One of the most exciting things about the new wave of Windows based slates is that there is a lot of opportunity for new manufactures to step into the ring. While most of the big names wait it out before trying to bring to market either a Windows or Android based tablet, many smaller players are jumping into the gap in the market to create alternatives to Cupertinoís offering. bModo is one of those new players. The bModo 12G is a clone of the ExoPC hardware with some nice upgrades (3G and GPS). The great form factor, responsive touch, snappy performance, and stylus friendly screen all make for a solid general purpose tablet. This is the strongest competitor in the new wave of Windows based slates (without active digitizers) I have seen so far.
Specs as reviewed
Processor - Intel Atom N450 at 1.66 GHz
RAM - 2GB DDR2 (also available with just 1GB)
Storage - 32GB SSD (optional 64GB available in later models)
Graphics - GMA 3150, also listed is a ďDiscrete 1080p Video AcceleratorĒ and sure enough the device manager lists a Broadcom CrystalHD Video Decoder
Wireless connectivity - Wifi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, unlocked HSPA, GPS
Screen - 11.6Ē 1366x768
Touch panel - Capacitive multi-touch, 2 points
OS - Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
Webcam - 1.3 MP
More specs and information at: http://bmodo.com/bmodo12g.html
This machine is beautiful to hold. The promo shots donít do it justice (although I had to use a few as my camera didn't really want to show me the front nicely). Itís really thin, and the gentle cuves around the side and rubberized backing make it very comfortable in the hands. The machine also feels very solidly built, probably due to the fact that the entire front of it is one big piece of glass. There is no flex as the rubberized plastic covers a magnesium alloy chassis. Itís also very clean and minimal looking as all the ports hide on the side, the power button is on the back, and there is only one tiny blue LED on the front to show when itís on.
Itís a good weight for itís size. Sure, itís heavier than an iPad, but the screen is also almost 2Ē bigger (11.6Ē vs 9.7Ē). I feel itís a good trade off to get the extra pixels, as it still falls into the range of easy enough to hold up for a while, and easy to work with in the lap or propped up on the legs on the couch. Itís also the thinnest Atom based Windows tablet Iíve encountered, thinner than my Archos 9, and based on the specs sheets, still 1 mm thinner than the HP slate.
In general, this feels like a good form factor for me. Itís a good compromise between being big enough to get a good screen with enough pixels to be useful (600 is not enough vertically and is certainly not enough horizontally when turned to portrait). While the wide screen still feels a bit odd, it doesnít feel too short in landscape or too narrow in portrait. It does feel really long in portrait, nice for reading. The thinness really helps prevent any feelings of bulk. It feels sleek.
Thinness also makes for a much more comfortable writing experience when itís laying flat on a table. Thick devices can feel more awkward to get to for comfortable writing. The lighter weight and slate form factor also make it easy to hold in one hand while writing with the other.
Ports and Buttons
All the ports are arranged on the left side, which is a bit unfortunate as it leaves a sharper edge under your left hand, as opposed to the soft curviness of the rest of the sides. From the top are - AC adapter, mini HDMI, 2 USB, headphone/mic jack, SD card slot, SIM card slot. Mini HDMI and a SIM slot that doesnít require removing the battery are two nice options to have.
The power button is on the back, which does seem a bit odd, but it keeps the front really clean looking. There is also a touch sensitive button in the upper left corner that opens the Bossa Nova UI.
The 11.6Ē screen with a resolution of 1366x768 is a great size. Having the extra pixels really makes it much more useful than the average netbook. I donít feel the least bit cramped or limited. Having 768 pixels across in portrait mode is significantly more usable than just 600. The fact that itís spread over 11.6Ē keeps it readable and touchable. Most windows elements are easy enough to target comfortably with a fingertip.
The viewing angles are good with just a little fading side to side, and vertical staying strong for a good distance (which is a good thing as the dock holds the screen a little too vertical for my taste). Itís a glossy piece of glass, and like most, it shows every little fingerprint and doubles as a mirror when itís turned off. The trade off is that colors and bright and vivid, and video looks great. And like all glossy screens, it's a fingerprint magnet, but you don't really see all that when it's actually on and in use.
