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Summary:

Sad. That’s the only word I can use to classify the mainstream media’s first reviews on the new UMPC devices. Sure there are legitimate issues, such as poor marketing, prices too close or even higher than more powerful laptops, relatively short battery life and potential gaps […]

Eo_video_1 Sad. That’s the only word I can use to classify the mainstream media’s first reviews on the new UMPC devices. Sure there are legitimate issues, such as poor marketing, prices too close or even higher than more powerful laptops, relatively short battery life and potential gaps of no dedicated mouse buttons, but the one common thread seems to be the lack of a keyboard. I wonder if these very people remember learning their letters in grade school. I seem to recall writing them, not typing them.

It’s increasingly clear to me that these journalists that I respect are missing the paradigm shift brought about a few years ago by the Tablet PC operating system. I liken this shift to the one seen in the early 1980s when notebook computers hit the scene. Did any of these reviewers evaluate devices like the Osbourne? If so, did they trash them and say "why would someone want to carry around a computer?" They’re missing the point of the UMPC. It’s not meant to be a full-fledged, all-powerful replacement device, although arguably for some people it could be. It’s meant to extend your computing and Internet experience to places you normally couldn’t.

-kct

Before we go any further here, my intent is NOT to suggest that a UMPC is THE end-all, be-all portable computing device. I personally have not ordered one, nor am I likely to just yet. That’s because my computing needs require something with a little more horsepower, so the balance leans towards "computing power" vs. "portability". We can’t have maximum computing power with maximum portability just yet, so as individuals, we have to determine the balance best suited to our needs. In my opinion, the UMPCs hitting the market are a good blend between the two given the hardware available and the prices that consumers are willing to pay. This is the point that many mainstream media outlets are missing: the UMPC is a new class of device and shouldn’t be compared today’s most powerful notebooks. We don’t compare notebooks to desktops in general, do we?

In light of that theory, how about helping me out by educating these folks? Let’s start a list of places, scenarios and situations where a PDA doesn’t quite meet your needs, but a standard notebook computer is too bulky or awkward to open up and use. Think about brief entries where you can ink or use the touchscreen as needed, not situations where you’re writing the next American novel. I’ll start the list with a few, but I’m counting on your comments to help change the mindset of those who just don’t quite get the concept yet.

  • Standing in line at the supermarket, you see a magazine headline that a good friend could benefit from. Draft a quick e-mail in Outlook to them.
  • Speaking of magazines: you’re out to lunch for an hour of solitude in the park. Great time to catch up on a digital magazine and annotate some interesting points.
  • Recording a sight-seeing tour in a vehicle for your family; a tablet and pen is perfect for controlling audio levels on the fly.
  • The bus is unusually crowded today on the way to work. Seating is a little tight, so you stand with your arm wrapped around a pole for stability. Did I mention that you’re listening to recorded music on the hard drive and that you want to quickly skip to the next song? That touchscreen really comes in handy.
  • You’re a stage director with a digital script. You’re on stage with the actors and find that a particular line of the script just isn’t working and needs a change. UMPC in one hand and pen in the other is mightier than the proverbial sword in this case.
  1. ItsShowtime Sunday, May 7, 2006

    Things l’m looking forward to with a UMPC -using artrage for a drawing. Can’t wait! -using it to read docs and eBooks. PDA is too small, current laptop is non tablet os. -doing some serious writing which is tedious at best on my PDA (which l’m using to write this and with NO STINKING KEYBOARD, just Graffiti!)

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  2. On Friday I was at a conference. At lunch I mentioned our medical software to one of the doctors at our table. He was intrigued so I offered to show the software to him and he agreed. I pulled my LS800 out of my pocket (http://www.segal.org/tablet/photo/). As happens whenever I do so, everyone at the table gasped and started watching. I went through the demo with two of the doctors, which required writing only one word and one number on the tablet. I then handed the computer to a second doctor who entered a case he’d seen recently and was able to verify for himself that the software was as good as it looked from the demo case.

