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FIC Midori Linux AquaPad - Extensive Review

Date: Tuesday February 05, 2002
Category: Notebooks Author: Max Page
Manufacture: FIC

The FIC Aqua Pad is mobile internet access device connected by a wireless PCMCIA card.

FIC Midori Linux AquaPad - Extensive Review

It was not long ago that the cry of 'webpad' was being echoed from companies like Hitachi to Gateway. To be honest though, nothing really long lasting for the consumer market ever came to fruition. Instead, webpads saw themselves transition into internet appliances, and then most recently evolving into 'tablet PC's'. The only areas these mobile devices (what we like to call them) really found a home was in the vertical markets and industrial applications where they could be tailored to very specific tasks.

As it was way back in October of 2000 that we initially saw the first generation FIC AquaPad, a design which was later updated and showcased at the 2001 Comdex, we were very excited to get a chance to put the device through its paces.

The review unit we received arrived in a retail box and was accompanied by a recharging adaptor, a rather nice nylon carrying case, and a succinct instruction manual. A developers kit accompanied this AquaPad which included an 802.11b WLAN Access Point, and 802.11b Cisco Aironet 350 Series PCMCIA card.

The 2.5lb AquaPad is a medium sized portable device centered around an 800x600 pixel TFT touch sensitive screen. The device is larger than a PDA, but smaller than a laptop. The actual dimensions are 274x164x26 mm, and walking around with it gives the impression that you are playing a bit part in the newest StarTrek spinoff. The smooth blue and silver AquaPad has several ports for expansion cards, but not much else, and fits easily into the left hand.

Features & Specs

FIC AquaPad:
WLAN connected webpad based on a 500MHz Crusoe processor and Midori Linux OS.

TM5400 500MHz Crusoe
8.4" TFT 800x600 display
3200mAh Lithium battery
Built-in IrDA, speaker, mic
3.0 hours battery life
Magnesium enclosure

Technical Specs:
1x PCMCIA bay
2x USB ports
1x Compact Flash Bay
Midori Linux OS
(l x w x h)
2.53 Lbs

The FIC Aqua Pad is mobile internet access device connected by a wireless PCMCIA card. Battery life is about 3 hours and the unit boasts an 800x600 TFT touch sensitive screen.
FIC website

The unit is encased in a Magnesium alloy shell which is lightweight, and fairly sturdy. Intended for purely mobile use, FIC appear to have sufficiently 'toughened' the device to survive the daily abuses it would undoubtedly receive, though there are few things we would like to see done differently.

Powered by a 500MHz TM5400 Transmeta Crusoe processor with 128MB of PC133 SDRAM, and a Midori Linux operating system based out of a 32MB Compact Flash card, the AquaPad is the definition of a low-footprint device. Expansion ports are kept to a minimum, with just one Type II PCMCIA port, one external Compact Flash port (useful for saving data, or for an IBM Microdrive), an IrDA window, two USB ports and a place to stick in a pair of ear bud-style headphones.

The AquaPad we tested was loaded with a custom version of Midori Linux, but the devices are also available with Windows CE3.0, 98, ME and 2000 (98 thru 2000 make use of an internal microdrive). Midori Linux is the same 'Mobile Linux' that Linus Torvalds of Transmeta originally demonstrated at the inception of the low-power microprocessor company two years ago.

The operating system is designed especially for low-power, low thermal mobile devices and works off of a RAM based file system that can reside in everyday memory. Under the terms of GNU General Public License, Midori Linux has been open sourced, so it is an ever evolving free operating system which Transmeta indirectly supports.

The Midori Linux operating system on our review unit was successfully upgraded over the internet, and this underlines the future proofing of the AquaPad, and relative easy of use for users unfamiliar with Linux. AquaPads are currently available to consumers through a reseller at AquaPad.org.

Scope of the AquaPad

The AquaPad is not a notebook, and it is not a Tablet PC. There is no hard drive and if you want to save data you need to install a CF card in the expansion slot. Once the unit is turned off, any bookmarks or data stored in memory are lost. The only web browser loaded onto the device is Mozilla, and not all internet plugins are natively supported by it. In effect, the AquaPad is essentially a medium for wirelessly surfing the internet in a more comfortable fashion than a desktop or notebook can allow given their size and shape.

While this is limiting when compared to an average user on a notebook, there are applications where this focused technology comes in ahead. This is one of the main reasons webpads have never gained full acceptance with consumers however. Vertical markets on the otherhand have the doors wide open for them in terms of what they can do with mobile WLAN devices like this, and in all honesty FIC have only scratched the surface in terms of what the AquaPad can potentially be applied to.

We have heard uses for the AquaPad range from display tools at conventions like COMDEX, to internet access devices in hotels or hospitals, to any number of web-based data entry applications. Taking into account a user with good knowledge of Linux, the potential for the AquaPad is extremely varied; portable sever monitoring and management for IDC's, data entry tools for customer surveys and possibly even some home automation uses come to mind.

Basically, while the existing wireless websurfing capabilities of the AquaPad are good, they are limited, and it seems only fair to acknowledge the wide spectrum of uses the device could be applied to rather than pigeon hole it against full-size computers running Windows as "just a browser with a WLAN card."

Next up, a close look at all the features of the little blue AquaPad...

Page 1: FIC Midori Linux AquaPad - Extensive Review
Page 2: Features of the AquaPad
Page 3: Inside the FIC AquaPad
Page 4: Getting the Internet into the AquaPad
Page 5: Online Midori Linux Updates
Page 6: Onscreen Menus and Features
Page 7: Internet Compatibility Tests & Conclusions

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