The UMPC Market Today
In 2006 Microsoft made a
of "hoopla" over
something called "Oragami". Oragami turned out to be just
marketing hype for
a new batch of small tablet PC's.
This initial batch of Ultra-Mobile PC's, or UMPC's were
overpriced and underpowered.
2 years later the UMPC market is exploding, and
Microsoft has little to do with it. In 2008 we are seeing
many refer to as a "Race to the Bottom".
can't build small, low cost laptops fast
to meet demand, and the number and variety are expanding so fast that
even us in the industry can't keep up with the product announcements.
that the ASUS Eee PC is the star at the center of the UPMC supernova.
But it's a standard laptop form factor, not a slate, and,
Windows XP versions are available, it is Linux
that is getting all the attention. The $1500 and up Tablet
UMPC's are just not selling.
for our case-in-point -- UMPC maker Wibrain. Wibrain
of the first on the scene, and introduced one of the tiniest UMPC's
available. Reviews were good, but the original Wibrain
suffered in terms of price and performance. Seeing the
direction the market
taking, Wibrain had to quickly introduce a machine that was more
responsive and hundreds of dollars cheaper. How could they
this? -- Linux to the rescue. By moving to Open Source, Wibrain was
drop the price significantly, while simultaneously offering more
included software and improved performance.
That brought them in a position to directly compete with the
PC, and other inexpensive UMPC's like the Pepper Pad 3 (Reviewed here on
It is important to note
approach, as we will see, is different from that of ASUS and
Pepper's. The Linux that the Wibrain B1L series runs is a
un-altered version of Ubuntu 7.10. Conversely, Pepper, and to
lesser extent, ASUS, have gone to great lengths to come up with a
optimized, user friendly environment built on top of
Linux. The fact that Wibrain was able to do drop a
unmodified Ubuntu distribution onto therr existing hardware is a
testament to both the B1 series hardware, and to Ubuntu Linux.
What's Really in the Box?
There is a unboxing review of
this unit at http://forums.hardwarezone.com.sg,
so I will not re-produce that here. I do need to point out a
important things. First, the Linux based Wibrains DO NOT have
Bluetooth, despite what it says in the article linked to above.
camera is VGA, or about 0.3 MP not 1.3 MP. I DID get the very
cool 2 GB USB drive in the package. With the bootable Ubuntu
installer on it, there is still about 1 Gig available. It is
very nice little extra. There is no other media.
what was in my box:
items not shown in picture are in bold.
B1LE - 1.2 GHz, 512M ram, 30 Gig HD, WiFi, No Bluetooth
- Power brick, with round prong AC
- US Wall
PDA type Stylus
- Guitar-Pick Style Stylus (on strap - as shown)
Gig USB Drive
Started Sheet - English only. (No Paper Manual)
B1L is one of the smallest UMPC's out there. Similar to the
Pepper Pads and the Samsung Q1, it sports a split keyboard
the screen in the middle. The difference of course,
The Photo below shows the Wibrain as compared to a Pepper
Wibrain vs. Pepper Pad 3.
is a fair comparison since they are the 2 units of this form factor
that ship with Linux. Perhaps a more fair comparison based on
size, is this photo from Dynamism
shows the OQO 2, the Raon Everun
Wibrain vs OQO and Everun -
Photo: Dynamism.com 
won't spend much time on the hardware since it is the same as
the Windows versions, and those have been reviewed elsewhere.
Clearly, I like the split keyboard tablet form factor.
In my review of the Pepper Pad, I mentioned that having 2
buttons was nice, and worked well for gaming. Unfortunately
Wibrain lacks this, and has a space key only on the left, and it is no
larger than any of the other keys. This minor complaint is
out-weighed by the other features of the Wibrain's controls.
Left Click, Right Click Keys, Page Up and Page Down are very handy, and
the track pad serves as an analog input for gaming. A couple
more notes in comparison with
my Review of the Pepper Pad: First, the Wibrain lacks the
Pad's scroll wheel, but makes up for it by using scroll areas on the
track pad. Scrolling is fast and smooth. Horizontal
scrolling is off by default, can be enabled in the OS's Mouse Applet.
Due to the track
touchscreen almost becomes redundant. Secondly, I
mentioned the nice even lighting on the Pepper Pad keyboard.
