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Who Wants Samsung's Q1 For Vista Ultramobile PC? (I Do.)

You gotta hand it to Samsung, a company which doesn't fear to tread in areas others have pursued without much success. Take its new Ultra-Mobile PC (please).
You gotta hand it to Samsung, a company which doesn't fear to tread in areas others have pursued without much success. Take its new Ultra-Mobile PC (please).The UMPC is a platform which seemingly has had nine lives. Unfortunately, none of them have caught fire with consumers. In early 2006, there was lots of buzz surrounding what Microsoft was calling its Origami platform. Little was heard after that.

Now, as best as I can tell, the UMPC has emerged in two different forms. One is Origami-like in that it's pretty much a laptop stripped of its keyboard and squeezed into a slightly smaller form-factor. The second is a platform from Intel called the Mobile Internet Device.

In unfolding Origami for 2007, Microsoft has taken that moniker and placed it below the Ultra-Mobile name, as you can see on its Web page, which touts the "Ultra-Mobile PC with Origami Experience."

That's the kind of machine Samsung is doing. Samsung previewed its UMPC last month at Intel's Developer Forum in Beijing. On Monday, it formally debuted the device, which can run Windows Vista. Although it's mobile, I don't think you can really call it ultra-mobile, because it won't fit in your pocket like a BlackBerry.

Why you would want a system that's not much smaller than a laptop but doesn't have a keyboard is beyond me. What we really need in the United States are the really cool, ultra-portable laptops sold in Japan. There's a wide range of these machines, from the likes of Sony, Toshiba, and others. The vendors don't pretend they're anything they're not, and they're not cheap. Au contraire: Most cost upward of $3,000. For some strange reason, most are not sold State-side.

As a loyal user of the Toshiba Libretto in the mid-1990s who hasn't found anything to replace it, I would snap one up in a minute (or try to convince my employer to buy me one for "work.")

However, UMPCs like the Samsung Q1 just seem too darn big to me, and destined to wind up like the highly touted Tablet PC platform introduced in November 2002. (To be fair, tablets have found a home in some mobile business applications. Even there, though, they're outpaced by the smaller, Symbol Technology-style handhelds such as those used by FedEx delivery personnel.)

Much more attractive than the UMPC is Intel's MID platform. Not that this thing isn't confusing enough on its own. At Intel's Spring Analyst Meeting last week, the chipmaker seemed to use the terms MID and UMPC interchangably.

At least, I came away from the Intel talk convinced that the UMPC was a small device. It's only when you parse Intel's Web pages that you see that UMPC is bigger, MID smaller. OK, I've got it now.

The MID is supposed to be a kind of Smartphone on steroids. (The UMPC is kind of, too, but I think "laptop on a diet" is probably a better way of putting it.) The thinking behind MID is that people are unhappy with the Web experience they get on their BlackBerrys and Treos and would be happier with a handheld which provides a better browsing experience. Not surprisingly, those handhelds would contain processors made by Intel.

Despite my jaded take on the UMPC, I want to give props to Samsung. The Korean electronics company is always game to try to make a go of it in areas where others fear to tread. Take its YP-Z5 MP3 player. It's a great device, and a worthy alternative to the iPod, especially if you'd rather use subscription services like Urge instead of iTunes' pay-as-you-go model. However, the Yepp hasn't taken any kind of bite out of Apple's market share.

I do like Samsung's use of the Q1 designation for its UMPC. It makes me think of OQO, the company which set the bar for mobility when it introduced its Model 01 (not "Q1") in late 2004. They're also in the Vista UMPC market, with a one-pound model called the 02, which will face competition from the Samsung.

OK, I changed my mind. Send me one of each.