 3G modem - which I have - but an internal 3G/GPS card would be better. Some owners have already installed these, thus voiding their warranties. Like it says on my t-shirt, I Void Warranties 8-). Battery life again means that I won't spend too much time away from a socket, but to be honest I don't anyway.

All in all, I got exactly what I expected and was happy to pay for. I haven't mentioned the very fast and easy, finger-friendly Exo UI layer or the App store (which isn't much at all yet anyway). Some early problems have already been fixed by driver updates, and more are expected. The UI layer gets better with each iteration but hasn't reached version 1 yet so again, more fun to come. The bottom line is that I've now read scores of e-books I've had for years and it looks way easier to cart off on trips than a laptop or even netbook so I'm happy for now. In a couple of years new screens, batteries and APUs will probably produce devices 10x better, but by then the $2 coins in my bottom drawer will probably amount to enough to get one so that's OK too. (Beyond price was the look on the teller's face when I produced a 50 year old canvas bank moneybag with 400 $2 coins to buy this one.)