March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 09.01.05

When Smaller Is Better

To meet the demands of mobile workers, new offerings deliver convenience and performance in more manageable packages.
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By Tim Bajarin




Conventional wisdom often states that bigger is better. In the world of mobile technology, however, the opposite holds true. Semiconductor companies are trying to cram more transistors onto smaller silicon chips, and laptops are being driven in the direction of thinner and lighter.

This smaller-is-better thinking also applies to handheld computing products. To date, most Tablet PCs on the market have at least 10.4-inch screens and look more like clipboards that handle 11-inch paper formats. And in fact, they really are designed, in most cases, to be electronic clipboard replacements. However, most still weigh close to 4 pounds and are used almost exclusively in vertical markets such as medicine, transportation and public services. But even in these vertical markets, sometimes a 10.4-inch tablet is still too big.

This fact prompted the folks at Motion Computing to lobby Microsoft, whose Tablet PC spec demanded that its software be used on at least a 10.4-inch tablet, to change its position on this issue and let Motion create an 8-inch version, for which many of its customers had been asking. Recently, Microsoft gave in, and the LS800 was born. This smaller and lighter design and form factor is especially coveted in medical and hospital settings, where doctors require something they can carry with them everywhere and yet still have full Windows XP compatibility. And of course, other industries, such as transportation and public services, had also been requesting a smaller device. Since the LS800 delivers the full functionality of Windows XP and can run all Windows apps, it is likely to become a big hit for Motion and help to extend the Tablet PC’s market presence in the near future.

What about the users who need the full functionality of Windows XP but want an even smaller and lighter device? This is where another class of devices, often called ultra-portables or handtops, comes in. These even smaller handhelds come from OQO and Vulcan and feature 4.5-inch screens and built-in keyboards, yet run Windows XP and all XP applications. The Vulcan Flipstart has still not come to market, but OQO’s Model One has been out for a year and is about to be released in its second-generation design. Although the new OQO ultra-portable is basically the same design, OQO has tweaked the keys, processor and battery life, and this new model is a more stable and cleaner implementation of the first version.

However, there is an interesting twist. While Microsoft did let Motion put a full Tablet PC OS on the LS800, it will not let OQO or Vulcan put the Tablet OS on their devices. Microsoft reasons that for the Tablet OS to be really functional, it needs a good screen that a person can write on to take full advantage of all the pen-based functionality built into a Windows Tablet PC. At first I thought that this was a bad move, but after using a full-size Tablet PC and the OQO device, Microsoft was probably right. A device as small as the OQO seems better optimized for viewing and accessing data, not necessarily writing it down via stylus. Although it is a smaller handheld, it still has all the functionality of Windows XP, thus making it as much of a workhorse as any other mobile computer on the market.

Additionally, OQO’s improved keyboard and brighter screen make this a serious product that users desiring a small Windows XP–based pocketable system should really consider for their mobile processing needs.
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