WiBrain B1

While ultra-mobile personal computers (UMPCs) have been on the market for well over a year now, they remain a rarity in everyday usage thanks in part to the high cost of the initial models, and only a handful of examples that could be had in the United States. As we usually see in technology, time is healing both ills as more UMPCs migrate over from the countries where they were originally released, and arrive stateside at more affordable prices.

The Wibrain B1 is one of the latest such devices to make the trek over from its native South Korea. At only 1.15 lbs, it stands out as extraordinarily light, even for a UMPC, and also takes advantage of a relatively unique form factor.

It’s shaped liked a long, thin brick, with a large 1024 x 600 pixel 4.8-inch screen embedded in the center, flanked by controls on either side. On the upper portion of the unit, two five-by-five arrays of tiny buttons provide a full QWERTY keyboard and number pad – albeit split in half by the screen. Below on the right, a tiny touchpad serves as a stand-in for a mouse, and on the left, there are four directional buttons plus four function buttons. The number of dedicated hardware buttons on the B1 set it apart from many other UMPCs, which substitute virtual keyboards like DialKeys for real ones, reducing unit size but sacrificing tactile feedback.

Wibrain B1
Image Courtesy of Dynamism

Inside, the B1 uses a VIA C7M 1.2 GHz processor, a relatively unlikely choice in an Intel-dominated field, but one which supposedly trumps its Pentium equivalent in performance-per-watt, according to VIA. Wibrain claims battery life of five hours, while retailer Dynamism says users can realistically expect about three.

For videoconferencing or merely capturing video on the go, the B1 also includes a webcam that swings out from the top of the unit on a tiny arm. Other hardware specs include a 30GB or 60GB hard drive and 512MB or 1GB of RAM. Both of the better options come with the higher-priced B1H, while the lower options belong to the base model B1E.

When it comes to wireless connectivity, the B1 has all of its bases covered. For local networking, it handles both 802.11b/g radio and Bluetooth connections. More importantly, on the long-range side of the equation, it includes support for HSDPA (3G), EDGE and mobile WiMax. In other words, if you can’t get this thing connected, you can’t get anything connected.

Most of the appeal for the B1 will likely lie in its price, which is considerably lower than many comparable machines. Currently only available through importer Dynamism, the B1E sells for $699 USD and the B1H sells for $849 USD. Accessories will also available in the future, including a cradle that gives the B1 an optical drive and standard PC I/O ports, as well as a stationary mount. For the U.S. consumer who has eagerly eyed UMPCs but held off based on price, the Wibrain B1 may serve as an affordable jumping-off point.

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