The UMPC is not a disaster

The UMPC is not a disaster

Summary: Reviewers and technology publications have been slamming Microsoft's Origami project, aka Ultra Mobile PC devices, for their underpowered specs in comparison to laptops. However, these devices are not designed to replace laptops and actually excel in many areas to provide mobile workers the ability to get the job done and have some fun wherever they may be.

TOPICS: Hardware

As I posted yesterday, I am on the road with a Samsung Q1 UMPC and day 1 went quite well. I spent some time on the airplane working on our bid presentation and also writing up some notes regarding the Q1. I also watched one hour of The Empire Strikes Back. The only real weakness I discovered on this first day was the limited battery life of these early UMPC models. Then again, the laptop of my associate only lasted the same length of time and I think battery life is an overall area of technology that needs serious attention and innovation. I could get the same type of electronic writing surface with a slate Tablet PC, but these cost almost double... It was awesome to be able to work on the UMPC without having to contort and hold the display at a strange angle to view and work with it like most laptop users stuck in coach class.

Before I had a chance to play with this UMPC, I read a lot of reviews and was pretty turned off by the devices. Most every review knocked the platform down quite a bit, but after having a chance to use one myself for a couple days I think these reviewers were not actually judging the platform for what is intended to be. I just read two articles by Kevin Tofel and James Kendrick that made me want to scream, "Amen, brothers". These two get it when it comes to the UMPC and did an excellent job in clearly stating what these devices are designed to do.

Yes, the UMPCs have lower level specifications than a full Tablet PC, laptop, or desktop computer, but they are also not intended to be someone's only computer and are a means to stay productive in a mobile environment. Extreme mobile enthusiasts like myself could probably make it our only computer, but that is not the intention for the majority of people. I have to say I like the experience of carrying a 2 lb UMPC while traveling more than my 6 lb MacBook Pro. I am writing this entire blog entry on the Q1 with a small compact Think Outside keyboard (I also used the excellent microphones on the Q1 to dictate some of this blog entry with amazing accuracy) and have to admit this setup is one of the geekiest things I have done in a while and I am most likely going to purchase a UMPC for myself very soon.

It seems one of the biggest contentions people have with the UMPC, if they accept that fact that the specs will be less than a full blown laptop, is price. Microsoft was hoping these devices would be priced from US$500 to US$800 and they may get down there by the holiday shopping season. However, I don't think the current US$1,000 range is really completely unreasonable if you look at how many functions a UMPC can actually fill very nicely. Portable in-car GPS systems are now fetching US$600 to US$800 or more and a UMPC has a perfect sized display for a GPS system combined with a US$100 Bluetooth GPS and US$30 Microsoft Streets & Trips program. It also fills the role of an excellent Portable Media Center (stand alone price of US$400+) with its minimum 30GB hard drive and good sized display. The internal stereo speakers are AWESOME on the Samsung Q1 and blow away my MacBook Pro speakers. I am actually listening to some podcasts and streaming music as I write this blog post. With the AVS Multimedia functionality that allows you to use the Q1 as a media player without booting Windows, you get another feature not seen in many laptops. Most high end Pocket PC devices start out at US$500 to US$600 and have no hard drives with smaller displays. The UMPC offers so much more than these (full Office suite compatibility, full Outlook functionality, ability to run Windows applications, and more) with the addition of the full Tablet PC functionality.

I could get the same type of electronic writing surface with a slate Tablet PC, but these cost almost double what a UMPC currently runs and I find the size of the Samsung Q1 to be easier to carry around. I would like to see a bit higher resolution and longer battery life, but other than that I think the current crop has what I need to be productive on the go. Do you see the UMPC platform filling a need or is it a wild idea that is doomed to fail?

Topic: Hardware

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  • UMPCs are going to be huge

    Actually I expect UMPC will become more popular than laptops in the U.S. and many other markets, and will become the primary computing device in emerging markets. In other words, this device is going to be huge because of its hyper mobility and eventual low cost.
    P. Douglas
  • Amen my mobile brother!

    Matt, glad to see that the Q1 is serving its intended purpose for you. I'll be the first to say it's NOT the perfect device, but I'd also be the first to point out how well it works in mobile situations. Just today my home DSL modem fried, so my entire office is consisting of the Q1, my EVDO phone and my BT keyboard. I'd be sunk without this setup today. Keep up the awesome work!
    • Not perfect, but on the way:)

      Kevin, yes it may not be perfect yet, but it is pretty dang good for a 1st gen product. The more I dive into its capabilities the more and more I am actually evaluating whether I really need my MacBook Pro when I have a desktop at home and work already.

      I think if you look at the other uses for the device rather than just a Tablet PC, then there is a lot of value in it. I mean it can serve as a great Portable Media Center, GPS, digital photo album, and more.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • UMPC

    I think it is a major advancement to see such a operating system on a small form factor. I think the next couple of generations hopefully will improve their limitations. I would favor a smaller device with integrated keyboard.
  • In response to your question, "Do you see the UMPC platform filling a need"

    Do you see the UMPC platform filling a need or is it a wild idea that is doomed to fail?

    UMPCs are still a rough idea of what you get when you cross a cell phone with a laptop. While, 20 or even 10 years from now there will still (probably) be a(/some) demand for both devices; innovations like what Vodafone is working on will probably ultimately make both obsolete.