I got a FlipStart yesterday. FlipStart is a new Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) device. It’s an extremely small (about 6" by 5", by 1.5" tall) essentially complete PC running Windows XP. See the photo at the bottom of this blog entry. I’ve read a hand full of reviews which approach FlipStart from the perspective of a person who travels a lot (a sales person for example), but I’m looking at FlipStart from the perspective of a software engineer who sometimes travels. My basic question is: "In which situations (if any) will I want to use FlipStart rather than one of my regular laptops?" So, over the next few days, I’m going to experiment by attempting to install and use my standard suite of geek software — including Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005, and Windows PowerShell.
But before I go technical, here are my first subjective impressions. First, the physical form factor. At an initial glance FlipStart does not have an ultra slick look; it’s kind of chubby, especially compared to its competitors. But after using the device by holding it in both hands and by placing it on my desk, I actually like the relative thickness. The FlipStart is a matte black color (as opposed to silver) which also isn’t currently in vogue for chic gadgets. The main usability issues with any UMPC are screen, keyboard, and mouse pointer. The screen is about 4.75" by 2.75" (or about 5.5" diagonal) which is really, really small. My eyesight isn’t that great but I have no problems with the FlipStart screen. FlipStart has a built-in eraser-style pointer device and two very handy left-click, right-click buttons. However, I had trouble getting the built-in pointer to position exactly on screen icons because the icons on the screen are so small. But FlipStart has a small (about 1.5" square) touchpad which works very well. FlipStart has a neat port replicator that plugs into the back, and I put a USB mouse there and much preferred that approach. The keyboard does not lend itself to touch-typing — the keys require quite a bit of oomph. But I am a really bad typist so (like any keyboard) you’ll have to try it yourself.
So, what’s the initial-impression bottom line? The FlipStart packs full laptop-like functionality into an amazingly small package. So far, I like what I’ve seen. FlipStart is quite pricey — about $1999. I have every reason to believe that the FlipStart which host Visual Studio and SQL Server, but after that, the FlipStart’s ultimate usability for me personally will depend entirely on subjective factors that I’ll just have to experience.