Pepper Pad wins on this front as keys near the edge of the Wibrain are
My compliant about the rather low-tech power brick included with the
Pepper Pad 3 also applies to the Wibrain. Not only is the
complaint the same, but the power supply specs, connector and polarity
are the same. If anything, the Wibrain unit is worse. It's
rounded shape makes it harder to wrap the wires around, and the output
wire is very poor quality. I am quite sure most road warriors
will destroy it in a short time.
The feel of the keys is good and there are no case creeks.
screen is as clear and sharp as any device
out there. At 1024x600 (the same resolution as an Eee PC 900)
over a 4.8 inch screen, what is shown is
small, but 100% sharp. A big omission is the lack of a
stand. Wibrain intends that the stylus or the pick stylus
inserted into a small hole in the back of the unit and be used to prop
the unit up. This works, but some sort of fold out stand would
better. The small and easily pocketable device also lacks a standard PC
security slot. The Linux units sport a cool metallic
orange trim that makes them stand out in a crowded UMPC world.
Hardware Description and Linux Support:
Out of the box, Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon)
manages the hardware pretty
well. On-going work continues at a Special Google Code site [Link Below
There is also a Google Groups forum (Same Link), but both of these are
for information on upgrading to Ubuntu 8.04.
been updated to reflect a Wibrain running Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy).
Some sleep/hibernate features do not work properly on units
running older versions.
Modern laptop hardware supports 2
different standby modes. As of Ubuntu 8.04, the Wibrain supports both.
In Sleep, also known as Suspend to RAM or simply Suspend, the
and parts of the CPU remain powered. Resuming from Suspend
only about 6 - 8 seconds on the Wibrain. In my haste to correct this
article, I have not waited to see how long the B1L's battery lasts in
sleep. I can tell you that in general, such devices can remain in this
mode for a day or two before the batteries are drained.
Hibernate (Suspend to Disk) is also supported. Since the
unit is fully off during Hibernation, the battery can be removed
without needing a
reboot. It takes 45 seconds to
resume form Hibernation. With Suspend working, the entire
is far more useful and valuable. Never the less, Hibernation
Suspend still have some issues on the Wibrain.
must be initiated from the Ubuntu Log Off menu. If you set it
suspend directly from pressing the power button, it will not resume
properly. Forgetting to turn off wireless before Suspend or
Hibernate can also result in problems.
remembering these things, an attempted Sleep or Hibernate occasionally
results in a crash - Save your work boys and girls! It is imperative to
assure that the unit successfully Hibernates before inserting it into
the included carry pouch. That nice padded case is also an
excellent thermal insulator, and should the unit be paced inside it
while on, the temperature will climb to levels that could harm the
batteries, the Wibrain, or worse. Use the key lock for added
protection against the unit waking up while in a case.
Think I'm done
complaining about Sleep/Hibernate? Nope. There seems to be no way to
display sleep even though DPMS is loaded in Xorg.conf. Want a low
power, screen off mode
for playing music?
: sudo vbetool dpms off
- will put the display to sleep. Momentarily
another Pseudo terminal
Will wake it.
Remember, only the display is asleep, so use the key lock.
Processor scaling (reducing the
clock speed when the CPU is not busy) is not supported out of the box.
apparently a fix for
this at the Google Code site [Link
but it involves
compiling and installing a new kernel.
According to the Developers over at the Wibrain Google Groups forum,
even without processor scaling, the VIA mobile hardware is pretty good
about managing power use. They report only about 5% - 7%
in power consumption because of processor scalling. My own
experiments using the graphing features of the Gnome Battery Applet
support this. Additionally, they report some problems with
like video playback when using the VIA supplied kernel patches.
For right now the Wibrain works better with
supplied Linux kernel. Note that since Wibrain supplies
closed source, binary drivers for the WiFi and the Video drivers,
building a custom kernel, and having everything work is not currently
possible. You must stick with the supported kernel version(s).
Life / Battery Meter:
The Gnome Power Manager is the B1L series' front end to
management drivers. Together they do a great job of keeping
user informed of battery state for both charging and discharging. The
Battery applet reports about 2 hours, 40 minutes on a full charge.
seems pretty accurate, and seems to remain as accurate as any portable
device I have ever seen.
