Samsung's new mobile PC

Samsung's new mobile PC a boon to travelers

With good, serviceable laptop computers costing between $700 and $1,000, why spend about $1,300 for Samsung Electronics' Q1-UP01? Well, it's not because the Samsung unit has a poetic moniker.

The computer - available mostly via mail order - is available with Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system; my test unit arrived with the Tablet version of Windows XP installed. It sports a 1.33 GHz Intel single-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, and an 80-GB hard disk drive. The display offers 1024 by 600 pixel resolution, which is rather clear and sharp in use.

The third is an option, an add-on keyboard that plugs into the USB port on the right-hand side of the machine. Coupled with a fold-out, stand-up carrying case, you've got a very nice, workable, portable computing solution for road warriors and others in specific applications.

Indeed, having a variety of computing platforms for a given operating system is, I believe, going to do a lot for the continuation and growth of those operating systems currently in the marketplace. Apple is doing this, in a very real sense, with the iPhone, which gets many of its features from Mac OS X. The UMPC class of devices run Windows XP Tablet or Windows Vista and has those systems' strengths (and weaknesses) as well.

The good news is that when Samsung unveiled its new ultra-mobile PC in January, it became the first technology company to substitute the traditional hard drive with a solid-state 32 gigabyte flash-memory module. It makes the device less vulnerable to damage such as accidental drops.

The bad news? Samsung misses the mark by failing to offer 3G cellular connectivity that can provide always-on broadband wireless access across the U.S. Competitors increasingly are offering optional installation of modem cards from the former Cingular Wireless unit of AT&T (T), Sprint-Nextel (S), and Verizon Wireless.

The Q1 eschews the smaller form factor of rivals such as Sony (SNE) and OQO for a device measuring a relatively large 9 inches by 5.5 inches by 1 inch. Though bulkier, this full-figured PC only weighs 1.7 pounds, looks cool with its shiny black finish, and feels good in your hands.

Its giant 7-inch, 800-by-480 touch screen also is great for preventing eye strain, but the decision to use Windows XP Tablet PC edition is a bit of a puzzle. Pen-based computing to date has been a very narrow niche, as both businesses and consumers appear to prefer built-in keyboards, however small and cramped. Indeed, I found the small stylus requires a delicate touch to open applications.

The new Windows Vista operating system makes tablet computing more user-friendly, with the addition of hover actions and gesturing without tapping the screen, but Samsung opted not to wait for it.

Users can buy an optional keyboard that connects via USB or Bluetooth, as well as combo external DVD/CD optical drives, though that seems to negate the whole purpose of the ultra-mobile PC concept, which is to lighten the load.

The ultra-mobile PC also has a built-in dual-array microphone for voice recording, and the speakers sitting to the left and right of the screen aren't as tinny as what competitors offer. There's also a nifty quick-launch key that lets you quickly adjust screen brightness, rotate the screen, and turn Wi-Fi and sound on and off. Users can also program a circular key just above that on the right of the device to perform four tasks.


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