Is the UMPC finally ready for the masses?

It seems that rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated and over the last year, the UMPC has morphed from a tablet-like device to an extremely compact notebook, complete with a keyboard, albeit a very tight one.

I have to admit I have never taken the UMPC very seriously. A couple of years ago, I wrote a review for the now-defunct Personal Tech Pipeline of the Samsung Q1, one of the earliest versions of these machines, and I came away less than impressed. It struck me at the time that Samsung unit was caught between a consumer and business device and didn't really know which direction to take. What's more it was a footprint that was lost between a smartphone-type device and a sub-notebook. There was even some speculation last year that Intel was giving up on the UMPC altogether.

But it seems that rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated and over the last year, the UMPC has morphed from a tablet-like device to an extremely compact notebook, complete with a keyboard, albeit a very tight one. Lately, as I've found myself spending more and more time in online applications like this ZDNet blogging tool, I want a light-weight device with a keyboard that I can throw in a back-pack and take with me on on the road. I'm not really concerned about the platform--it can be Windows or Linux or OSX for all I care--because what I want is WiFi and internet access when I'm on the road so I can access my online apps and do my work. For my purposes, the OS only needs to supply a browser.

One device I've had my eye on that fits the bill is the Asus Eee PC 901, which is the follow-up to the Eee PC 900. The newer version is supposed to ship early next month with the new Intel Atom motherboard and in addition to WiFi will include Bluetooth support as well. It weighs just one kilo, has a reasonable keyboard and a decent 8.9 inch screen. What's more it's been built to withstand some road punishment. It's everything I'm looking for in backup machine to take on the road when I don't want schlep my 17 inch Mac Book Pro with me.

Meanwhile, just this week Gizmodo is reporting that Michael Dell has been walking around the All Things Digital show with a new Mini Inspiron, a mini notebook adding yet another ultra portable machine to the mix.

The price point is between $500 and $600, far less than the original Samsung Q1 which went for $1100 at the time (and has actually been discontinued). So the UMPC may have evolved from its original intent, but the result is quite positive and the success of earlier versions of the Asus Eee combined with release of the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC and several others including Dell's sneak peek, the market seems to have found itself. With more people like me looking for sturdy light-weight machines to provide internet access, it's entirely likely that the future looks bright for these petite PCs and the UMPC may live on for some time to come.