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Summary:

TechCrunch has more information available about their web tablet prototype, which is now known as the CrunchPad. They’ve built a working prototype and offer up two videos that show what state the project is at. Built on a VIA Nano chipset, the slate currently uses a […]

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TechCrunch has more information available about their web tablet prototype, which is now known as the CrunchPad. They’ve built a working prototype and offer up two videos that show what state the project is at. Built on a VIA Nano chipset, the slate currently uses a full build of Ubuntu Linux, but eventually, the plan is to strip the OS to nothing more than a browser. What they’ve built is no doubt impressive, but it also raises a few questions.

Size and weight – The screen is a 1024×768 display which is a solid resolution for surfing the web. But it’s a 12-inch display. That makes this bigger and heavier than I’d like to see for a portable web browser. Obviously, any device is a series of compromises and the TC team wants a positive viewing experience. A display that size will certainly offer that, but the prototype weighs three-pounds now. I’m sure they can get that to two-pounds in a final version, but that’s still a bit much to tote around in addition to another computer. An eight-inch slate is more appealing to me.

Touch – Keeping costs down is key on a device like this and to help do that, the CrunchPad is using a resistive touchscreen. While the videos show a prototype, you can see why I think that’s a mistake. Resistive technology is inferior to capacitive and not solely from a multi-touch perspective. They  provide a much more enjoyable experience and are far more accurate.

Battery life – I haven’t seen any battery life figures yet, but the prototype uses a four-cell battery. There’s mention of each cell offering 2200 mAh capacity, but that sounds high to me. The CrunchPad uses a VIA Nano chipset, although there’s no specifics as to which is used. I’m wondering why a C7-M or Atom isn’t under the hood: either would use less power. The Nano might be a better performer but for surfing the web, you don’t need a powerhouse. Perhaps this choice was made with the expectation that high-quality video consumption would be a top use case?

Webcam – Why is it there? Believe me, I like more features over less, but if the device is meant to consume content on the web, why add the component at all? There are Flash-clients that support web conferencing, so there’s a software option for the webcam, but that’s also going to hit the battery hard. My recommendation? Drop the webcam and focus on the primary purpose of the device: content consumption.

Input – Like the many UMPCs and MIDs before it, the CrunchPad is using a virtual keyboard for input. While that method works, it’s clunky and inelegant. Folks will likely clamor for Bluetooth so they can pair a wireless keyboard. That’s more “feature creep” and some additional, albeit minor, cost.

It might sound like I’m not appreciating what the CrunchPad project has done. That’s not the case at all. I’m very impressed with the project and I commend the effort. But I see more questions than answers here and the biggest one of all is this: If I’m going to spend $300 for a CrunchPad, why wouldn’t I just spend the same $300 for a netbook? One could argue that the two devices are intended for different scenarios and purposes; I see that point.

My take is this: what value-add am I getting from such a slate? A bigger display and slightly higher resolution for sure. And what am I giving up over a netbook for that minimal value add? Functionality, limited locations where it works and ease of input immediately come to mind. Would the CrunchPad be fun to use at a kitchen table, in bed, on the couch and such? Sure it would! My netbook is too, so I again get stuck at the “what is the value add?” question. $300 for a content consumption device vs. $300 for a content consumption and creation device is the crossroads for me at this price point. Essentially, I’m wondering if such a slate fills a need in the market or if other devices at this price point already fill the need… and then some. A year or two ago, I wouldn’t be asking that question. Thoughts?

  1. This thing completely misses the mark.

    It’s large and heavy.

    It still uses a full blown OS. So, it’s not an instant on device.

    It’s going to be more expensive than devices that do way more, and are more portable.

    The device I’m waiting for is that 150-200 dollar GiiNii Android tablet, that was shown at CES. This device sounds like it will be what the CrunchPad was supposed to be.

    I really think Arrington over promised and under delivered with this device. Even if this thing gets manufacture, which I doubt, it won’t sell.

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  2. This sort of device might have been interesting to me, that was until ASUS showed of the T series EEE Pc’s. I think I would look towards a netbook in any case.

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  3. Crunchpad’s opportunity cost is much higher than the little netbook under the same price.

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  4. Yeah, for the same money I’d rather buy a netbook. And honestly, my iPhone is a pretty decent couch-based web tablet. The screen is somewhat small, but it’s a sunk cost and one less device to charge.

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  5. I wonder why they don’t just hack the keyboard off an Eee PC 1000H, or better yet, leave the keyboard on. Sheez. You know what else — who needs a laptop when you’re watching TV. My TV is a Mac mini with an EyeTV thing attached, so if I want to use the computer, I just make the TV window smaller and use my Bluetooth keyboard/track pad to move around the screen. I think we’ve found better ways to do what they’re doing with off-the-shelf here-now hardware. A solution in search of a problem. BTW, no doubt Apple is going to come out with a super iPod Touch that’ll make this thing look like a cheap hack. Yeah it won’t cost $200, or $300 but everyone is going to want one anyway. Only question is will it get ripped off when we’re waiting in line at the soup kitchen. :-(

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  6. Did someone say …Multitouch? and make it as smooth as iPhone and Palm Pre.
    Indeed loose the camera, (unless it can swivel front and back) maybe add an extra usb port instead.
    12 inch size is great but it will probably suck the juice out of the battery too quick.
    So shrink it to 10 inch and replace the gained space with a bigger battery.

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  7. Perhaps this could be a more cost effective tool for intraweb-based enterprise applications that would otherwise use a Motion tablet or Fujitsu convertible (e.g. health care, warehouse, etc). IMO the consumer market will largely prefer the features and brand name recognition of netbooks.

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  8. neat that they were able to do that, but netbooks simply have taken up what niche they may have been able to corner with this.. too late!

    i do think the android tablet idea may have some merit though.

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  9. Runs a full-blown OS but they’re going to strip out everything but the browser because why? Are you even going to be “allowed” to add anything else? Wow, take a platform with a lot of capability and neuter it. No thank you, not for 3 C’s. Seems like they are trying to do the wrong thing on the wrong hardware, like it should just use a low-power ARM chip or something. Why carry a bulky dumb web display when I can tote a slightly smaller and fully capable netbook instead?

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  10. Netbook, netbook, netbook all the way. I agree that two years ago it would have been a different story. Now I can’t imagine who would buy this who wouldn’t buy a netbook instead. Unless some kind of stylization turns this into a status symbol. Not seeing it in the prototype.

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