A few months ago, OQO launched their second-generation UMPC. Now, Flipstart Labs (a Paul Allen Company) launched their first, but it too is a second-generation box. In a few months there will be several more, and for those who thought the UMPC was dead, “Surprise!” It was only sleeping — and evidently spawning — in its sleep. This class is for those that want the capability of a laptop computer but the portability of a Smartphone (granted, a big Smartphone). These things are as much about statement as they are about functionality. They say something about the owner; that suggests that the Flipstart is distinctly different from the OQO, because it is a more traditional clamshell design laptop that just happens to weigh less than two pounds. This compares to the OQO, which has an edgier design with a slide-up screen and is closer to a one-pound weight. The OQO starts at $1,500 and ranges up to $1,850, and the Flipstart is complete at $2K. Both products have multiple wireless radios, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and WAN. WAN is a must with this class, because the products in it really need to be always connected. The OQO is more of a small tablet with a touch screen, while the Flipstart is a mini notebook. The keyboard on the OQO is o.k. for light typing, and the one on the Flipstart is more like a notebook keyboard, but both are really small and wouldn’t be appropriate for long documents. Also, for both, having an external keyboard as an option (like the iGo Bluetooth keyboard) would be advised. Apple vs. Microsoft An interesting back-story is that the OQO was conceived by the team that created the Apple Titanium notebook, while the Flipstart was conceived by a team of largely ex-Microsoft employees who work for Paul Allen (one of the Microsoft founders). As a result, the OQO is long on design; it is arguably better looking, but less practical. The Flipstart is long on practicality, but doesn’t look as cool. The OQO is more of a guy thing; size makes it ideal for a jacket pocket, and it has kind of a masculine feel. The Flipstart is more generic, but I think women will probably prefer it. It fits well in a purse, and with its protected screen, will hold up better there as well. Also, its keyboard is vastly more useful if you have small hands, something that is generally true of women. Configuration Both products run Windows XP and Windows Vista, but I’d take the memory up to two gigabytes if you want to run Vista and not have it feel slow. The Flipstart uses an Intel processor and graphics, while the OQO uses VIA. This is part of what likely contributes to the OQO’s price and may allow the Flipstart to be faster in use, though, honestly, neither one of these boxes is going to win a lot of benchmarks. They are about portability, not speed. I’ve used the OQO and it is certainly fast enough for its intended use. Since this is an emerging class, I actually don’t think these two products will compete that much. Folks will likely either prefer one or the other, or pass on the class. They are very different from each other, but further validate that people want to have a product that can take the place of a laptop and is as portable as a phone. Coupled with a VoIP service, both could actually be phones, but that is not their intended primary use. UMPC – Coming on Hard The first year of UMPCs was a learning year. OQO actually came out of the gate first, and last year, Microsoft brought out their Origami concept. Like a lot of things Microsoft has done lately, it was about 80% of a complete product; however, I carried the Samsung Q1 for a while, and for playing movies, casual games, and doing light document creation, it was o.k. It was actually usable when coupled with the iGo keyboard I mentioned above, but in that configuration it was more like a two-piece laptop. As the second generation of devices continues to flow to the market, you’ll see more built-in keyboards, more compelling designs, and a more complete user interface. For instance, the Vista version of the Origami interface is much more well done, but still not as complete as it should be. Next year, you’ll see the third generation of these products hit the market: smaller, lighter, and with improvements in all critical vectors. The engine behind much of this change is not Microsoft, but Intel, which has staffed up a massive organization focused on making this class a household word. If there is any possibility of a mobile PC with iPod-like potential, it will probably emerge out of this class, and we should begin to see that possibility in a few months. For now, for those that want to stand out and have something that few others will enjoy this year, the OQO and Flipstart devices are your only choices. If all you are doing is e-mail, IM, and light documents that you mostly read, rather than create…if you want something cool that will do PowerPoint (and allow slide editing) while fitting in your pocket…if you just want to have something to pull out that causes people to say, “Wow, what is that?”… then check out the OQO and Flipstart, because they will both do all of that. Oh, and if you have a Tivo or Slingbox and want something that can be a small, portable, TV-watching device, I can attest that both of these are great for that. Not that I watch a lot of TV or movies or anything.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.