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Ultramobile PC To Make a Comeback? 140

Posted by Soulskill
from the cellphones-that-can't-make-calls dept.
jfruhlinger writes "Remember the Oqo and other 'ultra-mobile PCs' — full-fledged Windows machines in a cell phone form factor, pushed without success in the early-to-mid '00s? Well, Japan's NTT DoCoMo thinks that they could still catch on, making plans for a Windows 7 computer with a 4-inch, 1024-by-600 screen."
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Ultramobile PC To Make a Comeback?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I suppose due to the extra battery needed for Atom. :)
    http://www.geek.com/articles/chips/arm-posts-cortex-a9-vs-atom-performance-video-intel-should-be-worried-2010016/

    http://netbooked.net/images/sized/images/uploads/articles/arm-vs-atom2-600x217.jpg

  • by milbournosphere (1273186) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:08PM (#36141632)
    and it's the android phone in my pocket. It does everything that I'd ever want to do on a device with a 4" screen. For everything else, I have a laptop that has a full size keyboard.
    • by m50d (797211)
      I have a wonderful netbook with the same screen size (Vye S18) - it's got a perfectly usable keyboard (far more than the touchscreen on my android), and the processor and screen are up to watching videos and playing my large collection of older PC games. Also little things like normal connectivity (USB host, VGA out, ethernet). It's perfect for e.g. train journeys if I don't want to lug my full-sized laptop around. So I think there's value in this kind of form factor.
    • by SlashdotOgre (739181) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:31PM (#36141870) Journal

      More importantly, Android applications are all designed with a touch based user interface in mind. One of the major issues with previous generations of tablets was that they relied on traditional applications which could work with a touch interface, but they were never designed for it. This made using the device for non-basic functions a headache. I remember the Oqo quite well, and as a geek I wanted one (or a Sharp Zarus...). However as an engineer and end user, I knew it was never practical and would be primarily an expensive toy.

      • I've still got a Zaurus although I haven't used it in a while. It is a great little machine and the transflective LCD is the best screen besides e-ink for use outdoors.

        It isn't a machine for running Windows though. Who would want to run Windows on a machine that small?

        It's also a bit funny that the Zaurus applications still seem as fast and responsive as Android apps on a Galaxy S. The graphics aren't fancy but the CPU speed and flash speed seem just as good. Has there really been no improvement in the last

      • by Trogre (513942)

        Ah, the Zaurus. I still use my SL-5600 for night time reading.

    • Guess what? I have an Android with a 10 inch screen and a full size (bluetooth) keyboard. Now it no longer does everything I'd ever want because I expect more. Now I expect to run OpenOffice on it for example, and so far I can't. For no good reason that matters to me as a user.

      Just saying that if Google wants to keep the march on Microsoft, it's time to wake up to the fact that a pad is not in fact a large phone. Can't say how irritating it is when I run a "mobility browser" on the Xoom and it pulls up a du

  • No, can't say that I do.
  • by metalmaster (1005171) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:14PM (#36141680)
    what niche would this fill that isnt already handled by current smartphones, tablets or IMT devices?

    I considered buying a Nokia N810 once upon a time, but I went with something from Archos instead, because i only needed web browsing and multimedia. This was a time before iDevices or Android devices became a PC in your pocket.
    • It could possibly serve as a business person's primary PC upon which the employee simply connect this device up to larger peripherals when in the office and simply uses it as a hand held device on the go. The biggest drawback is that most business user's windows apps are compiled for x86 or x64 Intel. I suppose this limitation could be overcome with a virtual machine running on the device but that would certainly suck more processing power. As time goes on more Windows application will most likely be ava
      • It could possibly serve as a business person's primary PC upon which the employee simply connect this device up to larger peripherals when in the office and simply uses it as a hand held device on the go.

        They'll need to have a cell phone and a computer anyway so why use this when you could either have a laptop or a desktop at work and use your cell phone on the go? This idea provides lots of limitations and design compromises without any significant advantages over what is already available. There might be a few teeny tiny niche markets for this sort of device but frankly I don't see much point to it. If I must run Windows, a netbook is pretty damn portable and can be plugged into a larger monitor/keyboa

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          They don't need to have both if one device really will serve both needs.

