Umid_bz_review

Originally known as the UMID M2 but officially rechristened the UMID mbook BZ, the Atom-based clamshell MID/UMPC was launched at CES 2010 and is now available at Dynamism. It is the successor to last year's mbook M1, which received mixed reviews due to early build quality issues and hardware quirks like a less-than-ideal screen angle, non-standard ports that required unwieldy adapters to use, and no pointing device.

UMID took its customers' complaints seriously and released the BZ with an updated high-quality casing that included an improved screen angle, standard ports, an optical mouse with mouse buttons, and some additional niceties. The base model's specs were not upgraded, though, so hardware would really be the main incentive for anyone to consider the BZ.

Is it enough to warrant a new purchase? Read my full review to find out.

System Specifications (as reviewed)

CPU:
1.2GHz Intel Atom Z515
RAM: 512MB DDR2
OS: Windows XP Home
Storage: 32GB SSD*
Display: 4.8" resistive touchscreen (1024 x 600)
Wireless: 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
Size: 6.33" x 3.79" x 0.75"
Weight: 12.8 oz

*The BZ currently shipping from Dynamism has a 16GB SSD.

See my UMID mbook BZ unboxing for some of the available accessories, both included and optional.

Design

Like the black mbook M1 (but unlike the other colors), the mbook BZ has a matte exterior finish that seems fairly resistant to scratches.

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The screen and keyboard bezels are composed of smooth silver plastic that carries some sheen but is not glossy. The entire unit masks fingerprints and other smudges very well, ensuring that the BZ is always in presentable, non-greasy condition.

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The device itself is attractive from the outside—round corners, soft ridges, silver accents, and smooth sides with no unsightly bulges or protrusions—but may be more of an acquired taste on the inside because of the lack of symmetry on the screen bezel, which is already quite thick on the left and right sides. There's something a little messy-looking about the placement of the elements on the bezel, which appear more pronounced because of the contrasting colors (black on silver). An all-black unit like the black M1 would've looked better, in my opinion, but I think the BZ would still turn heads as it is.

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Build Quality

While the original M1 suffered from quality issues that were eventually sorted out shortly after launch, the BZ is coming out of the gate with high quality materials that have been put together very well. The device is sturdy, with no cosmetic imperfections or evidence of shoddy construction.

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There's some creaking and flexing on the back panel if deliberately/forcefully pressed, but everything else feels incredibly solid and strong.

Size

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The UMID BZ isn't the smallest Atom-based clamshell MID on the market (that title belongs to its sibling, the M1), but it's compact, portable, and yes, even pocketable. It's easy to become jaded by all the gadgets that are available to us these days, but when you really stop and consider how small full-blown computers have become in a matter of years, it's truly amazing.

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You can see more size comparisons in my BZ unboxing post.

Display

Like its predecessor and a handful of other current MIDs, the UMID mbook BZ has a 4.8-inch resistive touchscreen with a resolution of 1024 x 600. The display is crisp and bright from all natural viewing angles, and the touchscreen layer does not adversely affect clarity, even against white backgrounds.

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The display hinge is very strong and tight; it holds the screen securely in any position. It's so sturdy, in fact, that you can actually hold the entire unit by the screen in any angle and it will stay that way, even if you flip the device upside down and right-side up again.

Touchscreen

One of the reasons the UMID M1 was so usable without any kind of pointing device is that it had an excellent touchscreen. Responsiveness and accuracy were so good that many could maneuver through Windows XP, an operating system not known for its finger-friendliness, with relative ease. Even small targets were simple to hit with a soft tap of a stylus or fingernail.

Fortunately, the same holds true for the UMID BZ. Even though it does have an optical mouse and mouse buttons, the touchscreen is so good and responsive that it's often quicker to tap the screen than use the hardware controls.

Screen Angle

Umid_bz_screen_angle

Unlike the M1, the BZ's screen can be pushed back to an angle that is comfortable and optimal for both handheld and tabletop use.

Controls

In addition to the touchscreen (discussed above) and the keyboard (discussed below), the UMID BZ is equipped with hardware controls for navigation.

Optical Mouse & Mouse Buttons

Flanking the display are a recessed optical mouse on the right and small rubberized mouse buttons on the left. Neither is implemented exceptionally well, but both are functional and easy enough to use. The strength of the screen hinge, detailed above, prevents the display from budging under the pressure of your thumbs, so you don't have to worry about having to constantly reset your desired screen angle.

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The optical mouse is sensitive and the movement on screen is smooth, but it would be better if the optical pad wasn't sunken in so the thumb could glide over the entire area more comfortably and freely.

Umid_bz_mousebuttons

The mouse buttons have a nice clicky sound/feel to them, but they're a little small for my taste. If I put my thumb over both of them, it can't immediately distinguish the separation; that is, if my thumb didn't know any better, it would think a single button was resting beneath it. I actually don't position my thumb like that so I don't have trouble using the mouse buttons, but it's worth mentioning.

I like that an optical mouse and mouse buttons are included on the UMID BZ, but I don't really care for their placement. I would rather have seen them on the keyboard-half of the device like on the Sharp NetWalker to minimize switching hand positions. I suppose it depends on the size of your hands and fingers, but I personally can't thumb type on the keyboard and reach the mouse controls without moving my hands.

The screen-half of the BZ is also top-heavy, which you tend to notice when switching from holding the device by the keyboard to holding it more in the middle. The weight is nicely distributed in the latter position, so the unit feels more balanced if you're consuming content (when you're more likely to just use the mouse controls) rather than creating it.

