Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Amtek U560

I haven’t had as long as I would have liked with the Amtek U560 so this review won’t be as complete as previous ones but I think it will be more than enough to allow you to make your decisions on the device. The model I have here is a production sample that Mobilx.eu have loaned me. [Many Thanks!] It’s not a final build so as with my testing on the HTC Shift, some things may change. Most noteably, the processor speed on the final production version.

The U560 is Amtek’s third UMPC. They started with the T700, one of the first ‘Origami’ devices to come on to the market, and followed-up in 2007 with the VIA-based T770. Both were 7″ slate devices and so the U560 is a slight departure from that being built around a 4.8″ 1024×800 screen that slides up to reveal a keyboard a-la Sony UX. The U560 uses an Intel platform this time but continues Amtek’s good tradition of solid construction.

The U560 is a very similar design concept to many of the MIDs that were seen at CES 2008 but it’s important to point out early in this report that it’s slightly larger than the MID prototypes we’re seeing and it means it won’t fit in a pocket. Even a jacket pocket. Think about a thick paperback book and you’ve got the sizing. With the screen closed down it even looks looks a little plump although the smooth lines distract from that at first-glance. With the screen up though, the dimensions change and the device looks a whole lot better. The ergonomics are pretty good too. It fits really nicely into two hands, the mouse pointer is perfectly positioned and you feel comfortable. The left and right mouse buttons on the LHS of the device aren’t the best in terms of feel but again, are well positioned.

The keyboard is a very important element of this device and mechanically and ergonomically its very good. In tests, using what I would call ‘instant messenger style’ (accept errors. Ignore caps and punctuation. No numerics) I was getting over 70% of my normal (full size keyboard) typing speed which is about the same as the OQO Model e2. The problem with the U560 keyboard is that adding-in punctuation and caps is a difficult process of using function, sym and shift-lock keys. I’ve tried hard to get used to it but its not easy. Long-term owners will remember where all the keys are but the multitude of double-presses wont ever help to keep typing speeds high. Then again, in a device like this, the IM style of typing is probably the common choice.


In the center of the slightly split-apart keyboard is a row of 8 control keys. These correspond to monitor control, browser startup, resolution change, ‘AMenu control’ , email app, media player SAS (CTRL-ALT-DEL) and a user programmable button (AP.) AMenu is an on-screen software that allows you to change backlight settings and volume. Unfortunately it always opens in behind open windows so it’s not that useful. This is something for the pre-launch corrective action plan!

Going round the rest of the device you’ll find two USB ports (on the RHS where you hold the device - not good) a very useful stand, a multi-use headset port (can be software switched as an input, output, headset, mic in) good quality separate BT and WIFI hardware switch, 1.3MP cam (average quality) power (19V) a CF slot and a docking port.

On the inside, its all about McCaslin. In the test device I had Intel’s 800Mhz A110 CPU and the GMA950 GPU. There was 1GB of RAM and a 40BG drive which contained the Windows XP Home OS. An important point of note here though is that the device will only ship with a 600Mhz processor. See below for thoughts on this.

This is the first time I’ve used XP on a Stealey CPU for any length of time and I have to say that, in combination with the GMA950 it’s a great performer. Not as fast as my Q1P but faster than the 1.2Ghz WiBrain I’m also testing at the moment. In terms of video playback performance I was incredibly impressed…and then I noticed that the device was in 600Mhz battery saving mode. When I switched it into full-power mode, increasing the cpu speed by 30%, it was really impressive and handled about every video I threw at it. Right up to a 7Mbps WMV HD video. Even games were running well. Call of Duty (see video) a demo installed on the test device, worked impressively smoothly. Take a look at the videos below which were done with the device locked at 600Mhz.

Those videos were made before I realised the device was running at 600Mhz. After I set the device up to run at 800Mhz, I recorded a second video which is available on the UMPCPortal Blip.tv channel. (although it’s largely irrelevant knowing that the device will only ship with the 600Mhz processor.)