Out of the box, general responsiveness and 2D gaming was
fine. I then installed the
from the Google Code sight [Link
Installing the driver was easy, but the
package install scripts rather rudely restarted X at the end of the
install. After the
update, about all I can say is Wow! - Over a thousand frames per second
on the default size of GLXgears. All of the included OpenGL screen
savers look great. The B1L may be one of the best handheld Linux gaming
platforms around. Some 3D games may have difficulty finding a working
screen resolution and bit depth.
the VIA video
drivers installed, it seems that the default VGA output is 1024x768,
Wibrain's 1024x600 screen is letterboxed within that. In other words,
It's 1024x768, but with unused black areas at the top and bottom.
Depending on the monitor, a limited selection of other resolutions was
available. While the choices of available resolutions was limited, at
least some setting that
correct aspect ratio on all monitors or projectors I have tried was
The Wibrain B1L does have a VGA output, but you have to take
literally. When hooked to a generic 1280x1024 LCD Monitor, I could not
get anything other than 640x480 on the external
was not able to get a different viewspace on the other monitor, nor was
able to deselect the internal screen. I did not try totally
shutting off the internal display in the BIOS. Doing so may
other resolutions on the external monitor.
ALSA (The Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) runs the audio
The front panel volume keys control whichever ALSA slider you choose.
There are some problems with audio input. First, The so-called
"Communicator of the Future" has no internal microphone. I guess in
future they think we should only
listen, not talk back. My wife likes that idea. Second, even
used with a standard PC external mic, the input audio is noticeably
scratchy. The stereo
speakers in the bottom of the unit are tinny as you might expect in
such a small device. If you set the unit upright on a table
attenuates the already weak audio, and if you lay the unit on its back,
you'll soon have an overheated Wibrain. Pack a set of amplified
speakers if you want to use the B1L as your entertainment center while
traveling. Sound in a regular set of stereo earphones is good to
standard PC headset is needed for VoIP or Video calls.
WiFi range is pretty
good, but it can take the Wibrain longer than some other devices to
a network. WEP, WPA, and LEAP, as well as Ad-hoc is
supported. The WiFi adapter is on an internal USB
adapter/driver does not support setting TX power so using WiFi adds
significantly to the heat generated by the B1L.
Like WiFi, the webcam is an internal USB device. It
disconnected, and may be using some power all the time.
is implemented as a V4L2 (Video 4 Linux) device, but since it sends
data as mjpeg (Motion JPEG), most apps cannot use it. It
works fine in
but not in SANE, Totem, or any other included app. This means
there is no way to take a snap shot or record video. You can
the Ekiga video window to get a tiny snap shot, but that's it. An
optiona application called Motion (See Links
allows movie capture, snapshots, and cool features such
as capturing video only when there is movement. With this app, you can even use your Wibrain as a smart remote IP Webcam.
Using Gnome's Universal Access app to enable sticky keys
lot. Unfortunately, when doing a Caps Lock this way, the Caps Lock LED
does not work. Also, since the calculator style Fn key is implemented
a lower level, it cannot be made sticky this way. Getting the desired
punctuation symbol sometimes requires a moment of thought. Other
than that, typing on the Wibrain is as you would expect from a split
thumb keyboard. There really is not a faster way to get data into
such a small device.
for USB Devices:
The Wibrains have one standard USB port and Ubuntu handled a
USB devices I tried extremely well. Here's a list of some of the
I've tried. All of them worked with the caveats noted.
Bluetooth 1.1 adapter
Need to install OBEX for BT file transfers
(Broadcom) Micro Bluetooth 2.0 adapter
Need to install OBEX for BT file transfers
10/100 Network Adapter
USB Headset for Playstation 2
||Works. Audio in sounds better than the internal analog audio.
PTP camera mode
slim DVD R/W Drive
adapters were recognized immediately, but OBEX (object exchange) is not
included by default, so my initial attempts at file transfers failed.
below for how to fix this. Lastly, the USB
drive would lock up the Wibrain when connected if the Wibrain was on.
Connecting the drive when the B1LE was hibernating, and then
waking it worked. I believe this is simply because the DVD
Drive uses too much power. Using the drive's external power
a powered hub should eliminate the problem. When using the USB
headset, I did not get the static on the audio input like I did with
the analog connection. Under Ubuntu 7.10, using my the USB
headset seemed to occasionally cause the unit to totally lock up.
