Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fidelity Electronics' VPC (Very Personal Computer) Review

This is my review of Fidelity Electronics' VPC which stands for "very personal computer."

The first week that it was released, I saw the description on Canadian Tire's flyer along with the special price. Based on the description and special price, I decided to get it as a secondary netbook. I already had a 8.9" Windows XP based netbook) but because I wanted something smaller to view internet streaming videos in my bedroom and I often left my Windows XP netbook elsewhere, since I had a lot of Canadian Tire money and there wasn't anything at Canadian Tire that I really wanted to get with my Canadian Tire money, I thought that I would get the VPC.

The VPC's description on Canadian Tire flyer read:
7" Fidelity VPC - Very Personal Computer. The perfect solution for students or parents on the go! Built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity. Edit and save in multiple formats: MS Word(TM) & Excel(TM), PDF viewer, calculator, file manager, e-dictionary, e-reader, and e-calendar. Stream video straight from YouTube(TM). 4GB internal memory and 128 MB RAM. 1 SD card slot & 2 USB ports. While quantities last.

I purchased this product on August 22 and after trying this product for only a few hours, I realized why Canadian Tire had a no refund policy on this product. When I purchased the product there was no mention that the product could only be exchanged for the exact same product in case of problems within 30 days and that refunds weren't allowed.

I can't really recommend this product for the typical user unless he/she plans on using the built-in non-internet programs. The interface and programs installed on it are extremely limited and it runs a very limited version of Linux. Lots of websites (more advanced websites) don't work properly like GoogleMaps, Flash enabled websites, etc.

When I purchased the product, I wasn't able to connect to my wireless router right away. Updating to the latest firmware via the company's website (v1.1) allowed me to connect to my wireless router (WPA encryption). YouTube was advertised to work on the Fidelity VPC via special instructions (which are indicated in the manual) but after the firmware upgrade, YouTube viewing was still not possible (following the special instructions found in the VPC instruction manual).

The system out of the box didn't seem to accept my router's encryption scheme (WPA). I updated the firmware by downloading the new firmware to an SD card and rebooting the VPC. I noticed that the SD card slot on the VPC seemed to be reversed or upside down on (or at least mine doesn't go into the machine in the standard fashion like all other PCs).

The VPC includes a limited browser, an e-mail program, chat program, a word processor, a spreadsheet program, adobe acrobat reader, a dictionary, a calculator, a file manager, a music player, a media player, an image viewer, 2 games, a recorder, a paint program, and an e-book reader.

For very basic functions, it is okay/good (word processing, spreadsheet handling, games, picture viewing, etc.). A pre-teenager would probably be able to use this.

I contacted Fidelity Electronics' technical support department regarding the problem with YouTube videos and within 1 day, they updated their firmware (to v1.2). After updating the firmware to v1.2, the VPC was now capable of steaming the YouTube videos. However, after a few seconds of streaming, it was apparent that the audio and video was becoming out of sync as the video continued to play. I contacted Fidelity Electronics' technical support department and about 1 week later, they came out with an improved v1.2 which was able to properly stream the YouTube videos.

A few things I noticed about the VPC are:
1) It does not handle hidden SSIDs so if your wireless router is set to not broadcast the SSID, the VPC won't be able to connect to it.
2) When you enter the encryption password, it is in plain text and if you want to connect to it again, the VPC will display the encryption password. If someone is behind you at the time that you connect, they will see the encryption password. There is no "auto-connect" feature.
3) The browser is extremely limited in what it can do and what webpages it can access.
4) The VPC is slow in terms of responsiveness regardless of whether you are using one of the internet applications or one of the non-internet applications.
5) The battery is not removable (I'm the type of person who prefers using the AC power without the battery in the laptop/netbook unless I'm charging the battery/laptop).
6) The SD card will only read SD cards (<= 2GB). It will not read SD-HC cards (> 2GB).

As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't really call the VPC a true "netbook" like the low cost ones produced by Acer, Asus, etc.. The VPC might be adequate for a pre-teen but I can't really recommend it for anyone else.

A shorter version of this review appears on the Canadian Tire website.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my review on Fidelity Electronic's VPC, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.


  1. Thanks for this review. Canadian Tire is having a crazy weekend special and is shooting these out the door for $170 - you just saved me $170 :)

    I might just get the HP from Future Shop for $30 more.

  2. Thank you Mike for reading my blog entry as well as leaving a comment.

    I'm glad that you enjoyed my review of this product and it helped you to make an informed decision about whether or not to purchase this product.

    If you go to Canadian Tire's website, you will see that the other reviews on their website for this product (which includes a shortened version of my review) aren't overly positive. In fact, my review was probably the "most" positive since this product is probably still useful for certain individuals.

    As mentioned in my review, if the price is lower (less than their $279 advertised/regular price), this product might be a good idea for a pre-teen or senior but anyone who has used a real computer/laptop/netbook before wouldn't find this product useful.

    The other issue is Canadian Tire's no return policy on this product which they allude to on their website with the statement: "This product carries a special warranty. Please see your local Canadian Tire store for details." When you've paid for the item and see your receipt, it will explain that in case of any problems/issues, this product can only be exchanged for the exact same product within 30 days. Regardless of the physical condition of the unit, no refund for this product will be issued even if the product was used less than 1 hour.

  3. Thanks for this review. You saved me from a Canadian Tire visit.

  4. Thanks Steve for your comment.

    I'm glad that I could help you make an informed decision before you purchased this product, since unless things have changed at Canadian Tire recently, this product is non-refundable and you would have been stuck with it.

  5. I have a 8 year old and an 11 year old who go on you tube, play a few online games and facebook, msn etc. True beginners. Is this product suffice for them or would it be a disappointment?