Cap Sensor

Above the keyboard is a capacitive strip that UMID calls the Cap Sensor.

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Pressing the Fn key while sliding your finger across the sensor brings up a menu that lets you adjust screen brightness, volume, zoom, scrolling, and resolution, as well as access two user-defined quick menu buttons and lock/unlock the sensor.

Though placed in an area that not all thumbs could easily reach, the Cap Sensor is still a nice feature.

Wireless Button

On the UMID M1, the WiFi and Bluetooth radios were "connected" so that both had to be either on or off. On the BZ, the radios can be controlled separately.

Umid_bz_wirelessbutton 

Umid_bz_wireless

Pressing the wireless button next to the power button launches a simple menu with WiFi and Bluetooth icons. Tapping or clicking on the icons toggles them on (blue) or off (black).

Keyboard

In my UMID M1 review, I praised the device's 56-key keyboard for its ability to be used

"with equal comfort for thumb typing when held between both hands and multi-finger typing when used on a flat surface. Both usage scenarios are possible with other devices, of course, but one use is inevitably always better than the other because of the device's size, design, etc. With the UMID, however, users come closer than ever before to having the best of both worlds. I don't think the mbook offers the best single-use experience, as the OQO Model 02 has a better thumboard and something like the Everun Note has a better hunt-and-peck/touch-typable keyboard, but nothing on the market is better for both uses."

I still believe this to be true with the UMID BZ. It doesn't provide the single best thumb or multi-finger typing experience on a mobile device, but it's very good for both purposes. The keys press down evenly, offer good tactile feedback, and have a nice feel to them.

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I could see the width of the device, the style of the keys, and/or the placement of the ports preventing some people from having an excellent thumb typing experience, but for the most part, I think the keyboard is well done. Thumb typing comfort is obviously affected if something is plugged into and sticking out of the USB port or headphone jack, though to what degree depends on how large and rigid the item is.

Backlighting and more space around each key are the only improvements I wouldn't mind seeing on the third-gen UMID keyboard. I suppose some might clamor for a right shift key as well. I don't use this key on any keyboard, so I never notice its absence. I don't consider it to be a serious omission on a thumboard either; StickyKeys is a fine workaround that I actually use on all handheld devices that support it.

Software

In addition to the standard applications and programs found on Windows XP Home computers, not to mention the countless ones you can install yourself, the UMID mbook BZ comes with Thepot Player UI (finger-friendly launcher UI shown below), ThinkFree Mobile Office, Cphone (for making phone calls with the BZ by connecting it to a cell phone via Bluetooth), and LogMeIn Ignition.

Umid_bz_pot

Performance

Although it was available in lower configurations, most users outside of Korea had the 1.33GHz UMID M1. Unfortunately for them, at the time of this writing the BZ is only available with the slower 1.2GHz Intel Atom Z515 processor. The RAM is still limited to 512MB too and the 32GB SSD in my unit is slower than the one in the M1 (this may not be the case with the 16GB BZs), so current M1 owners really need to be enticed by the hardware to consider upgrading (downgrading?).

Umid_bz_web

As you can see from the benchmarks below, performance isn't exactly what anyone would call impressive. However, for my purposes and usage, which is little more than running Firefox with a handful of tabs, the lower specs aren't an issue. Even when I run the BZ side-by-side with my M1, I don't notice any significant difference in lag or SSD access. I don't know why anyone would be running CPU-intensive applications on something like this, but I suppose the 0.13GHz difference could be felt in certain situations.

As on the UMID M1 and Viliv devices, the BZ awakens from standby in a matter of seconds and is so power-efficient that it can be left in standby (rather than hibernation) overnight with very little hit to the battery. It isn't an instant-on device, of course, but it's getting pretty close.

Benchmarks

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Battery Life

Powering the UMID BZ is a removable li-ion battery (7.4V, 2600mAh) advertised to provide up to 7 hours of runtime under the least power-consuming conditions.

Umid_bz_batt

In real-world usage with WiFi on and light to moderate web browsing, the BZ can surpass the 5-hour mark. By "light to moderate," I mean reading blogs, emailing, posting comments and forum entries, watching a few YouTube videos, downloading some content, and maybe occasionally streaming audio.

Umid_bz_batteat

With very heavy usage, WiFi/Bluetooth on, and screen brightness set to mid-level, Battery Eater (results above) indicates that the BZ can run for 3 hours and 40 minutes at 100% CPU usage. Pretty impressive for something this small, if you ask me.

Conclusion

If the UMID mbook BZ had been released with a faster processor and more RAM, it probably would've been an instant hit among MID/UMPC fans.

Umid_bz_final

It's built well, is stylish enough for most gadget connoisseurs, and fixes all of the hardware issues that plagued its predecessor, the M1. It has an optical mouse and mouse buttons, standard-size I/O ports, improved screen angle, strong display hinge, excellent touchscreen, good keyboard, fast resume from standby, great battery life, individually selectable wireless radios (which, as previously mentioned, the M1 didn't have), and a handy new Cap Sensor feature for quick access to various utilities. There's really very little not to like about the BZ . . . well, except for the CPU and RAM.

A boost in specs is all it would take for the BZ to give the upcoming Viliv N5 some serious competition.

:: Visit the UMID mbook BZ forum to  connect with other users, share tips, and troubleshoot ::

The UMID mbook BZ is available now for $549 from Dynamism.