Origami Project from Asus: Asus R2H Tablet PC Review

We would like to introduce to you a truthful embodiment of the Origami concept. It is small, but offers high performance and a large selection of input and positioning devices. It’s got a lot of wireless interfaces as well. Read more in our detailed review!

by Alexander Britvin
08/15/2007 | 10:03 AM

Venturing upon the precarious Origami project, its developers from Intel and Microsoft must have wanted to convince everyone of the viability of their idea with the release of initial products, yet they did not quite succeed. Today, after more than a year since the announcement of debut models of Ultra Mobile PCs, the future of the Origami is still rather vague. It turned to be not so easy for the UMPC to wedge itself in between the two long-established product categories, PDAs and notebooks.

 

PDAs are functionally limited and meant for but a narrow scope of applications. Fitting into your pocket, the PDA can act like a text reader, movie viewer, Web-browser, etc, but it cannot cope with resource-consuming applications. Its ergonomics isn’t quite perfect, either. Notebooks, on the contrary, can do anything a desktop PC can, but their weight and size increase along with each extra gigahertz of CPU frequency, inch of the screen, or megabyte of system memory. This disproportion between ergonomics, performance and weight/size parameters must have led Intel and Microsoft to the idea of a UMPC.

The new device class is supposed to deliver higher performance and be more ergonomic than PDAs while being as mobile as the latter. Today we’ll see if this concept is viable using the ASUS R2H as an example.

Being a leader in each sector of the notebook market from sub-notebooks to desknotes, ASUS has taken the new genre seriously as well. The company showcased two new products at Computex 2006: the tablet PC R1F we have reviewed recently (for details see our article called ASUS R1F – First Tablet from ASUSTeK Lab) and the R2H UMPC.

The ASUS R2H is a truthful embodiment of the Origami concept. It is small, but offers high performance and a large selection of input and positioning devices. It’s got a lot of wireless interfaces as well. We’ll see in our tests how good it really is but now let’s examine its exterior design and internal configuration.

Package and Accessories

The UMPC is shipped in two boxes, rather unusually for the manufacturer. One box contains an optical drive. The R2H is in the other box together with a folding container with accessories. The package looks lush and attractive as becomes exclusive equipment. The names of the manufacturer and product series and a picture of the R2H itself are printed on the sides of the box. Yet it’s not quite clear why they didn’t make the package larger to pack the DVD-burner into it as well.

The ASUS Green label in the corner of one box side means that the notebook complies with the RoHS directive, being manufactured without such hazardous substances as lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium or polybrominated flame retardants.

The UMPC comes dressed in a special fabric pouch that protects the device from damage and scratches during transportation. There is no belt or handle, but none is necessary due to the low weight and small size of the device (234x135x28mm and 0.87kg with the stock battery).

There are a lot of accessories included, partially because devices that you normally find integrated into the notebook are external in the UMPC. So, besides the R2H and the pouch, we found the following: a 3430mAh battery, a tiny power adapter with a LED indicator, a folding keyboard with a mini-USB connector and variable-length adapter, an external optical drive with an adapter (powered from a USB port), an EasySyns device with a USB interface to connect two notebooks (with a pouch to carry it), documentation (“Quick Installation Guide”, a 2-year warranty certificate, a list of authorized service centers worldwide, and a user manual), a small USB mouse with ASUS logo, an ASUS cable brace, two telescopic styluses, a mini-USB → USB adapter, a PortBar → D-Sub adapter, a napkin to clean the LCD panel, and a set of discs that included:

The DVD drive and the keyboard are accessories here rather than integrated parts of the UMPC. The included keyboard is foldable and connects to the R2H by means of a cord with a mini-USB plug. When folded, the keyboard is fixed with a slider lock. There are rubber feet on its exterior the keyboard stands on when open.

Before you begin to type on it, move the slider between the keyboard’s halves into the Lock position to prevent it from folding up accidentally.

This keyboard has 64 black and 4 silvery keys one of which doesn’t perform any function at all. The spacebar is split into two halves by the crease and you have to get used to that. The keys are reduced in size due to the keyboard format. The cursor movement buttons are united into a 4-position joystick in the bottom right. The bottom left corner is occupied by a Control rather than Fn, which is going to be convenient for people who are used to Control-involving shortcuts. The numpad is not available. One button, located over the blank key to the left of the spacebar, performs two Windows-related functions. When pressed, it performs the function of a Windows Logo key. When pressed together with Fn, it performs the Context Menu function. The functional keys are smaller than others. Print Screen, Pause, PgUp/Home, PgDn/End are painted silver and make up a column on the right. Home and End are accessible via Fn. Insert and Delete can be found in the bottom right corner of the keyboard. The letters are painted white, the functional keys are painted blue (you should press them in combination with Fn to access their additional functions).

