While I have to admit that the idea of carrying a portable extension of your personal computer around sounds great, is it really necessary? Wireless home network standards are moving at an astounding rate. In a little less than two years we have seen three wireless protocols hit the store shelves. 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g products are all currently available at electronics and computer stores offering wireless networking capabilites. What exactly is an Air panel? Think of it as a removable LCD monitor with built in processing power of its own. You can carry it and access your desktops applications through this wireless device.
This year?s crop of Air panels all operate at the 802.11b protocol standard which means that you get just enough bandwidth to surf the web, check e-mail and work on your office applications. But what about streaming video or audio? Unfortunately, you will most likely be out of luck. Because of the limitations of the 802.11b standard there simply is just not enough bandwidth at most ranges to stream audio and video. So is a $1299 Air panel really worth its weight?
Think about this. Did you know that while you are using an Air panel, your desktop computer is rendered useless? That?s right; you cannot use your desktop computer seperately while using an Air panel. Another catch to this year?s crop of Air panels is that you will most likely need to have Microsoft?s Windows XP Professional edition installed on your desktop computer. Why? Because the Remote Desktop Technology found in the Professional version of Windows XP is vital for the Air Panels use. So be ready to pay for both the Air panel and the operating system upgrade; an expensive process for being able to surf the web.
A better alternative?
Buy a cheap laptop and throw in a wireless networking card. Laptop prices are falling at record rates and account for roughly 50% of all computer purchases. Chances are you will get a larger screen than any Smart Display can offer but you also get upgradeability. Not only can you surf the net, check e-mail, stream audio and video using the 802.11g standard, but you now have a completely portable computer. If your home network gets too slow, simply throw in a newer card. 802.11G products are comparable in price to their 802.11B brethren and offer 5 times the bandwidth. Not to mention that 802.11g products are backwards compatible with 802.11b products.
So while the Air Panel theory may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, it is strictly hype and offers no real world benefits. Even Microsoft has stated that Smart Displays are targeted squarely at early adopters. My recommendation would be to wait a while until Smart Display technology advances and until the 802.11G protocol picks up more popularity.
Smart displays are nothing but a blip on the road map, a short trend with a very short lifespan. The economy is in a recession, save your money and spend it on the endless sea of discounted electronics.