  6. Thanks Tracy for your reading my blog entry and asking your question.

    Regarding your question, YouTube currently works on the VPC via a workaround. It isn't the full YouTube experience but you are able to watch YouTube videos online using this workaround. After viewing one or a few YouTube videos, sometimes it won't work until you restart the VPC.

    According to the company's website, Facebook should work but not the full featured Facebook. It does allow you to update your status on Facebook and view your Facebook friends in a lite version of Facebook's website.

    Without knowing the game websites that your kids normally access, the online games will probably not work because the online games that I've seen use Java, Shockwave, and/or Flash and the browser doesn't support these. You can get more information on certain sites from the company's website here:

    I can't really recommend this "netbook" for the internet applications/browser. The browser is extremely limited in terms of what sites that it can access.

    If your kids want to use the word processing software or play the included games or use the MP3 player or the picture viewer, it is okay for that (although somewhat slow).

    Unless you have a lot of Canadian Tire money that you don't know what to do with, I don't recommend purchasing this product since it is overpriced even when Canadian Tire has it on "special" at slightly under $200.

    If you're willing to pay around $250, you can probably get a real netbook that is running either a full version of Linux (like the ASUS EeePC 701SD that I reviewed) or maybe even a Windows XP based netbook like the 8.9" Acer AspireOne that I've also reviewed on my blog.

    I hope that this helps you make a decision on whether to purchase this product for your kids.

  7. I have Avast! free home edition anti-virus on my PC but have never used Linux before. Should/could Avast be downloaded to the VPC? Thanks

  8. Thanks Eister for reading my post and leaving your comments.

    Regarding your question, it isn't possible to install Avast! free antivirus on the VPC since even though there appears to be a version of Avast! for Linux, the VPC runs a very limited version of Linux which unlike full versions of Linux, you can only use the programs that the VPC comes with. This is the biggest limitation with the VPC. This is one of the reasons why even though various versions of Linux support viewing Flash video, the VPC doesn't support it and you have to use a workaround to get YouTube to work. You can't install any other programs/utilities unless you're into hacking the system code.

    The only way that you can easily get additional programs/functionality with the VPC is if/when Fidelity Electronics places it on their download webpage (like they've done with the VPC patches and the VPC games).

  9. I bought one of these for my 10 year old daughter. I am wondering now if it will be of any value to her. Can you tell us what format the word processor and spreadsheet programs can save documents as? Also, will I have trouble connecting this to a printer?

  10. Thanks very much for your info. re: Avast. But if there is no anti-virus protection posted on the VPC website I am then confused as to what to do...or are virus/trojan infections something not to be worried about with this Linux system? Thanks again.

  11. Thanks michael for reading and commenting on this blog.

    Regarding your question, I believe that it will/might still be of use to your 10 year old daughter but she won't be able to do as much things as on a real netbook/PC/laptop since certain webpages won't work.

    Regarding the file format of the word processor and the spreadsheet. Both programs save it in a Microsoft Office compatible format (Word & Excel).

    Regarding your printer question, I haven't tried this in the USB ports since I don't have access to a USB printer. I've only tested the USB ports with my USB keyboard & USB mouse. It is my guess that you will have problems connecting the VPC to a USB printer and printing directly from the VPC. What I suggest is that your daughter while working on her documents, save these documents on a SD card and use the SD card in a computer/laptop/netbook that has access to a printer. I hope that this helps.

  12. Eister, regarding your question. Linux is less prone to virus than Windows.

    I wouldn't worry too much about getting a virus on this VPC because it runs a very limited version of Linux.

  13. Dont even bother! its very slow, youtube dosent work,mine that i bought for my daughter works for 2 hours then its stuck on LOADING screen permanently,i lost my receipt so now i have a $200 doorstop

  14. Thank you karlos for reading my blog and posting your comment. I haven't tried YouTube since the company came up with their fix (which I wrote about) so I'm not sure if YouTube still works on it. I noticed that the company placed some updated files on their website so I will be downloading these files and updating my VPC. You might try updating the VPC to see if this helps with your problem where your VPC is stuck on the "LOADING" screen. You have nothing to lose at this point.

    I haven't been using my VPC regularly because I have access to 2 real netbooks (Acer & Asus) as well as 2 laptops (HP & Toshiba). In fact, my VPC has been "in storage" since I purchased it and used it for about 1 month.

  15. Dont waste your money on this. I had mine for 2 hours and now it is stuck on the oading screen. There is no way to get onto the BIOS.

  16. Buddy how did you get firmware updates, there are none on their website now. Just a modem patch.

  17. Thank you B for reading and commenting on my blog.

    I haven't gone to the company's website in awhile (I also haven't used my VPC in close to a year).

    I was able to get the firmware updates on the company's website. You can try downloading the modem update and perhaps this is also contains the firmware update.

    If it doesn't contain the firmware update, send an e-mail to the company mentioning what version of firmware you are currently using and ask them if they have an update.

  18. Is there anyway to get facebook chat on the "chat list"? Yes i am a sucker who bought one of these mini computers.

  19. Thank you nscttrbrn for reading my blog and posting your comment/question.

    I don't know of any way to get the Facebook chat since the device runs "Facebook Mobile" which is very similar to what you get with Facebook on a "dumbphone."

    Due to its shortcomings, I haven't used/touched my VPC in close to 2 years.

  20. Hi, believe it or not, i just bought one of this, a think curiosity got on me, it cost around 42 us dlls. im un able to use the browser, do you still have by any chance the firmware update? thank you

    1. Thank you Xmelvin for taking the time to read and post your comment on my blog. Unfortunately I no longer use the VPC device even though I still have it and I also don't have the firmware that I downloaded from the company's website. You can try contacting the company and see whether they still have any firmware updates for the device even though based on their website, it looks like they no longer support this product.