You have to spend some time getting used to this keyboard due to its small size. It is just too easy to miss the necessary button on it.

The ASUS R2H comes with an external black DVD-burner (ASUS USB/1394 SLIM DVD±R/RW SDRW-0806T-D). There are an activity indicator, eject button and emergency eject hole on the body of the drive.

 

The drive is connected to and powered from USB and FireWire interfaces. It has the following speed formula:

Reading

Writing:

Exterior Design and Ergonomics

Externally, the ASUS R2H looks more like a puffed-up PDA rather than a notebook. It’s got a widescreen display in the center with buttons and positioning devices on both sides of it. The metallized texture of the front panel resembles the W2 series. The case is thick because all the hardware components of the UMPC are located behind the matrix.

Above the screen there is a 1.3-megapixel web-camera with an ASUS logo to the left and a mono microphone to the right.

To the left of the display there are (from top to bottom):

And this is what you can see to the right of the display:

With an Origami computer, the user has a wide choice of positioning devices each of which is near at hand, so you can use the one you like for the particular application.

The single group of status indicators is located at the bottom edge of the front panel. It includes (from left to right):

The ASUS R2H is equipped with a 7.0” display that has a native resolution of 800x480 pixels. You can set a higher resolution to zoom into the image. The display has a glare-free matte coating with inductive technology that reacts not only to the included stylus but also to your fingers (the display of the ASUS R1F was not sensitive to your fingers, for example). The notebook being designed in UMPC form-factor, which implies a frequent tactile contact with the screen, the matrix surface has a special protective layer.

The UMPC also features ASUS Splendid Video Enhancement technology. It allows adjusting the onscreen image by means of preset modes (selectable with the Fn+C combination; the current mode can be see in the onscreen menu).

 

We measured the brightness and contrast of the notebook’s display using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL version 3.7.8 software. We selected the highest brightness setting before this test. ASUS’ power-saving technologies are enabled in the battery mode, resulting in lower brightness and contrast values.

AC power source:

DC power source:

Quite surprisingly, this UMPC features as many interfaces, ports and connectors as a full-fledged notebook does. The left panel of the R2H offers a mini-USB port (USB 2.0) for the external keyboard and a ring for a wrist-strap.

The right panel offers more components, including those under the cover (from left to right):

The PortBar is a docking station that adds the following to the UMPC’s standard ports:

And this is what you can find on the top panel:

The bottom panel offers two battery locks.

And here is the back of the UMPC:

A folding leg is located on the battery. You can take it out to position the UMPC at an angle on the desk. Note that the leg is rather fragile, so you should handle it cautiously.

There’s a socket in the bottom right corner for storing the stylus:

As opposed to other UMPCs, the ASUS R2H has an integrated GPS module based on the popular SIRF STAR III chip. The downside of this solution is that the UMPC lacks any fastening mechanism for a car, yet it is going to be better than a PDA due to the faster processor. The integrated antenna is located at the back and should be raised up for better operation. There is a special depression in the case to make it easier to lift the antenna.

The battery with a leg and rubber pads is thin and square. It occupies over a half of the UMPC’s back and has a large capacity of 3440mAh. You can also purchase an additional 6860mAh battery.

The battery hides the cover of the memory compartment and stickers with model info and the OS serial number.

 

There is a single slot in the memory compartment, occupied by a 512MB module. The other 256MB module is soldered on the mainboard and cannot be replaced. The maximum amount of system memory the R2H supports is 1280MB.

Configuration

This first UMPC from ASUS is based on an Intel Celeron M 353 Ultra Low Voltage processor (0.9GHz clock rate, 512MB L2 cache, 400MHz FSB).

The Celeron M processor is a cut-down version of the Pentium M intended for thin and light notebooks.

 

The Celeron M supports all the power-saving features of the more advanced CPUs. The CPU clock rate is reduced to 0.8GHz in the battery mode which doesn’t affect the performance of the UMPC much.

The R2H uses an Intel 910GML chipset that is optimized for Intel Celeron M CPUs. The chipset supports up to 2GB of single-channel DDR-333 SDRAM or dual-channel DDR2-400 SDRAM. It features low power consumption and PCI Express architecture for ExpressCard peripherals.

The South Bridge (ICH6-M) supports one ATA and two Serial ATA ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, and Intel High Definition Audio/AC’97 2.3.

