ReviewsUMPC

Kohjinsha PA series mini review

Kohjinsha_pa_review

I've now spent a full workweek with the Kohjinsha PA series and since this is the last post I'll be writing before my husband and I start our new lives as parents, it's definitely time to share my thoughts on what is currently the smallest Atom-based convertible around. I usually prefer to spend at least a few weeks with a device before reviewing it, so what follows is just a mini review (albeit a long one) covering my general impressions of the unit.

Full specifications of the Kohjinsha PA are available in the product database.

Design

Kohjinsha_pa

When the PA was first announced, I thought it might dethrone the Wibrain B1H as the ugliest UMPC/MID ever made. Seeing it in person for the first time did little to change my initial reaction, but now I must admit that I'm not as turned off by its busy design and somewhat "lumpy" appearance. In fact, there's actually something almost a little cute and endearing about it.

Build Quality

Kohjinsha_pa_coke

I mentioned in my size comparisons post that build quality is rather poor compared to other Kohjinsha devices, and I continue to stand by that assessment. It feels loosely put together, flexes under slight pressure, and has a definite toy-like quality to it. The device is very clearly based on unreleased hardware from UMID (don't forget that the Kohjinsha PM series is already a rebranded UMID mbook M1), so it's hardly a shocker that there are some quality issues here. There aren't any noticeable cosmetic defects like those found on some of the early mbook M1 generations, but I don't think anyone could pick up the PA and be blown away by its craftsmanship, especially considering the high price tag (~$750 to ~$950, depending on the retailer).

Performance

Kohjinsha_pa_crystalmark 

Kohjinsha_pa_diskmark

We've seen enough examples of how the 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor and GMA500 chipset work with variables like operating system, internal storage type, and RAM, so there aren't any surprises in terms of how the Kohjinsha PA performs.

Kohjinsha_pa_microsd

It's configured exactly like the UMID M1 with Windows XP, an SSD (expandable with microSD card), and only 512MB of RAM, so if you're familiar with that system, then you know exactly what you're getting with the PA series: some lag due to meager amount of RAM, into and out of standby in seconds, great standby battery life (only about 20% drain in 24 hours), and acceptable performance for basic tasks if not multitasking or running resource-hungry applications.

UMID mbook M1 Comparison

Although the PA isn't an upgrade in specs from the UMID M1, it is an upgrade in other ways. See comparison photos of both devices here.

Standard Ports

Kohjinsha_pa_ports

For starters, it has standard I/O ports that don't require adapters to be used. From left to right: VGA-out port (cable included), 3.5mm headphone jack, USB 2.0 port, and power port.

WiFi/Bluetooth Behavior

Another feature the PA has that the UMID doesn't is the ability for the WiFi and Bluetooth radios to remain on and connected when awakening from standby. Pressing the dedicated wireless button to turn on these radios isn't difficult to do on the UMID, but not having to do it on the Kohjinsha obviously makes getting online faster.

Swiveling Screen

Kohjinsha_pa_180 

Kohjinsha_pa_swivel

The device also one-ups the UMID by having a convertible touchscreen. The swiveling mechanism isn't as sturdy as on other convertibles (the Kohjinsha SC3 and Viliv S7, for example) and actually feels like it could be broken or at least badly damaged if mishandled.

Kohjinsha_pa_swivel1

Kohjinsha_pa_swivel2 

Then again, the simple fact that the screen swivels at all makes the PA more versatile than any of the other clamshell MIDs out there.

Screen Angle

Kohjinsha_pa_screen_tip

Screen angle isn't an issue on the Kohjinsha the way it is on the UMID either. UMID (or whoever made the PA) may have actually overdone it a little, as opening the screen to its maximum angle tips the unit backward. There's no reason for the screen to be pushed back that far if you're using the Kohjinsha on a flat surface anyway, so it's not a big deal.

Mouse Controls

The Kohjinsha PA also has not one but two sets of optical mice with mouse buttons, one designed for use when the device is in laptop mode and the other for use in tablet mode. Neither is ideal when using the device in two-handed thumb typing mode; the touchscreen is good enough to provide a workaround for this, but this of course requires a change in hand position.

Kohjinsha_pa_optmouse

The laptop-style optical mouse flanked by left- and right-click buttons is very sensitive and a bit awkward to use. Optical mice are better used with a thumb than a finger, but its location on the Kohjinsha PA makes "thumbing" it feel unnatural.

Kohjinsha_pa_stylus

In my experience, it's often faster and more accurate to just tap the touchscreen with my fingernail or the included stylus.

Kohjinsha_pa_mousebez

The mouse controls fare better on the bezel when using the PA as a slate, but they're still quirky. Every other device I've used that has had a mouse pointer of any kind (e.g., trackstick, mini trackpad, optical mouse) has always opted for a right-handed layout: pointer on the right side of the screen, mouse buttons on the left. The controls are switched on the PA and my left thumb is apparently less coordinated than my right one, so navigation takes some getting used to.

Kohjinsha_pa_mousebuttons

The mouse buttons are also "irregular," as they're inexplicably incorporated into a d-pad. There's already a standard d-pad on the other side of the screen, so I'm not sure why regular, slightly larger mouse buttons couldn't be used instead.

Tablet Mode

Kohjinsha_pa_tablet

Kohjinsha_pa_hinge

Having said that, once you're accustomed to the small mouse buttons and left-handed optical mouse, using the Kohjinsha PA in tablet mode is quite comfortable. The large hinge that houses the battery doesn't get in the way like you might expect; it actually sits nicely in the palm of your hands and puts the controls within easy reach.

