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Summary:

This is a very exciting time to be involved in the UMPC space.  There are new UMPCs popping out all over and new players entering the field which will shake up the old school thoughts on UMPCs.  The entry of HTC into the space with the […]

This is a very exciting time to be involved in the UMPC space.  There are new UMPCs popping out all over and new players entering the field which will shake up the old school thoughts on UMPCs.  The entry of HTC into the space with the innovative sliding keyboard on the Shift is a very good thing.  HTC is the most innovative mobile device maker around and seeing them turn their attention to the UMPC world will inject new life into the genre.

All of this excitement has me thinking a lot about the space, and what I’m seeing is beginning to bother me.

Keyboards.  It seems that somebody took a secret vote and keyboards won over slate designs on UMPCs.  This is not necessarily a bad thing but what is happening now leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach.  Putting keyboards on UMPCs adds cost, size and weight to the device.  That’s OK as long as the keyboard adds utility but the first few devices introduced with keyboards fall short in my opinion.  Samsung put that weird split thumb board along the sides of the screen of the Q1 Ultra, something that I cannot see adds much value at all.  Text entry on this goofy "keyboard" is no easier than opening up the Vista TIP keyboard and tapping away, even for shorter stuff.

OQO has added a pretty useful sliding thumb keyboard to the Model 02 but even it falls short in the utility department.  Their device design puts so many system functions on the keyboard that even though the OQO has an active digitizer and can be run totally from the screen if so desired you still have to keep the keyboard extended to perform system functions easily.  The keyboard is so small that if you need to enter a lot of text you’ll be reaching for an external keyboard.  This is not a slam on OQO, rather a fact of having a device so small and I appreciate that.

Fujitsu has created the smallest convertible UMPC in the u1010 and on the surface it looks really cool to have a "full" keyboard in a device so small.  The problem lies in how small that keyboard is and the problems that small size creates.  You can’t touch type on that tiny keyboard yet it’s so wide you can’t thumb it very easily either.  It seems like it would have been better to leave the keyboard off entirely and go lighter and thinner.  That would make for an awesome slate UMPC.

HTC has created a very fine UMPC in the soon to be released Shift.  The design has thoughtfully created an awesome device that looks very functional on almost every level.  The only area of concern I have is the keyboard.  My Fujitsu P1610 has an 8.9-inch screen versus the 7-inch screen of the Shift, so I estimate the P1610 is at least an inch wider.  This means that the keyboard on the Fujitsu is at least an inch wider and I find I can just barely touch type on the P1610.  I question if I could touch type at all on the narrower Shift keyboard.

This insistence on including keyboards on these new UMPCs is not necessarily a bad thing but to me integrating a keyboard that is too small to allow touch typing is just wasting space.  Either put a real thumb keyboard for those short tasks where such keyboards suffice or leave them off.  Putting a tiny keyboard with real keyboard-type keys is pretty darn useless, at least it doesn’t add any functionality.  So what’s the point?

  1. IMO Tablets and the first gen UMPCs haven’t taken off due to keyboards. To make UMPC devices sell in reasonable numbers the consumer is asking for keyboards (along with battery life and a decent processor..). It wasn’t a secret vote, consumers voted with their wallet. In a survey Samsung did of its old Q1 owners they wanted a keyboard adding to the device.

    Thats why pretty much all the 2nd generation machines now feature keyboards, and these are selling in higher numbers.

    I reckon the third generation next year will also feature keyboards across the board and few if any UMPC slates.

    We will probably see more devices that look like the Psion 5 Series / Fuji U1010 / HTC Shift, with varying sizes of keyboards and pocketability.

    The Samsung Q1 thumbpad will be dropped I reckon as the quick fix it was to be replaced with a fuller keyboard on its third generation.

    The Fuji keyboard is touch typeable for the smaller hands of Asia (I’ve seen it on video) or if you have bigger hands you’re meant to use 2 fingers.

    You aren’t meant to be able to touch type full speed on these machines, but they do offer an effective compromise between size and functionality and portability.

    Bottom line is if it sells, it will get made. The U1010 is selling like hot cakes in Asia reportadly, with big waiting lists, so the form factor has to be right.

