Saturday, March 18, 2006

FAQ: The Origami ultramobile PC

What the heck is that thing? A PDA on steroids? Not exactly. It's more like a shrunken tablet PC. In fact, the device runs Windows XP Tablet PC edition with a few embellishments, so it offers most of the functionality of a bigger PC in a much smaller package.

Just how small is it? About 2 pounds. Not pocket-size, but smaller than most laptops.

Does Microsoft make UMPCs? No. It has spearheaded the development of these downsized devices, partnering with hardware manufacturers to offer another category of mobile PCs for users on the go. And of course, it's another device that feeds off a flavor of Microsoft's Windows operating system.

So, who makes these devices? Samsung is scheduled to be the first out the door in the U.S. with a model called the Q1. It's due out in April. It'll be followed by one from Asus in June. Other UMPCs will be released in the Asian market over the summer.

How much will they cost? They'll sell in the $599-to-$999 range.

How about the specs? They'll vary by manufacturer. At a minimum, expect to see UMPCs with Intel Celeron M or Pentium M processors, 30GB to 60GB hard drives and a 7-in. touch screen. Samsung's new Q1 comes with a 900-MHz Celeron M processor, 512MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. The touch screen has a resolution of 800 by 480. It also has a CF card slot, two USB and one Ethernet port and built-in stereo speakers. The Q1 weighs just 1.7 pounds and measures 9 by 5.5 by 0.96 in. Other bells and whistles you're likely to see on UMPCs include digital TV tuners, webcams, SD card readers, fingerprint readers and GPS capabilities.

Does it have Bluetooth? Yes, and more. The Samsung Q1 connects via Bluetooth 2.0, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and Ethernet.

What about a keyboard? There are multiple ways to input text: Use the touch-screen or the included stylus, or connect a keyboard via a USB port or Bluetooth.
So, what did you mean about an embellishment to the Windows XP Tablet PC edition? With Vista, Microsoft's upcoming operating system, a new device running Windows XP would naturally draw yawns. However, Microsoft's softened the blow a little by throwing in new software called the Windows Touch Pack made especially for poking at UMPCs. It allows you to customize the interface and makes applications more touch-screen friendly. The pack also includes DialKeys, an application produced by Fortune Fountain Ltd., that's basically an on-screen, thumb-operated keyboard, a finger-friendly new skin for Windows Media Player and a version of the addictive puzzle game Sodoku.

Never mind all that. Will the UMCP run Vista? Eventually. According to a Microsoft FAQ, "UMPCs that meet the Vista hardware requirements will be compatible with the new operating system."

What about battery life? The companies are predicting 2.5 to 3 hours.

What! Who on earth would buy something with that kind of battery life? Who knows? Maybe early adopters and home users with a power outlet nearby. Microsoft is spinning the usual blather about how battery life will improve with future development. It'll be interesting to see whether the UMPC is around long enough for that to happen.

Is this an enterprise product? Not quite. Unlike its bigger cousin the tablet PC, the UMPC is aiming for a consumer audience with entertainment, multimedia and online connectivity as the focus. However, that's not to say that it can't handle more serious business, since it can run full versions of Office.


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