Aug 03 2007

Here Come Ultra Mobiles

Lightweight PCs fill the gap between notebooks and PDAs.

By Greg Slabodkin

Chris Dawson is a tech marketer's dream. Dawson is a teacher and IT administrator at Athol High School in Massachusetts, and he's the first to admit he loves technology. Dawson and his personal digital assistant are literally joined at his hip as he makes his rounds at this high school, where on-the-go access to e-mail and the Internet are essential to his job.

"PDAs are good communication and organization tools, but I very rarely use my PDA in a classroom setting," says Dawson. "For teachers, PDAs are just too limited in functionality. Most of the teachers have notebooks, but they are too big, heavy and klunky."

Enter the ultra-mobile PC (UMPC). Striking a balance between mobility and functionality, these machines are small, lightweight devices with full PC capabilities that offer connectivity anytime, anywhere.

"If my PDA was quicker and I could get 802.11g as opposed to 802.11b, that would be awesome," says Dawson. "All of these things are being rolled into the UMPC platform. There are a lot of teachers who would love to have something like an UMPC."

Making the Distinction

Defining ultra mobiles as opposed to PDAs and small notebooks is becoming harder as the lines between them start to blur. Ultra mobiles traditionally have a 7-inch or smaller screen and run Windows XP Tablet PC edition. Users can type on-screen or use a stylus.

UMPCs were introduced in 2006 when the Samsung Q1 was launched. Other companies have since launched their own versions of UMPCs.

University of Michigan professor Elliot Soloway says he expects an explosion of innovation in this area soon. Devices will range from $199 to $699, will include screens as small as four inches or as large as 10 inches, and will run Linux and Windows XP to Windows Mobile and Mobile Linux.

This year, Samsung's Q1P SSD pushed the form ahead by using the first SSD solid-state, flash memory-based hard drive. This model, the Q1P Ultra Mobile PC, weighs 1.7 pounds with split QWERTY keypad, three-hour battery life, 32-gigabyte disk, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth, and Windows Vista, and a 7-inch, 1024 x 600 WVGA screen. Prices start at $1,700.

Intel's new "Ultra Mobile Platform 2007" ultralow voltage processor runs the Q1 Ultra. In April, at its Developers Forum in Beijing, Intel announced that its ultralow voltage chipset will ship this year in devices from several companies, including Asus, Fujitsu and Samsung.