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  2. I’ve had my OQO 02 since mid April, and find the thumb keyboard perfect for my use. I’m still trying to wean myself from typing to inking, but with no pen silo it is not always close by to use.

    In the end, the input capability for my needs are met while I’m mobile or in coach potato mode. When I need to do some heads down PC stuff, then I’ll dock it to my sweet DVD-R docking station with a full size monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

    I’m still having a hard time finding the right LCD monitor & BT keyboard for traveling. I’m leaning towards the Microsoft 8000 BT mouse because of all it’s presentation features but can’t find a nice compact BT keyboard that doesn’t feel like you have a wakeboard in your lap when kicking back, and I’m not too sure the folding ones are solid enough for that.

    Anyway, forums seem to emphasize specific things like keyboards and touchscreens, to me it’s being able to do your business or pleasure without all the wires & other hardware most of the time. “Ultra Mobile PC”, the words themselves don’t say how it is done, it saying what can be done as in “ultra portable”, and some people are forgetting the PC part.

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  3. I asked a similar question during one of your
    ‘questions from Twitter’ Mobile Tech Roundup segments.
    I asked what you guys thought of the trend of UMPC’s including keyboards. Kevin misinterpreted my question and basically said he doesn’t need a keyboard because he’s an inker.
    I’m glad I got an answer from you now.
    I hope there will be at least some slates around. One of the only 2nd gen slate UMPC’s out there is the Amtek T770.
    As for me, I want a keyboard now.. and not some half assed keyboard either. So I guess I’m going for a convertible next.

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  4. James. Are you bored? I thought we’d put this subject to bed a long time ago.

    Steve

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  5. sorry. that sounded rude. Didn’t mean to be!

    Here’s some food for thought about input speeds.
    http://www.umpcportal.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=783

    Steve

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  6. No rudeness taken. What issue have we pu to bed? I must have missed that debate. If you’re talking about the keyboard/ no keyboard issue then I am firmly in the keyboard camp. Surprised? You shouldn’t be, I do write for a living and I need my keyboard. But, and I like big buts, if it’s not a keyboard on which I can touchtype like a bat out of hell it doesn’t help me. If that’s the case then I’d rather have the device be lighter, thinner and overall more svelte than it is with a sub-par (too small) keyboard The P1610 keyboard is just on the cusp of being too small. If I am going to use a device that doesn’t have a full keyboard then I will use an external keyboard solution instead, as I am right now with the Advantage.

    It doesn’t matter to me if keyboard X delivers 88% of the productivity of a “real” keyboard. I just want to get my work done in a comfortable and efficient manner. I need either a device that provides that or I will provide that myself with an external keyboard. That may not work for some, but it is essential to me to have a decent typing experience. My point with this post is that if an integrated keyboard can’t come close to providing the experience I need then I don’t want it on the device. Save me some cost and bulk instead.

    That’s why I am dismayed to see that most UMPCs now are being developed with these sub-par keyboards..

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  7. So if you don’t want a keyboard, buy a machine without a keyboard. I do want a keyboard, so I’ll buy a machine with one!

    I used a Psion 5 for 9 years and could get close to my full-size-keyboard typing speed on it. Any keyboard that size or bigger would be great by me.

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  8. I agree with James.
    The U1010 keyboard looks fairly useless to me. It looks like a touch keyboard, but it’s so small, I can’t imagine anyone doing serious touch typing with it.
    The smallest devices with a keyboard I could *probably* use without getting frustrated are the Shift, Kohjinsha’s, P1610, Flybook.

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  9. peejay, that’s what I will do. What is bothering me is that I may not have that choice for long and that’s why I wrote this post. I don’t want to see us dropping the quest to get to that cool Haiku slate that started this party.

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  10. Hi James.

    I see your point. YOU want a full size keyboard BUT the point of keyboards is… (you asked “So what’s the point?”) that for most people, a keyboard is an advantage even if it has 50% typing speed. Its also an important marketing tool.

    James, you’re pro input choice aren’t you? You’re even raving about an HTC avantage with a chicklet keyboard! Why the strange expectation that keyboards should be full-fat or not there at all?

    Steve.

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