A great article, Michael. I had an early prototype of R1 on test in early September, and I had serious objections regarding build quality - the one I used was built of cheapest plastics I ever saw on a camera, more-less toy grade. I'm glad they decided not to follow this path with a production camera. What is your impression of the build - is it polycarbonate, or magnesium?
My other impression was very much in line with yours - the ability to use it from waist level, or not to have to wallow in the mud in order to take a macro shot at ground level, is priceless.
By the way, I also noticed its ability to lock focus in almost complete darkness. It took me by surprise as I expected the autofocus to suck compared to an SLR, but it somehow managed to lock focus on whitewater well beyond the sunset, where I needed about half a minute of exposure for the shot. There's no way any SLR could autofocus on this, but this baby seems to amplify the sensor signal to an insane degree, and manages to get enough contrast to lock. However, EVF proved to be less than useful for manual focus.
Also, my prototype suffered from veiling/ghosting in contrasty scenes, especially wide open; my Zuiko on E1 mopped the floor with it in those conditions; also, it was not very sharp at near-macro distances. However, in other conditions the lens gave me results of such clarity and detail, that I place it somewhere between 35mm and 645 film. I'd say it's a great landscape camera for those who prefer less weight and more substance.