Hands on with Sony's would-be UMPC killer, the UX180P

Chris Ziegler
C. Ziegler|07.07.06

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Hands on with Sony's would-be UMPC killer, the UX180P
Sony is never a company to back down from raising a few eyebrows or ruffling a few feathers in the standards game, and so shall it be with the not-quite-UMPC UX180P. There's little question that the UX whips up on the current crop of UMPCs in the marketplace, sporting a more powerful processor, higher-res screen, integrated keyboard and EDGE -- but at $1800, it needs to. And right there lies the million-dollar question: at almost double the cost of a UMPC, does the UX serve its function? And what exactly is its function, for that matter? Read on for our take on the answers, along with some in-depth imagery.

For our purposes, we set out that we would consider the UX a success if, among other things, we felt comfortable taking it anywhere (within reason, of course). If we didn't, we'd be hard-pressed to justify the difference in convenience between the UX and a much more powerfully-spec'd 12.1-inch subnotebook for the same coin.

At the end of the day, we concluded that the portability of the UX rivaled that of the OQO; we could tote it pretty much anywhere we could possibly want to do some computin', though to do that, this reviewer had to attach the included ballistic nylon carrying case to the shoulder strap of his Timbuk2. We know that Sony has been throwing around the "pocketable" term with the UX, but have no illusions, folks -- no pocket we're aware of will comfortably swallow this thing. Think of it more as a "very small computer" than as a "very large PDA." After all, that's what it is.

Breathe easy, friends: Microsoft has triumphantly declared the UX180P "Vista Capable." With a Core Solo U1200 and 512MB of RAM, it may not be pretty -- but yeah, it'll do it.

We're not going to waste any keystrokes here beating up on the UX's keyboard, as there are plenty of reviews already posted elsewhere that have done that for us. Think of it this way: it's there to get you by when nothing less than pure, QWERTY goodness will do. You won't write your thesis on it, you won't rock World of Warcraft on it (though we don't put it past some of our readers to try). We would characterize the tactile feedback to be about on par with a Cingular 8125, and it worked just fine when we needed a keyboard for a few minutes at a stretch. Those with smaller hands might have some trouble with the middle keys, however. The thumb stick on the right side of the computer's face was easy enough to use, though some might complain that it takes you away from the keyboard, whereas the OQO's does not. A nifty feature of the stick is that it can be configured to register downward pressure as a click, though we found it too sensitive to be useful.

One of the big draws of the Americanized UX is the inclusion of the EDGE modem. What gives, Sony? We can't think of any device in the world more suited to an internal HSDPA card. Of course, the modem's internals are of Sony Ericsson origin; apparently Sony couldn't swallow their pride and source HSDPA hardware from elsewhere since they don't have an 850 / 1900 card of their own in production yet. At any rate, we didn't test the service, but we imagine you can expect speeds on par with Sony Ericsson's GC83.

So, when all's said and done, what did we think of the little beast? It's a great piece of hardware with immaculate design, soured by mediocre software -- typical Sony. The stock Windows XP Professional install is an embarrassment, loaded with enough adware and trialware to bring the already underpowered hardware to its knees -- in fact, it hung the very first time we tried to shut it down. Of course, our immediate reaction was to replace it with a clean Tablet PC Edition image, but several drivers on the recovery DVDs we burned were non-functional upon installation, rendering the device crippled. We got closer by downloading drivers directly from Sony's site, but we found that it was hanging on each and every shutdown and standby. It's odd to us that a company with such vast resources and a keen eye for industrial design can fall so far short on the software side.

Despite its flaws, the UX is likely still the best thing going for ultimately portable computing, leaving the UMPC crowd and the venerable OQO in its dust. For those looking to take the plunge, we recommend keeping a pulse on the user community to work through these driver issues and make it a worthwhile second or third computer -- and, of course, there's the ever-present prospect of dropping Linux on 'er. Without further ado, on to the eye candy.

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