The screen also changes orientation via an on board accelerometer. Itís got the same second or so of black screen that most Windows tablets get when rotating, but nothing too long. This is another thing that's a bit flakey though. There were times when it just didn't pick up on the fact that it had been rotated, and it had to be picked up and turned again.
The capacitive screen is responsive to even the lightest touches, when it works. However, there were many occasions where the touch screen became unresponsive for several seconds with no indication that the machine was busy doing anything else. When it works, itís great (really, right up there with the iPad in terms of responsiveness), but there is nothing more frustrating than an unresponsive touchscreen. The ExoPC had similar problems, and has an updated driver posted. Hopefully the same fix will work for the bModo as itís mostly the same hardware, because having nothing happen when I repeatedly tap the screen is pretty close to a deal breaker level of frustrating.
UPDATE: There is already a firmware update available to fix the responsiveness of the touchscreen. It will be available as of right now so youíll have to deal with the touchscreen for as long as it takes to get around to flashing the update. I have flashed the update and now the touch screen is reliable and responsive. Capacitive touch is really a joy to use. No need to press the screen, just a light touch.
On the more awesome side, my targus stylus works! Itís got itís quirks, and itís more like inking on an iPad that a real active digitizer, but after the miserable failure some other capacitive based windows tablets have been with styluses, to have it working at all is pretty amazing. What that means is that in addition to all the smoothness of finger based navigation, you have the possibility of handwriting. And thatís not just scribbling some ink in some app, thatís fully indexed handwriting in OneNote or Journal or Evernote. Even the windows TIP is usable to convert handwriting straight into text. This is one of the main reasons I consider this to be a general purpose tablet, not just an entertainment or consumption tablet. While itís primary focus may be more on consumption, this device can handle stylus input on at least the same level as the iPad, and into much more useful programs.
I've also uploaded a video of the inking experience: http://www.tabletpcbuzz.com/showthre...tive-pen-video
Also with 2 USB ports and Bluetooth, itís quite possible to use an external mouse and keyboard, but I didnít really feel the need to plug anything in. The Windows on screen keyboard is very nice to use on a multitouch capacitive screen, and the TIP is even useful with the stylus. The only times I plugged in a mouse were to grab and resize the columns in Evernote, and to flash the touchscreen firmware (because you canít touch the screen during that process).
Sound and Speakers
The speakers are strong enough to fill my office with the sweet sounds of TV via hulu. Itís a little better than most netbooks, and light years better than my poor little HP 2730pís single speaker. The built in speakers will definitely do for watching video or listening to music in an otherwise mostly quiet environment.
Pleasantly minimal to none. So many Atom N450 based things Iíve encountered are loud. I think the quiet is partially due to the SSD. Spinning hard drives in tablets can get noisy in addition to the fan noise. But with this tablet (perhaps due to the Broadcom chip taking some of the work) even watching streaming video wasnít enough to warm it up. I could only hear the fan if I put my ear right up the vent on the top left of the machine. There were occassions where I could hear the fan if there was nothing else going on, but even at itís loudest itís not nearly as bad as many I have encountered. That was also the only way I could feel even mildly warm air coming out of the top vent. For as thin as the machine is, they have done a great job with heat management.
Itís a netbook right? Well, itís a netbook with 2GB of RAM, a decent SSD, and a really good capacitive touchscreen, so itís actually quite responsive as far as netbooks go. Oh, and itís got the Broadcom CrystalHD Decoder card too, so itís a netbook that can also handle some serious video playback. All in all, Iíve been quite pleased with the performance, only getting frustrated trying to get the screen to respond, but thatís fixable with a firmware update.
Here is the part that sets this tablet apart from not only itís clone the ExoPC, but also from most other windows based slates out there. I was able to pull the SIM from ATT based smartphone and plug it into the bModo. The SIM slot is right on the side, so I didnít even have to pull the battery get there. The machine does have to be put to sleep and woken up to recognize the card, but thatís much faster and easier than pulling the battery and rebooting.
