Kohjinsha SA1 touchscreen edition Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) - Review

Kohjinsha SA1 touchscreen edition Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) - Review

Kohjinsha SA1 touchscreen edition Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) - Review

AMD Geode LX800 processor 500MHz; 512MB RAM

When the Kkohjinsha SA1 was first brought out of Japan to Singapore by local distributor PA Mart, it caused quite a stir. Most UMPCs like the Samsung Q1, ASUS R2H and Fujitsu LifeBook U1010 were hitting the S$2,000 (US$1,315.96) mark and beyond, but the Kohjinsha SA1 could be obtained at half that price. Even the highly regarded Raon Digital Everun demanded a few hundred dollars more.

The first generation of the SA1 series did not have a touchscreen and an abysmal keyboard. Our review unit is the newer touchscreen variety and the keyboard has been upgraded from abysmal to terrible. But we take our hats off for its connectivity, which the Kohjinsha has oodles of. As an aside, some online stores are taking orders for the newer SH1 which runs off a 800MHz Intel processor and Windows Vista operating system. Though its clockspeed is faster than the 500MHz AMD Geode chip in the SA1, some reports said the OS response is sluggish though the keyboard has been greatly improved.

Design of the Kohjinsha SA1 touchscreen edition Ultra Mobile PC

The initial impression of the 7-inch Kohjinsha SA1 was how similar in size it was to the Fujitsu LifeBook P1610, though the latter has a larger 10.6-inch display. This disparity is due to the ridiculously large border around the SA1's display. Like the LifeBook, the Kohjinsha is a convertible tablet PC which uses a touchscreen rather than an active digitizer display. Hence, users familiar with larger tablet PCs may miss functions such as right-clicking with the stylus and the erasing feature. Though a stylus is included in the package, there is no slot on the machine to put it in and it has to be carried externally. Not a big issue as we can easily use a fingernail for cursor control.

There are two variants--the black model comes with a 40GB harddisk for S$1,049 (US$690.13), while the 100GB white edition sells at S$1,199 (US$788.05). Weighing under 1kg, it needs just 218 x 163mm of desk space and has a thickness of 25.4mm. To give you an idea of just how portable this package is, some users have found that they can use a Bree paper organizer as a pouch for this UMPC (the included slipcase is crap. Ditch it). The protruding battery at the back turned us off a little, but after a while we found it was actually a good place to keep a grip on the machine while typing one-handed.

The Kohjinsha has quite a number of dedicated controls, most of them used to replicate a mouse. Beside the screen, there is a directional stick as well as discrete buttons for clicking and scrolling. We found the brightness controls useful, especially when we were transiting from daylight to shade. Instead of keys, the SA1 goes with a volume jog dial that can be clicked to mute the speakers. The indicator lights show charging, battery, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi status.

Features of the Kohjinsha SA1 touchscreen edition Ultra Mobile PC

At this time, LED-backlit screens tend to be found on high-end machines and offer brighter, more even lighting while reducing power consumption. Hence, we were pleasantly surprised that the Kohjinsha SA1 uses this technology on its 7-inch LCD. Even at the lowest setting, it is usable under indoor lights, while the brightest mode makes the UMPC readable outdoors. The underlying graphics engine is not fantastic for 3D rendering, though it can be set to share between 8MB and 254MB of system memory.

Though it is a convertible tablet PC, we found it strange that the rotate feature was disabled. We did not really expect the auto-rotate function in the Everun, but having the option for a portrait view is a must for a tablet PC.

Another gripe we had was with the keyboard. Though the keys are not flimsy, touch typing results in several missed characters as one needs to strike the buttons dead center firmly. Anything longer than a short email or keying in Web addresses is strongly discouraged if you value your sanity. The touchpad is proportionate in size to the rest of the machine and surprisingly responsive. Since this unit has Bluetooth built-in, we feel the unit should be paired with a wireless keyboard and mouse combo for any serious work.

Speaking of connectivity, the Kohjinsha is certainly generous in that aspect. Besides the aforementioned Bluetooth, it can hook up with 802.11b/g as well as wired 10/100 Ethernet networks. While most UMPCs offer only one, the Kohjinsha furnishes two USB 2.0 ports as well as a memory card reader (SD/MMC/Memory Stick) and CompactFlash Type I slots. If you find the 7-inch screen too small, the monitor out port can support external displays. Frankly, the 800 x 480 native resolution of its LCD results in the need to scroll sideways for some Web sites and some dialog boxes may also be partially hidden. The simple solution is to use the Fn + Esc keypress combination to switch between low and high resolutions (the higher resolution has blurred images and words compared with the lower native resolution).

Music is piped out from a pair of stereo speakers under the screen. Honestly, the output is barely serviceable for voice and not good enough for your music collection. Fortunately, audio from the earphone jack is much better. Alternatively, you can pair the UMPC with a set of Bluetooth Stereo headphones as the SA1 supports the A2DP profile.

Performance And Battery Life of the Kohjinsha SA1 touchscreen edition Ultra Mobile PC

The S$1,199 (US$788.05) unit holds an AMD Geode 500MHz processor, 512MB RAM and 100GB of storage space. Our unit was upgraded to 1GB for S$199 (US$130.99), though it is cheaper to purchase a third-party chip and do the upgrade yourself (current street price for the DDR PC2700 notebook memory is around S$130 (US$85.53)).

Let's face it, the 500MHz chip isn't going to fare well for gaming or even high bitrate videos. But the Kohjinsha is not meant to be a multimedia creator. We tried Microsoft Office 2003, GIMP photo-editing software and several other productivity tools with acceptable performance. Even DivX videos of up to 2MB bitrates on the GOM player were rendered surprisingly smoothly, while some users claim to have enjoyed older titles like Starcraft on the Kohjinsha. The only choke point we discovered was trying to stream YouTube videos from the site, though by reducing the quality from high to low makes it run a lot smoother.

The manufacturer claims an uptime of about 5 hours, so to test the battery life we ran a range of videos from MPEG-1 to DivX. We got around 2 hours 30 minutes of entertainment before the unit cried out for a charge. Using the UMPC with Microsoft Office and Wi-Fi turned on gave us an extra hour. Though not as long-lasting as the Everun, it's a reasonable tradeoff for its larger 7-inch screen. Do note that the unit gets very hot after extended use, so try and prop the unit up on a flat surface if it's left on for long periods.

After-Sales Service And Support for the Kohjinsha SA1 touchscreen edition Ultra Mobile PC

The Kohjinsha has little to offer in terms of support, with only system drivers available for download at the Web site. There are no phone helpline or technical support email, and any hardware issues will have to be resolved by the distributor. On a happier note, open source supporters will be glad to know that Linux drivers are available at Kohjinsha's Web site.