    It would have been less convenient to lug around a larger computer. At no point did I crave having a keyboard or a CD-ROM drive. I didn’t even run down one three-hour battery the whole day since my power settings went into standby very quickly, though I had a second battery in my other pocket just in case.

    This makes the same “use case” as people will experience with a UMPC: although the LS800 is a bit bigger than the UMPCs, my jacket pocket is a bit bigger than standard jacket pockets. As UMPCs evolve to have 800 x 600 screens (or as other people’s jacket pockets get big enough for LS800s) and as wireless access becomes ubiquitous, the number of people for whom this use case will be compelling will rise dramatically.

    The UMPC reviewers have not thought through the use case well enough.

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  3. I don’t see how any of these scenarios except the bus one will benefit from using UMPC instead of 8-10″ convertible or slate wich are additionally more powerful and have more battery life.

    While being Tablet enthusiast I don’t see why I would buy an UMPC in its current price range. When UMPC will reach the $600 price level, they will compete with powerful eBook readers such as iLiade (in fact, they will leave iLiade no chances because of additional features), but until then I think it will be a dead end.

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  4. Anton P. Nym Sunday, May 7, 2006

    re: Jack’s comment

    An 8″ convertable isn’t available for $1100. That’s one of the key differences; UMPCs are affordable tablets, if you want to view them that way. But the other key difference is its portability.

    Take the Acer Travelmate as a comparison; it’s the closest tablet in price ($1300) to the UMPCs out there. It’s more than twice the bulk (9.4″x12.4″x1.4″), nearly three times the weight (5.5lbs), and has roughly the same battery life (quoted as 3.9 hours). It’s slightly more powerful than the Q1 in its specs, but it’s just not as easy to carry. And, as such, it doesn’t really suit my portability needs.

    I’m not looking for clipboard portability; I find that form-factor awkward as a commuter. Clipboards are short-carry instruments that are otherwise packed away in my briefcase or left in a drawer. Yet I carry trade paperbacks with me all the time; I do have jackets and coats that can take one and leave my hands free.

    It’s that small difference in bulk and weight that can make *all* the difference in utility… and for that I will (and shall, having just ordered a Q1 from CDW tonight) pay the premium.

    — Steve

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  5. I think the major problem I see with these UMPCs, is the battery life. Some reports are giving the EO a hour on battery. The highest test went to 1:20. That is horrible. I know this is first gen, but these are mobile devices. 1:20 is not going to cut it. Yes I know the EO will offer a hi cap battery, but even with the high cap, your paying EXTRA money, and you will only get at the most 2:40 mins.

    In the first gen, I’m not asking them to be perfect. I’m not asking them to be blazing fast, but I am expecting them to be mobile, and at least have a realistic battery life of 3 hours.

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  6. You guys are trying too hard to justifiy the device.

    Of course they are getting compared to existing devices, it’s rather hard to not do a review where you compare it to something. The way I see these devices, they are stuck in the middle between Laptops and PDA’s. Don’t know how else to put it. Perhaps you forget the Epod (got one), the Vadem Clio (got one), the Newton (didn’t get one), so this whole market isn’t that new. The cool part is that it’s running a better OS which means potential for more apps.

    I’ll probably buy one when they get cheap (if they get cheap), I’m hoping that it will make couch surfing easier, that’s about the only place I see a good fit.

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  7. The problem with all the usage scenarios that you’ve outlined (and that I can think of) is that either a Tablet PC or a Pocket PC does them better.

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  8. I think its fair to say that if the Origamatoes came in $500~$600 packages, we will just ignore the reviews and down the reseller web sites with orders. :p :D

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  9. Anton P. Nym Monday, May 8, 2006

    Perhaps either a Tablet or Pocket PC can do each of these tasks better, but neither can do all of them as well as an Ultra Mobile PC; I can’t see anybody comfortably carrying a Tablet into a grocery store, or comfortably redrafting a stageplay on a PPC. So you’d have to spend $1500 for a Tablet and $300 for a PPC to cover them all. That’s $1800 for the “better” solution.

    Suddenly $1100 doesn’t seem so big a ticket for a general utility device.

    — Steve

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