For the GPS, I have been unable to get a signal indoors. I will try to take it outside and update this section if I can get it going. For now, check out their videos of the GPS running Streets and Trips.
The first accessory out is the docking station available in January. It holds the tablet up and adds 3 USB, headphone, separate line in, and ethernet ports. I do wish it tilted the device back a bit more, but itís within the good viewing angles, so it's not a problem.
The bModo tablet comes with Windows 7 Home Premium and all the tablety goodness that comes with. The onscreen keyboard works well. The TIP works with the Targus capacitive stylus. Other than that itís Windows 7, so you can use any program you would normally use on Windows.
The bModo also come with their own custom touch based UI layer called Bossa Nova 2. This is easily accessible from the optical button on the top left corner, and switching back and forth with this and the regular Windows desktop is quite smooth. Itís got a great Setting pane with quick access to bit touch friendly brightness, volume, and wifi controls.
Itís a step above the launchers that are just fancy pages of icons that just launch programs. The same can be accomplished with much less overhead by leaving icons on the desktop. The Bossa Nova interface contains neat little applets that display updates from Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, Flicker, Maps (bing), Music, Video, Photo, and a browser. If you click on one, it will move all the little applets to the side and show bigger browser window with the facebook or twitter website, or whatever the applet it for. Unfortunately, itís half baked and the larger windows (except for the browser) offer no forwards or back buttons, and donít seen to respond to flicks. So, it you follow a twitter link, thatís it, no going back to twitter. Which isnít so much of a problem as twitter doesnít even sign in properly anymore. I dislike launchers that are just pages of icons, as you may as well just get an iPad or leave icons on your desktop if icons is all you want, so I was very hopeful that this GUI could provide more useful information at a glace. While itís great for changing settings, launching videos, or playing music, itís not so great at keeping you updated on your facebook, twitter, or google feeds.
As I have no problem with stock Windows 7 on a slate though, this is not a problem. Even at a resolution of 1366x768, I have no problem accurately hitting whatever Iím trying to hit. Iím perfectly happy just navigating windows as it is and having access to all the programs that comes with. If you like having bigger icons and fancy launching graphics, there are other launchers available.
We may as well deal with the 800lb gorilla in the room first:
VS iPad (32GB wifi + 3G)
Price bModo - $799 ($849 for 2GB RAM), iPad - $729
Similarities - 32GB SSD, capacitive touch screen, slim design, 3G, GPS
iPad advantages - battery life, iOS simplicity, smaller, lighter
bModo advantages - full windows OS and compatibility (multitasking, flash) USB, HDMI, 342 pixels (16:9 vs 4:3)
The only slate competition with an active digitizer:
VS HP Slate 500
Price - bModo - $849, HP slate 500 - $799
Similarities - Windows 7, Atom processor, capacitive touch, 2GB RAM, Broadcom CrystalHD accelerator chip, similarly rated battery life (although maybe slightly higher on the HP slate)
HP Slate Advantages - 64GB SSD, ntrig digital pencil (active digitizer), thinner (by 1mm) and lighter, smaller footprint for portability, dock is included in the price, Windows 7 Professional (if that has features you need for work), fanless design (thanks to the atom z)
bModo advatages - built in 3G, GPS, Windows 7 Home Premium (an advantage if media center matters to you), higher res screen, n vs z series atom (slightly better performance and better integrated graphics)
The hardware itís cloned from, which is now available at the microsoft store
Price - bModo - $849, ExoPC $699
Similarities - Windows 7 Home Premium, same chassis
ExoPC advantages - price, intriguing UI layer over Win 7, 64GB SSD (although the bModo lists a 64GB option available at a later date, probably even pricier)
bModo advantages - 3G, GPS, shipping now (although in just the 1GB RAM model)
So, it makes a great full fledged computer upgrade from the iPad. Itís got a bigger, higher res screen than the HP slate, but thatís only valid if youíre okay inking on a capacitive screen without the active digitizer. Itís a good choice over the ExoPC if you donít care about the Exo UI and you are willing to pay the extra for the 3G and GPS to be built in and supported by the manufacturer.