By November 17, 2008

Gigabyte M528 review

MID – Mobile Internet Device. Small pocket-sized computers running desktop-type applications and with a full suite of connectivity options. The M528 is a MID. Intel seems to be very keen about MIDs at the moment, and it seems that they are the next great thing. Mind you, Nokia has been quietly punting them out for a few years now in the shape of the N770, N800 and N810 internet tablets (all Linux devices). I was keen to see how the M528 compared against the venerable Nokia’s because it terms of specification it blows them away.

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What’s in the box?

  • Gigabyte M528 MID
  • Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • Charger
  • USB cable

 

General

Before I delve into reviewing the M528 in any depth I think it’s important to highlight the fact that this would appear to be a pre-production release model. Why do I think this? The unit came without any manual, documentation, software CD or indeed a retail box. I will also confess to being a fan and user of Nokias internet tablet so, it was natural that I judge the M528 against them.

My first reaction upon opening the box was “It’s just like a Nokia N810”. It could easily be mistaken for one such is the close resemblance. The M528 is a bit bigger all round and a fair bit heavier, but nevertheless it screams N810. It’s an exceedingly well specified and good looking device. In terms of hardware it presses all the buttons: large, bright and sharp display; proper USB ports; fast cpu; plenty of memory; a slide-out keyboard; memory slot; a sim card slot for 3G connectivity; big battery…… Portable computing heaven – if this is the way forward then count me in.

For a flavour of what the device is like see Matt’s recent unboxing:

http://www.tracyandmatt.co.uk/blogs/index.php?blog=2&paged=2

Like the Nokia internet tablets it runs a form of Linux – in this case Midinux. Linux is eminently suitable for MIDs with its low overheads and hardware requirements. Linux is also highly customisable and has wonderful community support, so I was somewhat perturbed to discover that this particular flavour is crippled and lacking in functionality – more later.

Controls

The M528 has been thoughtfully provided with a number of connection options and some sensibly positioned controls


Top: Camera shutter release, 3.5mm headphone jack, std USB port, volume up/down switch, microSD card slot, mini USB port.

m528_top

Gigabyte M528 Top View

 

Bottom: Power jack, Power switch

m528_bottom

Gigabyte M528 bottom View

 

Front: TFT screen, slide-out keyboard, smart key for quick access to certain applications

m528_open

Gigabyte M528 front view

 

Back: Speaker, battery/SIM cover, camera lens, reset hole. Stylus slot (on the top right when viewed from the back)

m528_back

Gigabyte M528 back view

 

Left & Right: Nothing to speak of on either side of the M528 apart from the stylus which sits on the left side of the device.

m528_end_view

Gigabyte M528 side view

 

Gigabyte M528 Specification:

  • CPU – Intel Menlow 800MHz
  • OS – Linux with Merry-Go-Round i-CON interface
  • Core Logic – Poulsbo
  • System Memory – 512MB on board
  • LCD – 4.8” LCD panel 800×480 with touch panel
  • Hard Disk Drive – 4GB Intel Solid State Disk
  • Input Device – 47 key keyboard/Pointing button/Volume +/-
  • I/O Port:
  • 1 x Std. USB Host,
  • 1 x mini-USB Client,
  • 1 x micro SD,
  • 1 x 3.5mm Earphone-mic,
  • 1 x GPS RF switching connector,
  • DC-in,
  • SIM card slot
  • Audio Earphone out/Mic
  • built-in/Speaker x 1
  • Bluetooth – Bluetooth 2.0 via USB I/F
  • Camera – 300KP CMOS Web Cam,3MP CMOS AF Camera
  • LAN/Wireless LAN – 802.11b/g via SDIO I/F, HSDPA capability
  • Keyboard – QWERTY keyboard w/ EL backlight
  • Protection – Kensington lock
  • Battery – 3.7V 3060mAh
  • Dimension – 152 x 80 x 22.5mm
  • Weight – 300g

 

Highlights:

  • Hardware spec
  • Design

Lowlights:

  • Buggy operating system
  • Limited software suite
  • Limited usability
  • Unreliable wi-fi connection

m528_angled_closed

Review

As I have already said, I do not believe the review unit to be a production or final release product, therefore my comments should be regarded in this light. The version of Linux installed does not seem to correspond with the published spec’s and the review unit carried no statutory approval stamps or markings.

The M528 is a compact unit with a dense feel to it in the hand. Although not much bigger than a Nokia N800, it is substantially heavier and trying to carry this in your trouser pocket will result in one’s trousers trying to make a break for freedom. Like the N810 I recently reviewed, the M528 has a slide out keyboard. It’s a little bit creaky when being handled and when the keyboard slides out it feels a bit loose. The keyboard itself is a membrane type which, although lacking in good tactile feedback (they’re all like that) makes entering text much easier than relying on a stylus. Therefore, it is surprising to find that the bundled software includes very little that can make use of the keyboard. There is no word processor or e-mail client.

Connecting to a wireless network proved to be very frustrating. Despite entering the correct credentials of my network it would not connect until I made my network visible. “Ah-ha!”, I thought….”now we have a connection let’s make it invisible again for security purposes”. The M528 had other ideas. As soon as I did that the M528 dropped the connection. Once the connection had been dropped then the unit promptly forgot the connection details! In order to connect again it was necessary to make my network visible and then go through the entire process of entering the connection info again. The unit would also sporadically drop connection. Now I am an exponent and a user of Linux, but I was fairly unimpressed that getting a connection was so difficult – normally it’s child’s play and my Nokian N800 is simply leagues ahead in this respect.

Once I had got a connection I fired up the Coolfox web browser. This appeared to be a cut down version of Firefox. In use it proved to be speedy and smooth – it was a delight to use and quite a revelation on the beautiful 4.8” screen. Certainly, the user experience blew my N800 away when it came to browsing – in fact it felt just like using Firefox on a good laptop. Until it crashed that is. As intimated, the suite of applications installed is very limited. There was a media player, but it would not run whilst Coolfox was running for some unfathomable reason – a pop-up dialogue appears telling you so when you try.

The battery was a 3.7v/2700mAh Li-Polymer item (the spec’ claims 3060mAh). This capacity seemed to be plentiful even with the screen backlighting set to near maximum. The battery itself is a monster. Given the discrepancy between the published specification and the actual item in use it would be unfair to draw any conclusions regarding battery life, but I can say it never actually bothered me. So that must be good and the bigger specced item must be even better, right?

m528_angled_open

Conclusion:

The M528 has a lot of promise as does the entire class of MIDs. I’ve long been an advocate of the MID form factor (or internet tablet). Unfortunately, the M528 as reviewed was highly buggy, devoid of any means of software updates, it was not possible to add extra software, configure it or indeed do very much with it. For this reason it is difficult to draw any conclusions about it. At the time of writing non of the usual retailers actually list the machine as available and in stock so, I am really hoping that devices customers purchase are much more functional and complete. For the time being though, I cannot recommend the device in its current state. Work in progress I would say.

 

Review by: Nigel

[ Post Tags: Gigabyte, UMPC, Laptop, tablet pc, M528, tracyandmatt.co.uk ]

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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