Make mine ultramobile-to-go

Stefan Hammond
09 Jul 2008

I had to run to an event in sunny/steamy Hong Kong this week, and wondered whether I should bring my laptop. Although the MacBook is just about ideal in terms of form/function, it's 2.2 kilos to haul around, more if I bring the power supply. That's not a lot of weight considering the power and versatility of the machine, but it's the machine I've got, and I'm the one hauling it.

What interests me nowadays are the new UMPCs (ultra-mobile PCs), a space being explored by Taiwan's Asustek and more traditional vendors like HP. The idea is to make a sub-sub-notebook computer by stripping out as much weight and size as possible. While devices like the Treo, Blackberry and iPhone bulk up mobile phones into PDA-style devices with computing functions, the UMPCs reduce laptops to their essentials: keyboard, screen, ports, basic software.

There's something satisfyingly Asian about this form: aesthetics like small/simple/cute come to mind. The new MSI Wind UMPC, for example, comes in black, white, and cartoon-cat pink. I don't want a pink one, but I can imagine some of my fellow Asian journos at a conference, tap-tapping her story on one of these things.

The advantage for me: they're light (most weigh just over a kilo), cheap (US$500-650) and have full-sized keyboards. Of course there are trade-offs: the solid-state drives (SSDs) these boot from are typically 8-12 GB and screens are 9-10 inches. Hard-drive-models are available but these increase weight and drain battery life faster. And while you won't get Apple's excellent OS X, they'll run off either Windows XP or desktop Linux.

I'm specific when it comes to my portable devices, so a UMPC with a hard drive running XP doesn't interest me. I'd want one with no moving parts, running Linux. I want the leanest OS and the maximum battery life-the light weight and smaller size would encourage me to not-think-twice about carrying the thing, even in July.

But, this space is brand-new and as with all tech, expect increased-value at a lesser price as the month's march by. I'm not looking to replace my MacBook, I'm looking for something which will augment my portable tech setup. I have a habit of letting the technology grab ME (I bought the second iPod in Asia, immediately after Apple's press conference where the first one was displayed): I know it when I see it, and right now I'm not seeing any UMPC that screams 'buy me!'

But give it six months or so.

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