Ultrapersonal PCs: You Gotta Get One

Lately, PCs have failed to elicit that "you gotta have it" feeling.

Lately, PCs have failed to elicit that "you gotta have it" feeling. Intel has been trying its hardest to rev performance and drop prices. The Pentium 4 is now at 2.53GHz, and processors are still on target to reach 10GHz in five years or so. Apple and some PC vendors strike up colors and form-factor variations, all to no avail. Faster and better-looking machines, after all, are luxuries.

In the late 1990s, hordes of PDAs started popping up in peoples pockets, although even that furor seems to have cooled. That leaves only cell phones (or, more likely, bargain-basement calling plans) and MP3 players to brighten users days.

There lurks, however, a new form factor that is eventually going to supplant slim-line notebooks—the so-called ultrapersonal computers, or tablet PCs.

Like most, I was extremely skeptical of such devices, until I saw some reference samples from Microsoft. Last month, I wrote a column about Microsofts tablet PC (see www.eweek.com/links) and how we will probably see some acceptance of it next year at the earliest. Then I received a Toshiba ultraportable prototype. The funny thing is that this Toshiba weighs about a pound, has a 6.5-inch touch-screen, and is running Transmetas Crusoe and Linux. Its the ultimate renegade computer. And Toshiba said I aint seen nothin yet. Now the engineers are slimming the prototype, shining it up and loading it with features. Toshiba said these units will cost about $1,000 and have an 8-hour battery life. The battery life on my old Compaq was 2 hours, tops.

Toshiba says its targeting vertical markets. The nameless unit I had, for example, was made for the financial community. Other units will have different-size screens, a different operating system (Windows XP Tablet Edition) and different features.

Toshiba is not saying when these units will ship or even if theyre part of the companys slim-line Portégé brand. But the one I have is completely functional (with the exception of the built-in wireless capability).

Meanwhile, OQO—a company founded by ex-Apple-ites—is coming out with some interesting ultrapersonal computers as well. If these things dont generate some buzz, nothing will.

Why use a notebook when these things have everything? Write to me at john_taschek@ziffdavis.com.