          The single smaller device just needs to be able to be treated like a real PC or like any other device it needs to.

          The iPods already have a prescident for this. There's a sort of "tablet" shell that you can buy for an iPod that will give it a bigger tablet-like screen. You could do the same for a mobile terminal (laptop) or a non-mobile terminal (workstation).

          The only real problem is that you might want to treat your device as a phone wh

          • They don't need to have both if one device really will serve both needs.

            You left out the word "well". It needs to serve both needs well. My smartphone already is (theoretically) capable of pretty much everything this device could do AND it makes phone calls. In time your phone probably will be able to plug into a much larger monitor. Furthermore Windows was very much NOT designed to be used on a 4 inch screen. I've got really good eyesight and can't imaging doing anything productive on it that my smartphone can't already do.

            The iPods already have a prescident for this. There's a sort of "tablet" shell that you can buy for an iPod that will give it a bigger tablet-like screen.

            Even taking your word for it I have never seen o

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Windows PC market. None of the devices you pointed to can run MS Office 2010 nicely.

      That being said, why would anyone want to run and OS that is designed for much higher screen resolutions on a device that can't run those resolutions? I want a device that has an OS that is designed to run at that resolution, like Android or iOS.

      • by bluemonq (812827)

        Windows wasn't designed to run at 1024x600? That's news to me, considering that minimum res for Windows 7 is 800x600.

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          It used to be that nobody bothered to change their defaults. Those defaults for Windows used to be 640x480.

        • Have you tried to RUN windows 7 at 800x600?

          If you want to run Windows 7 on your PC, here's what it takes:

          1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor

          1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)

          16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)

          DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

          It wasn't designed for that system. It isn't functional on tha

      • Your second point kind of overshadows your first

        Not only will resolution impact usability, but something with a 4" screen will probably resort to a chiclet keyboard or touch screen. Who is going to use Office '10 in any productive capacity with those limitations?
  • A tiny computer that runs software designed for a much larger screen will be useful to a limited number of people. For most Android, IOS, WebOS, and maybe WP7 would all be a better OS in that environment.

    • The idea, I believe, is that it has enough processing power to be used as a main computing device by a lot of people, and can drive a full sized monitor. When you're at home, it's plugged into a TV or something, and you use it with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. When you leave the house, you just slip it in your pocket.
      • by oakgrove (845019)

        The idea, I believe, is that it has enough processing power to be used as a main computing device

        According to the spec sheet, it has a 1.2 GHz Atom that "always runs at half speed", i.e., 600 MHz. And by 600 MHz, I mean Atom 600 MHz. Not, for example, Core Solo. Bear in mind also, this is with Windows 7. Do you really think that's enough power to be used as anything more than a novelty?

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      A tiny computer that runs software designed for a much larger screen will be useful to a limited number of people.

      Much the same target as the 9" MacBook Air, I'd imagine—people who need extreme portability but still need to be able to run existing apps. Think frequent fliers.

      • The main difference I between the MacBook Air and this device is that Apple attempted to achieve portability by focusing on shedding weight and thickness while maintaining enough size to have a functional keyboard and trackpad. I don't see this 4" device having that. Using an all touch screen with Win 7 presents a large amount of problems. Btw, the smallest MacBook Air is 11" not 9"
        • by dgatwood (11270)

          My bad. 11". That'll teach me to mention form factors from memory. Yeah, 4" is probably too small to be generally useful. I didn't realize it was quite *that* small. I've seen usable micro-laptops with screens down to about 7". That's about as small as makes sense, IMO.

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        MacBook Air 11" screen and keyboard.
        This 4" screen.
        Those are very different devices.

  • Pics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ceriel Nosforit (682174) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:16PM (#36141710)

    Hey guise, I found a picture! It runs Debian Linux!