This has not happened under Ubuntu 8.04 despite using it for VoIP
phone conversations that lasted over an hour.
is a review of the Wibrain Linux Edition, not Ubuntu Linux Never
the less, I want to highlight a few included apps and how they play
along with the whole idea of the UMPC. First, a bit about
I am a Red Hat/Fedora Linux guy. I have used Debian
and Debian based distro's before, so I can type "apt" as easily as I
can type "yum". Both Fedora and Ubuntu are based on recent
versions, so the difference to the user is very
thought of trying to install Fedora on
the Wibrain has crossed my mind, but only as an experiment, never
because of any difficulty or discomfort with Ubuntu. A
for one or the other should not steer anyone toward or away from the
mentioned this article has been updated to reflect a Wibrain running
Ubuntu 8.04 LTS (Hardy Heron). Updating is fairly easy, and does
not require touching the Unix command line if done the way I describe
on the Forums. It is likely that Wibrains are still being shipped
with Ubuntu 7.10 on them. You will want to upgrade immediately.
One of the biggest selling points of the Wibrain is its 1024
display. Web pages display full width. No scrolling or
needed. Additionally, since the Wibrain is a full PC, Firefox
extensions work 100% normally. Adding plugins, like Flash, Ad
blockers, etc. all work just like you are used to. Page
rendering is fast,
and complete. True - no compromises hand held web surfing.
You'll need really good eyes or a pair of reading glasses for
those websites that insist on tiny fonts, but it's all there.
Just like Firefox, we have true, full Open Office.org 2.3,
is updated just like on your desktop. This is where we really
the value of having Open Source Software on a device like this.
Dynamism gets US$649 for the Windows Wibrain with the same specs, but
that does not include Microsoft Office. MS Office 2007 Small
Business Edition is the cheapest version that gives you the equivalent
of what is included on the pre-installed Linux/OOo version. Dynamism
will get and additional US$449 for that. That exactly doubles
price. Why not install OOo on the Windows version?
about just buying the Linux version, and then installing Win XP and
OOo? Sure you can do that, but remember Microsoft's argument
Linux is free only if your time is worthless? Back at ya.
Evolution can be problematic, especially if you are trying to
to an exchange server. Setting up Evolution is complicated by
for the setup assistants that extend beyond the Wibrain's 600 pixel
screen height. The problem happens in other apps too, and I've seen it
reported on Windows UMPC's many times. In Linux, just remember that the
ALT key is your friend As an alternative mail client, try
Unfortunately software patents, and stupid laws have crippled
as included with Gutsy Gibbon. Fortunately, installing the
missing functionality is pretty easy. See the section on
additional software. Once the required extensions are added,
where legal to do so, Playback performance is excellent.
includes a Totem Firefox plug in, so embedded videos on web pages
generally play fine. I was not able to get MP3 playback
See below for a solution.
The Communicator of the future must have some app for
communications right? "Out of the box" Ekiga serves this purpose on the
B1L's, and it does it almost unbelievably well. Using my VoIP
Service Provider 
was able to place a call to a real
phone number within minutes. The only things that I
were the need to use an external microphone, and the fact
that Callcentric does not support video calls. It took me a
minutes to figure that I must turn off
"Enable Video" when using my VoIP provider, and turn it back on for
Ekiga's own service. My dumb - no problem. If you
have a VoIP of conferencing account, it is
literally out of the box to placing real phone calls in minutes.
I challenge anyone to do that on the Windows XP version.
If you are a professional photographer, or a serious amateur,
device has a whole new meaning for you. Imagine having the
real, GIMP in your camera bag.
Connect up your camera, do your editing, and send it on for
publishing -- all from the local coffee shop - even if you can't get a
seat at the table. Oh - Remember that price comparison with
Windows XP version and Open Office.org? Don't forget to add
another US$649.00 for Photoshop. Or you could buy your 3rd
Wibrain B1LE and a few accessories.
Included Utility Program - MFmgr
I want to make sure I am understood. Wibrain has
is) making an excellent effort to bring Ubuntu to the Wibrain.
However, they have really only added one userland GUI app.
is mysteriously called MFmgr, and is a simple control
that allows you to control a few aspects of the B1LE/H. There
3 settings for the fan: Quiet, Normal, and Cool. In
case, the fan will run as needed based on temperature, but it seems
that the selection "biases" the fan speed. Even in Normal,
fan noise is not bothersome. When
running on AC, I suggest always selecting Cool. The only way
destroy a Lithium-Ion battery faster than charging it when it is hot
involves an axe, and is very dangerous, so I do anything I can to keep
the temperature down while charging. Next is a Calibrate
that launches a pen (touchscreen) alignment screen almost identical to
the one on the Pepper Pad. The right half of the app contains
a setting for the internal
keyboard backlight. It has On, Auto, and Off. In
keypad will light for a few seconds when any key is pressed.