Technical specifications

The base technical specifications of the final production device are as follows:

  • CPU type - Intel A100 (600Mhz) (Test device was A110 @ 800Mhz)
  • Graphics - Intel GMA 950
  • OS - Various Options (Tested here with XP Home)
  • Display Size - 4.8″ 1024 X 600
  • RAM - 512 MB base (Tested here with 1GB)
  • Hard Disk - 40GB
  • Battery capacity - 26 (W/hr)
  • Battery Life (tested. Wifi-on) - 2.6 - 3.3 hours
  • Weight - 675 gm
  • Size (w/h/d mm) 189/107/36 mm
  • Headset i/f (Mic+Line)
  • USB2.0 x 2
  • Compact Flash slot
  • 802.11b/g
  • BT2.0
  • Carrying Case

The AMtek U560 came pre-installed with Windows XP Home but it will be available with other OS options. There are background tasks for the AMenus as mentioned before, some wifi control software and one or two unknowns. There was no ‘crapware’ installed but remember this test device is a sample and won’t have the final software build on it. Amtek have been good in the past by keeping their OS builds clean so lets hope they continue with the U560.


CrystalMark @ 800Mhz (’Always on’ power setting’) = 18935. [View complete result here]

CrystalMark Estimated for production version: 15000.

CrystalMark @ 400Mhz (’Max battery’ power setting’) = 10902. [View complete result here]

For comparison, the U560 seems faster than the 600Mhz, A100-based Kohjinsha SH6.

In general, the U560 is a relatively fast UMPC. As I said earlier, video performance is very impressive, even at 600Mhz. I wouldn’t expect anyone to reach the limits in normal use. WMV goes up over 4mbps. Divx even higher and H.264 runs well over 1.5mbps. (600Mhz figures) iTunes runs and all the channels I tested on JLC’s Internet TV application worked. General control of XP is fast and you get the feeling that the hard drive is fast too. On testing it, I found out it was! 3D performance is good but it could have been so much better with the 800Mhz CPU.

Real-world performance.

Boot-up into a useable system takes just over a minute. Hibernate is a fast 20-25 seconds and coming out of standby is a good 4-5 seconds.

Wifi radio performance is good to very good. (on-par with the best of the devices I’ve tested.)

As far as applications are concerned I don’t think there would be many problems with the 1GB version under XP. I doubt you’d want to run office apps on the tiny hi-res screen but with an external monitor it should be fine unless you’re doing some advanced spreadsheet work. Powerpoint playback should be as smooth as on any other device. I don’t recommend Windows Vista on this device.

Speaking of that screen, the resolution is extremely high which gives an impressive sharpness to the screen. Running hi-res videos results in a stunning crispness and viewing photos is an absolute pleasure. The problems come when starting to use the operating system. Text is small and there’s no way to reliably select icons, selections and links with a finger. After some tinkering with settings though I’ve resolved most of the issues there. Setting the DPI to 120 in the graphics driver, turning on large icons and running IE7 at 125% zoom solves nearly all the problems. In the past I’ve said I prefer an 800×480 4.8″ screen but I might be changing my mind on that one having had the U560. Especially as there’s no shimmer, good contrast, colour balance and brightness.

Some people have asked ‘why have a touhscreen for a small, two-handed device’ Its true that you can’t drive XP as well as you can on a 7″ UMPC at 800×480 but there’s more to using a UMPC than just the OS. For example, in-car software needs a touchscreen and because of the stand, you can use the touchscreen to navigate in many software packages. Media Center software is a classic example. There might be a case for dropping the touchscreen but I think we’ll see a lot more touch optimized software coming out soon. Ubuntu Mobile (being written for the McCaslin platform and focusing on finger control) is one example.

Moving on to the battery life now. It’s quite impressive. Based on my experience with the Inventec/Kohjinsha device which has a 30wh battery and only runs for 2.25 hours with the WiFi on, I was expecting to be very disappointed with a 2 hour wifi-on life but it seems Amtek have done a good job of engineering here. The battery capacity is 26wh but even with wifi on and browsing with the CPU left to speed-step (between 800Mhz and 400Mhz,) it was returning 3 hours. With tighter settings (and the 600Mhz CPU) this is a 3.5hours device making it far more mobile than other solutions. Gold stars to Amtek for good engineering and good choice of energy-saving components.