The Intel 910GML features Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 with a frequency up to 333MHz and up to 128MB of dynamically allotted memory. GMA 900 supports Pixel Shader 2.0 and is a fully DirectX 9 compatible graphics core. For detailed GMA 900 specs refer to the manufacturer’s website.

The UMPC is equipped with a Hitachi HTC426060G8CE00 hard disk drive (1.8”, 4200rpm, UltraATA, 60GB).

The R2H uses DDR2-533 SDRAM. The accessible slot is occupied by a 512MB module. The other, 256MB, module is soldered on the mainboard. The memory works in dual-channel mode due to the integrated core’s using some of it.

We measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebook’s surfaces with an infrared thermometer after it had worked for half an hour in the Classic test mode of Battery Eater Pro 2.60 (the ambient temperature remained constant at 23°C during this test) and got the following numbers:

The following table lists the detailed specs of the ASUS R2H:

Test Methods

The UMPC’s hard drive was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then we installed Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2 with DirectX 9.0c, system drivers (downloaded from the manufacturer’s website because the included disc contained drivers for Windows Vista), and Windows Media Encoder 9.0 with Windows Media Player 9.0. We also installed Windows Media Player 10.0 for such tests as PCMark 2005.

The following settings were used for the tests:

There were two exceptions: we returned to the Windows XP desktop theme for PCMark 2005 since the program required that. And for SYSMark 2004 SE to work normally, we had to roll each parameter back to its default (as they are set right after you install Windows).

Two power modes were used. First, we selected the Always On power mode for maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then we switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.

Our tests:

  1. Performance benchmarks: synthetic (SiSoftware Sandra 2007, PCMark 2004 1.3.0, PCMark 2005 1.2.0), office and multimedia (SYSMark 2004 SE, Business Winstone 2004, Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004), and games (3DMark 2001SE Pro, 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0, 3DMark 2006 1.1.0, Quake 3, Quake 4, Unreal Tournament 2003)
  2. Battery life tests (Battery Eater Pro 2.60)

There are three test modes in Battery Eater:

We used the first two modes as they are in Battery Eater, but in the Idle mode (when the test utility doesn’t put any load of its own on the notebook) we played a DVD movie.

Performance

As usual, we will first run our synthetic benchmarks.

The SiSoftware 2007 suite features an updated enhanced-functionality interface, runs on three platforms (Win32 x86, Win64 x64, WinCE ARM), contains 13 tests and 34 informational modules, and supports a large range of devices thanks to the developer’s collaboration with Intel, AMD, ATI, SiS and VIA. The program is supported in six languages and has a free Lite version for personal and educational purposes. SiSoftware Sandra measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems.

PCMark benchmarks the computer performance in office and office-related applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem). PCMark 2005 carries on the tradition of complex benchmarks of the series and uses fragments of real-life applications as tests. This makes it somewhat more relevant for end-users as opposed to fully synthetic benchmarks. After running a series of 11 tests on the different components of the system, the program calculates an overall performance score in units called PCMarks. PCMark 2005 can check a computer out at processing HD video and encoding audio, and offers enhanced tests of the CPU and hard disk under multi-threaded load. The overall score is calculated by the formula: PCMark Score = 87 x (the geometric mean of the basic tests), where the geometric mean is calculated as (Result 1 x Result 2 x…) divided by the number of results.

The Intel Celeron M 353 Ultra Low Voltage performs weakly compared with what we’ve seen in our tests of notebooks with Intel Core 2 Duo processors. The UMPC’s performance is somewhat lower in the battery mode proportionally to the CPU frequency reduction. The other subsystems are not affected by the power mode. Easy to see, the UMPC is not for playing serious games. It is meant for business applications only.

The Business Winstone 2004 test runs scripts of the following real-life office applications, several scripts at a time to simulate multi-tasking: Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, Project, PowerPoint, FrontPage, WinZip, and Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition.

The Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 test evaluates performance of a computer in the following multimedia applications: Windows Media Encoder, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere, NewTek LightWave 3D, Steinberg WaveLab, Micromedia Dreamweaver MX, and Micromedia Director MX.

The following table and diagrams show the outcome of these tests:

You couldn’t expect high results considering the weak CPU. The UMPC doesn’t slow down much when we switch it to its battery. It delivers roughly the same performance in either power mode.

SYSMark 2004 SE is intended to reveal a system’s performance under different types of load. It simulates a user who is solving practical tasks in a few popular applications. Multi-threading is taken into account. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads. SYSMark 2004 SE is mainly positioned as a tool for testing desktop systems and includes applications that are not often run on mobile computers. That’s why the results for each test load are shown separately:

The 3D Creation script simulates a user who is rendering an image into a BMP-file in 3ds max 5.1 and is also working on web-pages in Dreamweaver MX. After these operations are done, a 3D animation is created in a vector graphics format.