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0c/Nokia_N900-1.jpg/788px-Nokia_N900-1.jpg [wikimedia.org]

    • by tepples (727027)
      The last time I checked, about a year ago, no electronics stores in my area had a Nokia N900 for me to try.
    • by CompMD (522020)

      I'm pretty sure I can control the universe from my N900. Its the best portable computing device I've ever used. I do Android platform work for fun as well, and I like to use the N900 to scare people. "Why yes, my two year old phone can run Gingerbread, what, your brand new phone can't?" :)

  • its much better than the old standard, but lets be realistic, its still pretty kludgey with a mouse and a giant screen, I cant imagine how poorly it would do on such a tiny interface with that high of a resolution

    • by bluemonq (812827)

      As an owner of a Fujitsu U2010, which has a 1280x800 screen measuring 5.6" at the diagonal, the answer is: not too shabby, being equipped with a thumbstick and touchscreen. Basically it should end up revolving around how decent that pointing thing (looks kinda like a trackball?) works out.

  • by rsborg (111459) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:18PM (#36141730) Homepage

    I can see no reason why a hardware manufacturer would put so much effort into what, in this past decade, has proven a complete failure: putting a desktop OS into a mobile form factor.

    Given that Android source exists, why would a mobile device manufacturer even consider a non-free, licensed OS which has proved unsuccessful so far? Perhaps it's because of Microsoft's patent warchest (and their willingness to use it)?

    • Microsoft is aggressively marketing Windows on the mobile ARM architecture after sitting it out on the sidelines for years (Windows CE was available but a weak option for most purposes). It was not until recently that Microsoft agreed to even compile a version of Windows other than CE to the ARM RISC chip set. They see that they cannot simply hide behind their Intel partnership if they want to be relevant in the future. The future is looking more like ARM will be dominate in the personal space and Micros
      • One argument says

        It's Windows. Therefore we MUST Charge the same as we do for the X86 version

        On the otherhand

        It's Windows but we have to compete with OS's that are essentially given away. (Android & iOS) So we have to give it away.

        If the ydid that and for some really strange reason it took off then the MS share price would plummet like a stone. In an instant one of their cash cows has gone.
        Cue throwing of chairs in Redmond.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      if it's x86, it would be silly if it didn't run windows at all.
      it's too bad sideshow-while-the-computer-itself-is-sleeping-mostly seems like a forgotten idea nowadays.

      anyways, they would choose it over android to differentiate. and also to prove that it can run a real os, which can run real programs in a pinch. and also because realistically they would have to co-operate with google to stay current on android, and also perhaps there aren't x86 compatible opengl drivers and such for android on x86.

      though I d

  • Email, and most other forms of communication can be handled by a smartphone. With my iPhone i can make a VPN connection to my work, and launch an RDP client to do work straight from my phone, its not the most fluid way of getting stuff done, but an emergency password reset, or something along those lines is accomplished easily enough.
    • Fewer people use PCs in Japan than elsewhere, I think because of commute times. Phones are more often used to do all sorts of tasks. Trying to extend that beyond Japan ignores a lot of cultural factors however.

  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:21PM (#36141762) Homepage

    Does it also include a pop-out magnifying glass? With all the latest phones be released with such as a small screen to resolution ratio, there comes a point where it's just too painful to read the text unless sitting absolutely still. Will someone please think of the eyes for once? They do have a limitations.

    • by fleebait (1432569)

      Back around 1949, or 1950, My dad bought a portable Zenith TV. It weighed about 50 pounds, had 60 tubes, and a 2" screen. A year or so later, he purchased a magnifying lens for the for the set -- it was about 8", sat on a metal stand in front of the TV and made it almost watchable. (At least for me, a 7 year old at the time), sitting about 3 or 4 ft away. A year or two later, we got a 15" Black and White Philco, which was a definite improvement.

      So, are we going the same route with cell phones and compute

    • Windows since 3.x has a setting to change the display's effective pixel density (DPI). This would normally be set lower than the actual DPI because a phone is held roughly twice as close to the face as a desktop PC monitor. As long as you stick to those applications that respect system DPI, there shouldn't be too much of a problem with this "retina display".
  • by NitzJaaron (733621) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:30PM (#36141854)
    I mean, it's from Japan, right? It's gotta turn into a robot, or some kind of odd anime device that does indescribably naughty thing to girls in sailor uniforms.
    • by TeknoHog (164938)
      Well, does it run Android? (Google once threatened to sue a robotics company with 'droid' in its name, while the phone OS has nothing to do with robots.)
    • by caywen (942955)

      No, but if you get 5 of them in different colors, they form Docotron, a huge robot 120 feet high with a sword.

  • It will be a flop just like the SONY VAIO UX.