Other Controls

Kohjinsha_pa_leftbez

I don't think all of the controls are necessary, but perhaps they're there for symmetry or to partially disguise how thick the bezel is. I haven't found a single use for the d-pad below the optical mouse yet, the dedicated Ctrl and Shift buttons aren't needed, and the resolution switcher beneath that isn't particularly useful either since the alternate resolutions (640 x 480, 1024 x 768) are interpolated/scaled/virtualized.

Kohjinsha_pa_rightbez

Keyboard

The Kohjinsha PA is equipped with the same 56-keyboard found on the UMID M1.

Kohjinsha_pa_kb

The keyboard itself is identical in terms of size, pitch (distance between keys), stroke (distance a key moves when pressed), and general feel, but the layout is a little different.

Kohjinsha_pa_kb2

Thumb typing isn't as comfortable for me as it is on the UMID because the PA is wider, but it's not too bad. After five days of use, I'm thumb typing at a net speed of 42 wpm and multi-finger typing at about 46 wpm. You can see how these numbers compare to some other gadgets in my mobile device keyboard typing speeds chart.

Final Thoughts

From a usability standpoint, the Kohjinsha PA series packs a lot of function into a portable package weighing just 14.1 ounces. The convertible form factor is versatile and encourages a wide range of usage scenarios, while Windows XP makes it a fairly robust system to carry around in a pocket. Unfortunately, because of its high price, unique aesthetics, and limited RAM, I don't think the PA will be able to find success in the already niche market of UMPCs and MIDs.

Design is subjective and there are ways to overcome (or at least deal with) the paltry RAM, so price is really the biggest showstopper here. It's truly insane for a device with rather low-end specs and imperfect build quality to carry an MSRP of 69,800 yen (~$779) and cost as much as 84,800 yen (~$947) to import, especially in this economy. If not for the astronomical price, the PA could probably find a small but loyal following among gadget enthusiasts and mobile professionals. As it stands, however, there are simply cheaper, better looking, and more powerful alternatives out there that buyers should consider first.

The Kohjinsha PA is available now from Conics for 79,800 yen (~$891).

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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Avatar of Jenn K. Lee

12 thoughts on “Kohjinsha PA series mini review

  • Avatar of ArchiMark

    Jenn,

    Thanks so much for your review, especially in light of the timing right now for you…all the best to you on your soon to arrive family addition!

    Meanwhile, the review is very helpful and clear about the PA…only would like one clarification if you can please regarding your concluding remark “As it stands, however, there are simply cheaper, better looking, and more powerful alternatives out there that buyers should consider first.”

    Can you share what some of the alternatives you’re thinking of? I’d guess you mean M1 and ????
    Would be useful to know….

    Also, with the upcoming (hopefully…) M2, how would that one fit into the picture do you think?

    Thanks.

    Mark

    Reply
  • Great review of the PA. This could be the SC3 mini me… :) I think the price is high for that size and specs, I rather have the Archos 5 IT. The Archos 5 IT would be more pocketable and I mostly use the smaller screen devices for online, email, and or review documents and edit short mark ups etc… Congrats again on your baby. You guys will have a blast raising your baby.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mitchell

    I could be wrong but when I read that part, I thought of the UMID M2, Viliv S5, larger devices like netbooks and the VAIO P series, and even ARM-based devices like the iPod Touch and Archos 5 IT with Android. Maybe Jenn was only talking about x86 clamshell MIDs but I just took it to mean that there are other choices that give you better value for the money.

    Just my $0.02!

    Reply
  • The only thing I like about it is all the control and buttons on the bezel. Would love to have customizable CTRL and ALT to perform functions in apps, really useful if you rekey them to something you never usually use like F9/F11, and then use those for apps.

    The D-Pad is interesting as well, maybe for games or page up / page down…..

    Good luck with the baby! You better baby proof your gadgets, and don’t leave any dongles lying around!

    Reply
  • Avatar of Bob Anson

    Hi Jenn,

    Thanks for another great review.

    Although the angled corners of the Kohjinsha PA make it look “funny,” they make it easier to place the device into a slipcase or small bag. Maybe this is the reason for their existence?

    We will all miss you very much during your absence.

    Best of luck over the next few months.

    Bob Anson

    Reply
  • Avatar of Vakeros

    Thanks for the review. Have fun having your own sproget. We’ll await your next review with the particular slant of “Post-Natal Users shouldn’t be without this…”

    What you never mentioned is which devices were best for pregnant mums-to-be, which were best for balancing on the bulge etc.

    Reply
  • And how does the touchscreen perform? jeez…

    Reply
  • Great review. But as the name suggests, does it serve as a translation device as well?!?

    Reply
  • Hello.
    This device looks very cool and The screen is bright and sharp.But why the 512 MB is the maximum? Fantastic laptop, Its battery life and well designed. It is expensive but providing many nice features so it is not worthless.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  • Too bad they changed the buttons besides the screen compared to my Kohjinsha SA5, a horribly underpowered device but I still love it.

    On the SA5 there are keys besides the screen to adjust the brightness(instead of ctrl & shift, which seem rather useless) and to scroll up or down (I guess the mouse button on the also function to scroll up or down, but PageUp/PageDown is much faster and useful).

    Besides that, it seems like a pretty decent device. It’s just that Kohjinsha’s are always horribly expensive. Am I the only one who thinks that Kohjinsha could’ve been a major player on the netbook/umpc market if they lowered their prices and did some better marketing. I got my 7″ SA5 with 1024×600 touchscreen before those 7″ 800×480 eeePC’s came out. Kohjinsha could’ve been huge if they were the first with an affordable mini-laptop and the features have always been great.

    Reply

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