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Deconstructing the UMPC

The UMPC is not supposed to replace your tablet or laptop. It is a lower end product that is intended for casual use. By that I mean checking email, watching movies, reading books and listening to music. You can do more with the UMPC if you like, as the device does run Windows XP, but you are limited to the size of the device, including its hard drive capacities and processor speeds.

The focus for the UMPC is to deliver a product that you can use very easily. The first thing you will notice about a UMPC is the lack of connected devices. There is no mouse, no connectors to printers or monitors, and no keyboard. You can use the stylus to navigate through applications and use digital ink to write down your thoughts. The small form factor of the device sits nicely in your hand.

At first glance the UMPC does look like a small tablet, and indeed, the version of Windows XP is the same as the one used on the Tablet. However, the UMPC does come with additional interface controls that give it a more game-like feel.

A major difference between the two shows up in performance. There are several UMPC models on the market and they all run at around 1Ghz in speed with a gig of RAM. Hard drives for these devices came in at around 30-40GB and all the devices had at least one USB where additional add-ons (such as a keyboard, mouse, or hard drive) could be easily snapped in. What you will notice is that there is not a CD, DVD, or floppy drive. If you want that, go get your laptop.

It is the UMPC 's interface that makes it attractive. You can choose to use the default Windows XP start-up screen to leverage a new communications screen that takes you to your most popular apps:

Figure 1

Figure 1 The default interface to all UMPC devices is very different to the normal Windows XP start up screen – a lot easier on the eyes, too!

In addition to this, a new touch screen keyboard allows you to access your work without a stylus or a traditional keyboard. The whole feel is very much like playing a computer game. Can this make writing emails to mom exciting again?

Figure 2

Figure 2. The new thumb keyboard is built right into the touch sensitive screen. Believe it or not takes only a few minutes to get used to.

During the time I spent using several different UMPC devices, I was surprised at how intuitive the device felt as a whole and how quickly I took to it.

What was even more surprising was to watch people who I know are intimidated by their PC using the UMPC easily.

There are two main problems I see for the UMPC. The first big one is battery life. I was only able to go for 2-3 hours before my battery shrunk up and died. This is no good when you are sitting in the airport or are in the air for a good 4-6 hours.

The second problem is price. When the UMPC was announced, one of its selling points was its low price of $500 or so. The reality is that the only models on the market are all between $900 and $1,200+, which is a lot more than $500 and way over my budget. At $1,200 I am going to ask myself if I want a laptop or a UMPC, but not both. Over time, it can be argued, part prices will come down and the price of the UMPC will eventually come down too.

In short, the UMPC is not a replacement for your laptop, though it might be a replacement for your PDA.

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