How does it work?
Netpliance's main claim
to the machine is that "out of the box" it is ready to go. True to that claim,
you can remove it from the box and just hook up your phone line and power
cord and be on the net within minutes. Here's where I began to see the warts.
The sound on the unit is very disappointing. According to my friend, when
he powered the unit for the first time he thought that the speakers must be
out of phase or broken since the initial tutorial's sound was awful. The tutorial
uses a voice to guide you through the steps of using the machine. Way to go
Netpliance, I'm sure the grandma set will get a lot out of a tutorial they
can't hear properly.
Another problem popped
up as soon as I began web browsing with the machine. The browser only supports
HTML 3.2 and Real Audio 5.0. Any site that uses Java script heavily won't
be very nice to look at, as will any site that requires Macromedia Flash.
At $22 a month this is one of the worst internet experiences available. Anybody
else remember why the 4.0 browsers were such a big leap beyond the 3.0 versions?
The unit uses a
proprietary version of QNX as its operating system. Never heard of that? QNX
is a spin-off of UNIX. It's main selling point being that it can be ported
to proprietary designs easily. The OS resides in the 16-MB flash memory. Since
the i-opener has no floppy of other media storage capability all updates must
be done remotely while connected to the internet. This means any one who keeps
the i-opener internet service will have an updated unit indefinitely. That,
for the grandma set, is a total plus. I can't imagine trying to explain how
to install an update from a command prompt to my own grandmother.
The lack of external storage
is eclipsed by the lack of a word processor. Beyond e-mail and web browsing
I'm sure just about every user would like to compose a letter and print it
on the available printer. Nope, can't do that. A definite thumbs down to Netpliance
for deciding our parents and grandparents probably aren't smart enough to
use a word processor.
to now we've been able to center the review completely on the unit. Unfortunately,
there is another side to buying the hardware that I've never come across before:
business tactics that border on the ludicrous and oppressive. When my friend
purchased his machine the agreement that came with the unit was to pay for
one month of the i-opener ISP. By the time I was looking to find one of these
units to review the agreement had gone up to four months. Ok, I can understand
that part of the deal. Since the unit will only work with Netpliance's ISP
you are locked into their service indefinitely anyway.
But here's also where
the weirdness starts. According to the strangely worded Terms of Sale that
have recently been enacted by Netpliance you are no longer the owner of the
hardware. The hardware belongs to Netpliance, even though you paid to have
the machine. A major problem here is that Netpliance has tried to retroactively
apply the new TOS to purchasers who have been waiting weeks for their pre-paid
units. That's even though that TOS was not in effect when they purchased their
unit. Who knows what TOS Netpliance will try to enforce by the time a person
receives their ordered unit? I personally won't buy a gift for my grandmother
that will become a headache due to all the retroactive agreement changes.
People awaiting delivery who will not agree to the new TOS have also had their
order canceled by Netpliance. Netpliance has gone so far as to contact people
who have ordered their units at Circuit City, and on behalf of Circuit City,
give them an opportunity to agree to the new TOS so that they may receive
I ordered an i-opener
from Circuit City and waited over a month to find out from Circuit City that
the unit would never come. According to the sales staff at Circuit City, Netpliance
was no longer shipping units to them. Since then Circuit City has stopped
accepting orders of the units altogether. I've read reports at Slashdot that
the reason for the hold up in shipping is that the units are being held at
the factory for "updates" that will not allow the unit to be modified into
a normal PC. At this point, the units can be ordered directly from Netpliance
or purchased at CompUSA, who apparently has not suffered the supply cut off
that Circuit City did.
- A lot of neat
stuff for $99
- Small package
- Crisp display
- Does work "right
out of the box"
- Only supports
one model of printer
- No USB devices
- The sound is
so poor as to be beyond description
- Mediocre web
- Total lack of
a word processor
- Long delays in
receiving the product (if ever)
- Two hands required
for web browsing
After I read the stories
at Slashdot reporting things other people had done with their i-openers I
think that this purchase is best left to the serious hobbyist. I don't think
that the people this machine is targeted at will get much use out of it after
the initial purchase curiosity. There will be more Internet Appliances available
soon that will be priced very closely to the i-opener. The smart money says
to sit on the hype for a while and wait to see which unit actually gains the
most industry share, and therefore, the most updates and product support.
Unfortunately, the i-opener can't be used with any ISP service besides Netpliance's.
At $22 a month that's a heavy amount to pay for its mediocre browser software.
The total lack of a word processor really makes me wonder if Netpliance considers
other uses for the machine other than their own ISP.
I wasn't looking for a
replacement for one of my PCs and it would have been unreasonable to expect
a machine like this to do that. But I was looking for a more reasonable internet
experience. On the bright side: My friends i-opener is now out of its initial
one month ISP agreement and he has canceled the service. I've bought it from
him and will be modifying it to see just how useful the i-opener could have
been had it been delivered with a more useful software package. On that note,
I can't wait to see if the other Internet Appliance manufacturers have learned
from Netpliance's blunders and will deliver a better product to consumers.