Audio performance is good. Speakers are loud enough and I like the configurable jack. I you want to plug a mic in, go ahead. Line in, line out, headset. It all works after selecting the correct jack type using the auto-detecting software.

A quick word about noise - it’s not silent. The noise level is about the same as the Wibrain and slightly less than the 1.6Ghz OQO I have tested. It gets a little warm too. Nothing worrying but maybe a little too much for an extended two-handed video session.

Testing notes

CF slot isn’t that fast. 1MBps write speed is all I could get from it and that will disappoint digital photographers. I really like the mouse pointer. The mouse pointer is, for me second only to the optical mouse on the Raon Digital Everun. Slider Mechanism is solid. Not smooth and springy but solid. No rotate feature BT stack is BlueSoleil with A2DP support Stylus is expandable but thick and solid. Same as T700 WebCam swivels through 180 degrees which is nice but the swivel hardware doesn’t seem very solid.

Retail version to ship with 600Mhz CPU speed only.

I mentioned earlier that the Amtek U560 will only ship with 600Mhz. The reasons for this center around heat build-up which i’m not that suprised with. Although the test device had an 800Mhz processor and worked without noticeable heat problems, the heat was there and an extended gaming session could become a problem. Its a little disappointing but not something to be too worried about. Video performance will still be good (on-par with, or even better than the WiBrain and OQO @1.2Ghz) and so will gaming performance which is likely to be much better than any device in the OQO range.


The WiBrain and Sony UX are the obvious comparisons here as they are both two-handed devices with a similar weight and size. The keyboard on the WiBrain isn’t as comfortable as the one on the U560 but I have a feeling that over time, the WiBrain would be better based on its layout of control and punctuation buttons. The U560 is the easier of the two to use for text-only typing though. In terms of style, you’ll have to decide that yourself. At first I thought the U560 was nicer, especially when the screen was slide up but I’m sure that the U560 is getting fatter every day. Over time and with the introduction of MIDs I might not be able to cope with that! The Sony UX is the most attractive of the three in my opinion but I haven’t had enough time with that one to make a balanced decision on the UX yet. My feeling is that the U560 has the better keyboard but the new UX’s are very powerful and leave the U560 in the dust. The OQO Model 02/E2 might also be compared but the OQO is a much much smaller device overall, has a better keyboard and nicer design.

Target customer.

The U560 would make a great UMPC for those wanting great handheld video performance but not wanting to spend the money on the Sony UX. It makes a great home-UMPC although the fan noise could annoy in some situations. As a mobile productivity machine I wouldn’t recommend it due to the restrictions of the keyboard although this might change if you added the docking station for home use. The 600Mhz CPU would also limit performance for some office applications. A Q1 Ultra with XP and the separate keyboard would be a far better solution for office use. The sharp screen, accurate pointer, solid build, good battery life and relatively powerful processor make the U560 an interesting choice for digital photographers. The CF slot is slow but a small USB2.0 card reader or connectivity via a digital camera USB port would get round this problem to provide the perfect way to backup, check and add metadata to images while on the go. Finally gaming. At 600Mhz, the gaming possibilities aren’t as good as they could have been but it compares favorably to devices like the OQO and WiBrain.


The Amtek U560 surprised me and has been a pleasure to test. I feel sure that if this device had been released at the same time as the Q1 Ultra, this would have had the more favorable reviews and could have been a great success. It launches, however, at a time when new processor platforms are being demonstrated which might cause customers to delay. At 600Mhz it will also raise eyebrows. Its well-built with a useable thumbboard and returns an excellent 3+ hours battery life. Its not pocketable though and that will also hold its sales back but in terms of value for money, it beats the socks off the Sony UX and once launched will be one of the best choices in the slider UMPC category.

Availability and pricing.

The U560 with 600Mhz, 512MB RAM and 40GB drive is available from Mobilx.eu for 600 Euro without operating system. (720 inclusive local taxes) which translates to around $875 (ex-tax) dollars and 535 (inclusive tax) pounds. In, comparison, the WiBrain is about 175 Euro cheaper (taking the operating system into account) which represents the difference in quality , performance and battery life between the two devices. A 1GB upgrade option is offered for 50 Euros