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Ultra mobile personal computers | Size matters

Ultra mobile personal computers | Size matters
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First Published: Sat, May 17 2008. 12 22 AM IST

Updated: Sat, May 17 2008. 12 22 AM IST
What do you expect from your computer when you are on the go? A word processor? A mail client? A browser? And, some space to store your music and videos, possibly? For all this, you lug around a heavy laptop because you don’t have any other option, right? Wrong. Take a look at these ultra mobile personal computers (UMPCs) and the range of products on offer will stun you. Just as big (or small) as a pocket notebook, these laptops pack in enough power inside their tiny frames to help you survive without your laptop while on the move.
Of late, the market is flooded with a bewildering range, and format, of UMPCs. From HTC Shift, which combines a phone, to the latest ASUS Eee PC, which brings cheap computing to your fingertips, the UMPC has had a somewhat tumultuous journey that is now culminating in usable products for the masses.
Typically, a UMPC comes equipped with an operating system such as Windows. In most cases, though, it is some version of Linux, or even Windows Vista Business Edition, to keep costs and computing requirements to a minimum. They are now going beyond their realm of being only portable and having restrictive keyboards.
There is still some negative feedback about screen size but one has to realize that if the computer is to be truly portable, the screens won’t be getting any bigger.
Let’s take a look at five interesting products available in the market...one of these could well be what you are looking for!
The big daddy of personal computers and business laptops, HP also offers UMPCs. And its recently-launched Mini-Note 2133 is perhaps the most powerful of all the products available. As with all things in HP, bling was ignored in favour of productivity. So, instead of a 7-inch screen, the Mini-Note offers an 8.9-inch one—a full two inches more that do make a big difference.
Additionally, the hardware specifications are equally robust, with the capability of putting in 2 GB RAM to support even Windows Vista. Of course, it does offer FreeDOS and Linux, but we guess there would be more takers for Windows.
Complete with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0, the HP Mini-Note also offers optical drives—something not every UMPC offers. Even the quality of the screen is typically HP—a scratch-resistant WXGA screen.
The cheapest model in the Mini-Note range does not include the operating system or some of the fancier features. This variant is also targeted at the educational segment, which means that it is a stripped-down one offering just a 4 GB flash memory module.
The fully loaded one comes at about $849 (about Rs35,000) and includes Windows Vista Home Basic and a 160 GB hard drive. Which one’s for you?
Already known as a brand that offers affordable laptops in India, HCL’s MiLeap range offers ultra-portability at a seriously affordable cost. While the MiLeap X is only as large as a notebook (almost!), V is a tablet PC. At Rs29,990 plus taxes, the V is a swanky piece of equipment to carry around—far more compact than the regular 14-inch or 17-inch laptops you would carry about.
One reason the price is so low for both these machines from the HCL stable is the lack of a proprietary OS. The X runs Linux and the V runs FreeDOS. Both are open source and perhaps not as robust as a Windows or Mac OS, but they get the job done. A few more open-source programs for mail, browsing and even chat, and you are good to go.
Despite the physical appearance (7-inch screen in both, just about 1.5kg in weight), these “leaptops” are powerful enough to have a b/g wi-fi receiver, making them totally mobile. They also have two speakers, an SD card slot, an RJ45 jack (for Ethernet connections), two USB ports and, of course, a solid-state hard drive.
The V series tablets have an 80GB hard drive, while the X series laptop has only 2GB storage. That perhaps explains the SD card slot. But it isn’t tough to get an external hard drive and hook it up. That way, you are always in control of your data and can just hook it up to any computer.
The V series is a more polished, attractive and powerful offering. That it is a tablet PC makes it all the more impressive. The screen, at 7-inches, may not be the biggest, but it is large enough to let you easily take notes. The X has a longer battery life (4 hrs standby) compared to the V (3 hrs standby), but that’s simply due to the screen being more used in case of the V.
For the price at which these two computers are available, it is incredible that more are not being picked up. But of course, the issues of battery life and operating system would prove deterrents. Maybe once the Origami project truly kicks in, we could have more standardized operating systems.
Announced more than a year ago, the Shift has been on the “drool” list of many geeks all this time. But, it has recently been launched in the US and it won’t be long before it makes it to India. The HTC Shift brings the full power of Windows Vista and advanced wireless connectivity into an incredibly small, innovative and compact design. The Shift combines the power of Windows Vista with a Qwerty-based keyboard design and 3G connectivity (signs of this coming to India are also on the horizon).
Packed with advanced connectivity, the HTC Shift features high-speed global connectivity with Tri-Band UMTS/HSDPA, Quad-Band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, Bluetooth 2.0 and Wi-Fi. A multimedia superpower, the Shift uses Windows Media Player 11 to provide easy access to music, videos and photos. But all this isn’t exactly cheap. At $1,499, its launch price in the US, this costs as much as a high-end laptop. But then, it does all that in a far smaller package. Expect the price to be a bit higher when it does come to India.
Similar to the HTC Shift is Sony’s Mylo Communicator. Similar, in terms of its form factor. Apart from that, the Mylo is even more attractive thanks to its price and trendy look. An oval-shaped “communicator”, the Mylo is a web-ready device that sports a Qwerty keyboard and is truly pocket-sized. And, with an interface similar to the PSP, this will have wider appeal among young users.
With built-in Wi-Fi and a webcam, this device makes Web-browsing everybody’s cup of tea. It also has a camera and its form factor means that this camera would be more used than those seen on some of the other UMPCs. While some may argue that this isn’t a UMPC in the strictest sense of the word, the fact remains that it can do just about everything that other UMPCs can, and it looks good while doing so.
Obviously missing aspects include the ability to create documents. But it isn’t positioned as a business device anyway. The internal memory, at 1 GB, is paltry at best, but it can be expanded to 8GB with Memory Stick. Another obvious tilt towards entertainment than business. With more multimedia capabilities than business, the Mylo is best suited for casual use and can easily replace your portable media player. If only it had a phone, that would have been the icing on the cake! The Communicator may not exactly be a replacement for your laptop. High price for a lifestyle product? Not really.
While most UMPCs solely target professionals, ASUS has introduced the Eee PC to enable ease of use in the learning and professional environments. Given the price tag it comes with, the Eee packs in a powerful set of features.
It is also a very easy machine to operate—as easy as a toaster or a table lamp, claims ASUS. Once you are connected to the Internet, the built-in suite of software allows you to perform a range of activities, including browsing email, videoconferencing, making Skype calls and even listening to streaming audio. And then, the Eee also employs OpenOffice suite of software to make everyday work easier.
With a 7-inch screen, the Eee PC comes loaded with Linux but is also Windows XP compatible. It has 512 MB RAM and offers 4 GB solid-state storage. At just 920g, it is one of the lightest UMPCs around and despite this, offers about 3.5 hrs of standby. It is Wi-Fi ready and also has WLAN capability.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, May 17 2008. 12 22 AM IST