May 3, 2007

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Mobile is nothing
Ultra mobile is the new hotness
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

We all know the problems with laptops.

The cheap ones are huge and underpowered, and the ones that are truly portable come with mondo price tags. Take along a power cord and a mouse in a carrying case and you’ve probably doubled the weight of your supposed “ultraportable” notebook computer.

You could use a PDA, also known as a Pocket PC or Palm Pilot to those folks who call all tissues Kleenex, all soda Coke and all expanded polystyrene thermal insulation Styrofoam. But they’re very limited in functionality, often don’t have a usable keyboard and are pretty hard to squint at for more than a few minutes.

Enter the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC). Smaller than a laptop but bigger than a PDA, it fills a vital market niche for people who are constantly scampering around but need to use a full-fledged computer once in a while.

The platform, spearheaded by — who else? — Intel, bills itself more as a companion to your laptop or desktop than a standalone solution. Accessing online media, playing video and audio and keeping connected with e-mail and Web browsing is supposed to be easier on a UMPC. And it certainly is easier than navigating big honkin’ Web sites with sprawling layouts on a PDA, and it’s easier than lugging around 10 pounds of laptop plus accessories.

But what about power? Surely, if something had come along that fits in your pocket and lets you play Oblivion while surfing YouTube, the ads for it would be inescapable. Needless to say, that isn’t quite the case.

How much can you really do with a UMPC? Let’s take a look at some specs.

The biggest name in the UMPC world right now is the Samsung Q1. It’s basically a 7-inch touchscreen with some navigation buttons on either side. No keyboard, but you can hook one up to its USB ports. The 40GB hard drive gives you plenty of room for file storage, and the 512MB of memory, while not awesome, is at least adequate for running the Windows XP Tablet Edition operating system that’s installed. You won’t be playing any intense games, though, with the 900MHz Celeron processor optimized for low power consumption. WiFi and Bluetooth really make this device a media and Web hub. There are more expensive versions with more memory, a slightly faster processor and GPS functionality, but this base model will already set you back about $900.

Sony’s UX series is more like a real PC in a tiny package, packing a 1.33GHz Intel Core Solo processor, 40GB hard drive and 1GB memory into a teensy device with a 4.5-inch screen and sliding keyboard. In addition to WiFi and Bluetooth, the UX can access Cingular’s EDGE network. It’s only 1.2 pounds, so you can take it pretty much anywhere. You might even be able to play some stripped-down games with the integrated graphics processor. The damage? Two grand.

Intel recently announced a new ultra mobile strategy that would target consumers as well, with what they’re calling Mobile Internet Devices based on dual-core processors. Rather than all running Windows, some might come with a version of Linux. That opens up a whole world of software for geeks, though less stuff available in the software aisle of your favorite superstore.


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11/16/2006 Shop smart
11/9/2006 Your data's new home
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10/26/2006 Computer to go
10/19/2006 Tech news roundup
10/12/2006 A different drummer
10/05/2006 Who needs TiVo?
09/28/2006 Disk drives without disks
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04/06/2006 Ayyy, jaQ's right!
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