Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Latest crop of Micro Laptops

I have been an enthusiastic buyer of micro laptops for years. To me they represent something small and light I can carry around and have a full internet surfing experience on the go, as well as loads of fun.

I have my main uber-pc at home (quad core, 8gb memory, stripped down, no anti-virus, no msn messenger, etc.) for playing games and video decoding, so with my trusty micro-laptops I can be more casual with software, particularly communication and news software.

My first micro laptop, technically, was the Atari portfolio many, many years ago :) . This was hardly powerful enough to do anything, but was exciting in the potential it represented to have fun on the go.

My first real UMPC was the Samsung Q1, over 2 years ago. This had a 900 celeron and optimistically, Windows Vista. It was great for its time, giving me full internet surfing everywhere and a useful compact flash socket to backup my DSLR pictures. The drawbacks were the 800x480 screen (which I swore I would never get again, which is why I skipped the Asus eee 701) and no keyboard.

My second UMPC was a Vye S37. In hindsight I would not have purchased it (at £650) if I knew that the new wave of £300 UMPCs would be round the corner. But hindsight is a wonderful thing :(

The Vys S37 is an extremely well built, quality micro-laptop. It has a tiny 7" 1024x768 screen and is under 1kg. The cpu was a 600Mhz Intel pentium, but surprisingly ran Vista adequately and XP better. It has a compact flash and SD card socket for those precious photo backups. I stopped using this as I lost the mains cable on holiday, and the new UMPCs cost only twice as much as a new mains cable, so an opportunity to spend :)

My next UMPC purchase was an impulse buy, and therefore a mistake, as most of my impulse buys are. it was the eee PC900. I jumped on this due to weight, size and the new 8.9" 1024x600 screen. Its a lovely device and useful for kids and as a internet carry around. However my disappointments were as follows:
1. Good, but tricky keyboard to write long documents (I guess I didn't expect anything else)
2. Reducement of enjoyment due to SSD. Unless there is a big technology breakthrough, I will not be buying a SSD device again. Your enjoyment of the device is considerably reduced due to worry about installing and re-installing things, in terms of longivity. In addition, a C drive of 4gb is limiting.
3. No way of upgrading to HDD.
4. Battery life is terrible (whatever the reviews say). I usually get only 2 hours.

I'd just like to say the screen is nice, the size and weight of the device is great and Xandros linux works very well. Vodafone make linux drivers for their 3G sticks, and there is even a special Xandros eee one. The other good thing about the eee is the sheer internet support for it.

On to my latest purchase, an Advent 4211, which is a rebadged version of the MSI Wind.

I really feel that the MSI Wind is the first maturity of the micro laptop device. its excellent and I strongly recommend it. Firstly, to get the bad things out of the way, the battery is the main blot on the landscape. Its only 2200 MAh. Surprisingly it lasts for 2 hours, the same as the eee pc 900 on a 4400 MAh battery - weird !
So my next purchase will be a 6 cell battery when they come out.
Other downside is MSI obsession with not providing a neat cover to upgrade the memory. Although its not too difficult, you still have to take the whole back off to do it!
However, the good things about the MSI Wind are as follows;
1. Fantastic keyboard. I have not typed so well on a full size keyboard, let alone a micro-one like this.
2. super bright 10" screen. nicer then a 8.9" and light years away from a 7" one.
3. Bluetooth - yes, finally, an optional connection with my mobile phone.
4. Lightweight, seems to be same as eee PC900
5. Atom 1.6mhz cpu is super fast. I didn't realise before its hyperthreaded (2 pseudo cpus). Whilst this does not help with games, it does help with running multiple applications and certain other applications that are multithreaded.
6. XP. Yes I know, Linux is cooler and runs fine. But its so good being able to install all the programs, messengers, news, utilities and other programs I use. And whatever the Linux afficienados say, its tricky in linux to add hardware and you are constantly mucking around with .conf files and other text definition files.
7. 80gb hard disk. Hooray - no SSD

All-in-all the Wind is the best of the current crop and comes highly recommend. Especially in the Medion E1210 and Advent 4211 rebadged form, as they are cheaper (although you don't get the "pouch").

The other UMPC to recommend is the Acer Aspire One. slight more expensive and only 8.9" screen, but smaller and 120gb hard disk. Also the HP 2113 (slow via c7 cpu though!), slower, heavier but better made and also 1280x768 screen.