The 4th and final section
allows you to disable the touch pad all together, or to just disable
the clicking and scroll feature of the pad.
Additional Software You'll Want to Add
Update: XMMS is
no longer available from the Ubuntu repositories. You can get a .deb
The alternative is to just deal with the included Rhythmbox audio
player. It is large, not as cool looking as xmms, and lacks an
Equalizer, but works adequately. The new XMMS2, and one of many
front ends is another alternative. It is included in the
repsoitories, but I have not yet tried it. Seems to me, they have
way over complicated audio playback.
Where legal to do so, we
install some missing plug-ins to allow more formats to be supported.
Note that Ubuntu's rights to distribute certain codecs, and
rights to use them may be different.
Make sure your system is up
to date, and that you have installed the VIA VX700 drivers from the
Wibrain Google code site [Link].
In a terminal, do the
following one at a time:
apt-get install gstreamer0.10-plugins-base
apt-get install gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad
apt-get install gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly
apt-get install libdvdcss2
apt-get install libdvdread3
Some may report that they
are already installed. That's OK.
If an optical
drive is connected, and
there is a DVD or VCD in it, Totem will have an "Open Disk..." menu
item. Unfortunately, this is broken in current versions of Totem.
With the above codecs installed, A disk can be played from
command line using something like:
to play chapter 2 of the
If you get poor playback,
type the following in a terminal:
Select the Video tab, and
for Plugin, select X Window System (X11/XShm/Xv) and select Xv_SVOV for
Totem/gstreamer does not
support DVD menus. If this is important, you can switch to using xine
as Totem's underlying engine. I did not due this since I feel
that gstreamer may have better support for web video formats.
Adding full support for
Bluetooth file transfer is easy. Just do:
apt-get install gnome-vfs-obexftp
apt-get install gnome-bluetooth
The first will load 2
packages, and the second will ad 3. Yes, I know I could have done them
on the same command line.
This will add both remote browsing (if the remote device supports it),
and it will allow you to send a file by right right clicking and
selecting "Send to...". The OBEX server can now be started by
selecting Accessories >> Bluetooth File Sharing.
A cool gnome panel applet
that is not
included is the sensors applet. It will allow you to monitor
CPU temp, and even set an alarm if it exceeds a preset value.
Install the .deb package, and then add it to your panel:
They call it the
communicator of the
future, but the only built-in communications technology it has is WiFi
(802.11 b/g). No fear - Ubuntu and the Wibrain can support several other
methods of getting online.
Note: Due to the
fact that these methods vary based on the particular device and version
of Ubuntu on the Wibrain, and the fact that detailed instructions are
beyond the scope of a review, the information that was here has been moved
to the forums.
I have been successful at
getting on line with the Wibrain using about every method
for Getting On-Line
and easily configurable via the Network Manager GUI
Ethernet via USB Adapter
with a 3Com 3C460B 10/100 Adapter. Worked Immediately.
(USB) Connection to a Mobile Phone
through the Network Manager GUI, but some minor editing
of system files was needed.
Connection to a Mobile Phone
Had to be done from the command line when using Ubuntu 7.10.
Proxy using an Apple
||Did work, but
takes some tricks. See forums.
tested. Should work.
Analog Modem or Serial Analog Modem connected to a USB adapter.
Not tested. Should work with supported USB devices.
In summary, Linux and the Wibrain hardware work well together,
Upgrading to Ubuntu 8.04, and installing the Wibrain specific drivers
fixes most, but not all, of my original complaints. Work on drivers,
and of course improvements in Ubuntu Linux itself, continue; and on
occassion, the Wibrain will remind you that there is still work to be
Compared to other handheld
Wibrain Linux Edition gives excellent capability for the cost.
is far more capable than the Nokia n810, and the extra cost of
Wibrain is well worth it. I frankly doubt that you will find
any combination of size, capability, included apps, and price that will come
near what the Wibrain Linux devices give you. If, on the other hand, the
factor and size
is not important for you, I think that you will have a better
experience with one of the newer Linux based Eee PC's.
This article was composed
almost entirely on the Wibrain B1LE.
the property of the companies
that own them.