This test depends largely on CPU performance and the low result is just what you can expect from a Celeron M 353 Ultra Low Voltage processor installed in the R2H.

The 2D Creation script simulates a user creating a video out of a few RAW-format fragments and audio tracks in Premier 6.5. Waiting for the operation to complete, the user is also modifying an image in Photoshop 7.01 and then saves it to the hard disk. When the video clip is ready, the user edits it and adds special effects in After Effects 5.5.

The small reduction of performance in the battery mode is due to the small reduction in the CPU frequency.

The next test simulates the work routines of a professional web-master. The user unzips the content of a website while using Flash MX to open an exported 3D vector graphics clip. Then the user modifies it by including more pictures and optimizes it for faster animation. The resulting clip with special effects is compressed with Windows Media Encoder 9 to be broadcast via the Internet. Next, the website is compiled in Dreamweaver MX while the system is being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0 in the background.

The ASUS R2H delivers low performance due to its single-core low-frequency CPU.

The next script simulates an ordinary user who’s receiving a letter with a .zip attachment in Outlook 2002. While the received files are being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0, the user looks through his e-mail, enters some comments into the Outlook calendar, and then opens a corporate website and some documents with Internet Explorer 6.0.

The ASUS R2H shows better results in this test thanks to its wide communicational capabilities.

In the Document Creation script the user is editing text in Word 2002 and is also using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to convert an audio file into a text document. This text document is then converted into PDF format with Acrobat 5.0.5. And finally, the document is employed in a PowerPoint 2002 presentation.

The results are low again due to the weak CPU.

The final script from SYSMark 2004 SE includes the following: the user opens a database in Access 2002 and creates a few queries. Documents are archived with WinZip 8.1. The results of the queries are exported into Excel 2002 and are used to construct a diagram.

The results of the final SYSMark 2004 SE script agree with those of the previous scripts.

The ASUS R1F is equipped with Intel GMA 900, an integrated graphics solution, and we tested it in all versions of 3DMark: 3DMark 2001SE Pro, 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0 and 3DMark 2006 1.1.0.

3DMark uses its own rendering engine to create a set of 3D scenes that load the graphics subsystem in various ways. Compared with the previous version, 3DMark 2005 uses Shader Model 2.0x/3.0 instead of Shader Model 1.x, provides full compatibility with Shader Model 2.0, includes more complex tests (over a million polygons per each frame), and employs normal maps. 3DMark 2006 brings support for HDR, Uniform Shadow Maps, and multi-core CPUs. It is overall oriented at Shader Model 3.0, but two out of its four graphics tests work within the Shader Model 2.0 framework.

 

It’s all clear with the graphics capabilities of this UMPC. Note that these results were obtained at the native resolution which is itself rather low.

Next, we tested the UMPC in two modes in Quake 3:

And in one mode in Quake 4:

There was no standard demo record in Quake 4, so we had to create it by ourselves and we use it in every review of mobile PCs on our site so that different devices can be compared under identical conditions.

GMA 900 is a rather old graphics solution and the R2H is not a gaming machine at all. On the other hand, this graphical performance should be enough for the intended applications of this UMPC. It is not a full-featured notebook, after all.

The UMPC’s battery life was measured with Battery Eater Pro 2.60. The test was performed at the maximum screen brightness in the following modes:

It is a surprise really. The weak hardware configuration swallows the whole battery charge too fast. The hour and a half in the Reader’s mode is too short for a computer that it designed for travels, i.e. for being used away from a constant power source.

Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes.

Conclusion

The R2G should not be criticized much just because the whole Origami concept doesn’t look mature as yet. The main downside is the short battery life. Why all this mobility if the device cannot last long away from the mains? Considering that the R2H is supposed to be held in your hands, its case getting hot at work is a problem, too. These are common problems of all UMPCs, however, not only of the given model.

The price factor is another problem because price may be much more important than the weight factor, for example. The consumer is more likely to buy a sub-notebook with much better ergonomics and performance or a PDA that is going to be much cheaper. And still, the Origami concept looks appealing to us. Perfected and modified, the UMPC will perhaps find its market niche eventually, offering more functionality than PDAs and being more mobile than notebooks.

As for the particular implementation, the R2H features ASUS’ traditionally high standards of quality, design, accessories. The GPS module distinguishes it from the rest of UMPCs and the wireless interfaces make it very mobile. If you need to run typical office applications and the weight and size of this UMPC suit you fine, the R2H is going to satisfy you.

Highs:

Lows: