Where to find portable PCs with some real pizzazz (finally!)

If you like to think outside the ordinary, and want a portable PC where the form is out-there, bleeding-edge cool while the function remains reliable, have I got a site for you. Dynamism.com shows us what a notebook with soul can really look like...and lets you take one home for your very own.

Some people don't care what portable computer they use. Others find status in a machine everyone will both recognize and immediately know how much it cost. We call these people the high-end Dell or IBM customers, and first class is their preferred roost.

Then there are the people I want to address today, those who seek a portable computer that speaks to their soul. The largest organized group of these people now own Apple Titanium PowerBooks or even the low-end Mac portable I call the PolarBook in honor of its stark white exterior.

NOT EVERYONE WANTS A MAC, however. And who can blame them? For all the wonderful things it is, there is one thing a Mac most certainly isn't: a real, honest-to-God Windows machine. And like those who believe the first duty of a fine wine is to be red, there are others who don't think it's a computer if Bill Gates didn't sell you its operating system.

For those people who long for a computer that isn't like everyone else's on the outside, but is still a Windows box on the inside, I have a place: Dynamism.com, where super-cool PC dreams come to life.

Here you will find 16 portable Windows machines with an average weight in the 3-pound range. Many feature Transmeta's low-power Crusoe processor, which gives them extraordinary battery life.

AMONG THESE MACHINES are some of the hottest, most interesting, least mass-market portable PCs in the world, all gathered in one place and only a credit card away. OK, it's not quite that easy, but you will find Fujitsu, Sony, NEC, Toshiba, Sharp, Casio, and IBM portables--many you've never seen before, much less had a chance to own.

What they have in common is that they're all very small and they're all very cool. One features a letterbox screen and a DVD player (for enhanced movie viewing); another had a digital video camera built-in to record them. One has a special screen that's visible in daylight; another has integrated Bluetooth functionality. And the list of whiz-bang features goes on.

So why don't you see these marvels of form and function on the street? Here's the deal. U.S. computer buyers have shown the world--or at least the world of the Asian computer makers--that only the most standard, white-bread computers will make it out the door of Office Depot, Circuit City, or the corporate purchasing morass. So that's what the big companies import for sale here.

HOWEVER, IN THEIR HOMELANDS, where there is still some purr left in personal electronics, things are different. In Asia, where small is beautiful and quirky features actually sell, the big brands come out with machines that show real personality.

And if you want to fly over to Tokyo, you can have them for yourself. Of course, I hope you have a friend who speaks Japanese and can help you with converting the machine from a Japanese to an English-language OS. Then there's the issue of warranty work, should you ever need it, as well as getting it back into the country. Certainly all this is surmountable, and if you're a frequent Asian traveler, it may even be worthwhile.

For the rest of us, there are companies like Dynamism that import what are essentially gray-market PCs into the U.S., swap out the OS (and sometimes the keyboard), and handle the warranty work when a machine breaks down. Not surprisingly, this adds to the cost of the machine--significantly, in fact. But how can you place a value on having a PC you truly love, that everyone stops you to ask about, and you are pretty sure you'll never find someone using one just like it across the aisle in Row 15?

If your answer to that question is "easily," you're not the target customer. However, if all this makes some strange sort of sense to you, I've pointed you to a very interesting place.

You may be asking yourself, "Sure, they are cool, but are these computers I'd really want to own?" Good question. To find out whether they are practical or just the PC equivalent of Detroit's concept cars--a collection of features never actually meant to be driven by real customers--I've been taking a look at one example, the ultraportable Fujitsu Loox (much like the one CNET named "Best of Show" at PC Expo). Tomorrow, I'll share my findings with you.

Would you like to own a concept notebook like the ones at Dynamism? Or are you happy with your standard model, thank you very much? TalkBack to me.

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