  • by Lashat (1041424) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:34PM (#36141906)

    I own one and when I corporate traveled it was my constant companion.

    The most significant advantage is that the physically small and compact machine that runs your full desktop.
    Plug it into the docking station and...abracadabra... you have full size monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
    Travel without the docking station? You can still use the tiny dongle to attach to ethernet and VGA while using the USB keyboard mouse.
    Battery life SMOKES most smartphones I have owned since 2007.

    I can't say it applies to all Ultras, but I still use my Fujistu for the occasional travel.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:38PM (#36141960)

    A computer that could be plugged into a more powerful computer, where it would either use the more powerful comuter's resources or just the more powerful computer's display and input features.

    That would be very cool.

    • A computer that could be plugged into a more powerful computer, where it would either use the more powerful comuter's resources or just the more powerful computer's display and input features.

      Why not just use a more powerful computer to begin with? To work you would need bigger displays available in every location you plan to visit which just isn't likely to happen. Want to work from the local coffee shop? A laptop immediately becomes a better option. You probably are already carrying a smartphone anyway so why carry a redundant compact device that can't make calls?

      I can already plug my netbook into a much higher resolution screen and connect a keyboard and mouse. If I need real horsepower

      • by MarkvW (1037596)

        Nevertheless, the idea of physically carrying all of your data and associated programs with you in a compact format that you can access anywhere is a very appealing idea.

        • Nevertheless, the idea of physically carrying all of your data and associated programs with you in a compact format that you can access anywhere is a very appealing idea.

          Agreed but we already have that or something heading quickly in that direction with smartphones. Just being mobile isn't enough. I can carry all my applications on a USB flash drive but that doesn't make them especially useful. I had a Nokia "smartphone" (an E70) that theoretically could do almost everything an iPhone could do but the interface was so bad that it was basically useless for any real work. The interface matters. Smartphones are going to continue to get more powerful and should serve exact

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Monday May 16, 2011 @01:45PM (#36142016) Homepage

    Making a 'comeback'? You keep using that word, but I am not sure it means what you think it means.

    Seriously, if almost nobody ever bought an 'ultramobile' computer, and if it was a flop ... this isn't a comeback, this is a second attempt at becoming something people care about.

    And, as lots of people have pointed out already ... it sounds an awful lot like current smartphones.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      You have hit the nail squarely with this one. People have been trying to push UMPCs about as long as we've had SMT x86 processors with no success whatsoever.

      Meanwhile, as has been pointed out already in this thread, we're getting dual-core phones now, about to get quad-core ones, they're starting to get HDMI output... The UMPC is here, it just doesn't have an x86 processor, and good riddance. I have nothing against my Phenom II X3 but I'm not married to it either.

  • Maybe the obscurity of these past devices is the reason that this one could potentially flop. Or, maybe people just don't like using PCs with 4 inch screens.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      the price was the thing that killed oqo, toshiba liberetto & others. they were cool devices, but not at that price available to people who would have thought of them as cool devices(kids, teens & nerds, the versatility makes it a potent time killer).

  • It's a tablet. It's a phone. It's something in between. Meh.

    Cut to the chase and offer custom sizes.

    The obvious "why not", is that you can't just take a knife and slice some real estate off a full sized screen. You'd have to source screens in multiple sizes, possibly from different vendors.

    • Cut to the chase and offer custom sizes.

      Costs too much for what is a niche product to begin with. Every option that is offered costs extra to produce and we're not talking small amounts of money either. Part of the reason Apple is able to be so profitable is because they offer relatively few variations and so don't incur the manufacturing, testing, support, logistics and marketing costs.

  • The long battery life is if you are running Symbian. Running Windows goes down to just 2 hours [engadget.com]. My Linux (maemo) phone runs for 1-2 days, its interface is meant for touchscreens and even includes a qwerty keyboard.
  • Size matters (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sootman (158191)

    Many people said "An iPad is just a big iPod touch" and that's technically correct. Also, it is technically correct to say "A swimming pool is just a big bathtub." What some people don't realize is that even if two things are identical in all ways except size, the difference in size alone can make quite a difference in what is possible. You can't swim laps in a bathtub, and you can't deliver the full experience of an app like Pages on a device with a screen that's smaller than a business card.

    Similarly, ful

    • by dfghjk (711126)

      That 1024x768 screen in the iPad makes all the difference compared to the 960x640 display of it's business card sized brother. Just like swimming laps in a bath tub!

      Sounds like a great argument until you actually think about it.

      Now, Windows doesn't work well on tiny screens, that's true, but it's completely unrelated to your pushing of the nonsensical specialness of the iPad. It's also not clear why you think there no common need or big market for a device when you assume that the iPad is needed for some

      • Your logic is amazing!

        I think a billion+ people are now going to return their iPads from the clutches of 10-year-old kids and hospital workers because they find nothing special about an iPad.

        I'm sure those back-orders are a fluke.

      • by sootman (158191)

        That wasn't the point I was making at all. I wasn't setting this up as iPad vs UMPC. I was pointing out that some people thought the iPad was nothing special compared to the iPod, that it was just bigger, but that's not the case. And it works both ways. Making something that's identical to something else, just smaller, does not mean that it's equally good.

        Making the iPod bigger didn't make it just bigger, it made new things possible. Making a PC this small doesn't just make it smaller, it makes it worse. DE

    • That's just like the "porn-star" is technically using the same equipment as the "non porn-star" only, when he folds it in half, it's "just like" the average Slash-dot Johnson.

    • by JackDW (904211)

      Desktop Windows can have different frontends to suit particular applications. "Media Center" would be one example - intended to be displayed on a large TV and operated by remote control from some distance away.

      No reason why there couldn't also be cellphone frontends for desktop Windows. The frontend would do all the smartphone stuff you are used to. But there would be support for regular Windows desktop applications as well. App store optional, no jailbreak necessary, any Windows app will just work.

      Sounds

  • If you put a fresnel lens and a keyboard on it, you could set up a "Brazil" style office.

  • If I could "dock" it and use it like a laptop for work, I'd buy something like that. Though not with Windows. An iPhone with full OS X, more RAM, decent storage (~100GB would be fine), and DVI/HDMI out would rock. Otherwise, there's no point in running a full desktop OS on a phone. Androids and iPhones are doing just fine.
    • by Xacid (560407)

      I'd be game if something like this came with a docking station like the Atrix does.

      Only reason I'm not touching the Atrix right now is the $500 price tag on the docking station.

      I suspect the future of mobile computer is a model similar to that - only something the form of a mobile phone would have the processing power of a mid-range laptop you could get today. I'd love to be able to easily swap from my mobile device to my primary computing device - especially if it could handle gaming to a decent level (I k

  • I didn't think Japanese had ever given up on these kinds of PCs. Sony kept making Windows tablets for quite a while after they had given up on the US market. In fact, I think they probably have never stopped making them.

    I have an old Sony tablet, running XP, which was released back in 2004. It was sitting around at my old company several years ago so I got it for free. I certainly wouldn't have paid the $1,000+ the thing cost when new.

    People seriously underestimate the utility of a full-fledged PC in such a

  • Oh come on. Haven't we learned anything from the horrible resolution debacle that NetBook manufacturers imposed on us by introducing yet another screen resolution? Making screens that are not at least "standard" (1024x768) relegates many programs to either a crippled status or simply makes them extremely inconvenient to use. Many dialog boxes extend beyond a 600 pixel resolution. Pretty much everything is formatted to display properly in at least a 768 vertical resolution. Or are they trying to ride on the

  • Microsoft pushed the UMPC as well as Tablets in the early 00's so they could sell Windows licenses. The only reason they are pushing it again is so they can sell Windows licenses. Windows Phone/Mobile has always been a large flop and nobody wants to use it. There are now devices out between 4-8" that do what I want from a computer that size and they're called cell-phones now. There are devices between 7" and 12" that do what I want from a computer that size and they're called tablets now. Anything larger is

  • And data entry gloves.

    Call me when I can wear it on my hip, see 3200x1600 resolution, and "wiggle my fingers" to type. I.e., it reads my gestures.

    And when it has 16 hours of life, at least.

    --PeterM

  • They're just putting the thing in their lineup.It's not like they are shelling out to produce the thing.

  • by theurge14 (820596)

    It's not a PC unless it has a floppy drive.

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