At $1,999, the $83-per-ounce price of the FlipStart PC is less than the
$95-per-ounce you'd expect to pay for Beluga caviar in a good gourmet
store. But it may be more than just the price that's hard to swallow.
The just-larger-than-palm sized Windows PC, created by a company owned by
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is either the first wave of truly
transportable devices, or it's a flip-up BlackBerry with a thyroid
problem. I'm not entirely sure which will hold true.
In concept, the FlipStart, with a 1.1 Ghz Intel processor, a 30 Gigabyte
hard disc drive and 512 Mbytes of RAM, is a great idea. You get a lot of
performance in a tiny package, one which can slip in your briefcase or
purse. There's a built-in wireless broadband capability (FlipStart can't
name the carrier right now) which delivers good online connectivity,
there's a very-necessary Bluetooth connection, and you can plug in
headphones with a microphone that'll let you use Skype or other online
calling services. A small "InfoPane" alerts you to Microsoft Outlook
e-mails when the lid is closed.
As I said, a great concept. In operation, there are hiccups, some of which
may be unavoidable.
First is the 5.6-inch (diagonal) screen. In a tiny device the screen must
be small, but remember, it's Microsoft Windows, or even Windows Vista,
you're displaying here, and not a mobile OS. The screen gets very crowded,
very quickly. Web browsing comes short of melting one's eyes. There is a
"zoom" button on the keyboard that magnifies a section of a screen for
easier viewing, but the novelty wears off quickly.
If you're a BlackBerry addict who is accustomed to typing with your
thumbs, the built-in keyboard might work for you. Regular readers know I
claim "ham handed" status; using this keyboard was a challenge. The $150
Stowaway Bluetooth wireless keyboard from iGo seems like a
The FlipStart's mousing options are nice: a touchpad and a micro-joystick
and two click buttons. I could live with the touchpad, but if one were
going for the wireless keyboard, an extra $80 for the Stowaway wireless
mouse might not be a bad move.
I should note there is an optional miniature docking station which allows
great connectivity to local-area networks, external monitors and USB
devices, and it's very good.
Of course, adding the external keyboard/mouse combo defeats a prime
purpose of the device, that of having everything in one small package,
good to go. Those who can adjust will perhaps endure the challenges. Those
who must get work done regardless may feel differently, however.
Performance-wise, the FlipStart is an excellent PC, running Windows XP
well and including a few features, such as the screen zooming, which are
pleasant enough. However, performance doesn't exist in a vacuum; we don't
buy PCs, most of us, to run benchmark tests and call it a day. The idea
behind the FlipStart is to let you do work, and I wonder how it this PC
can work better.
Some kind of fold-out keyboard, perhaps, even if it increases the bulk
just a bit. Screen magnification remains a problem, because 5.6 inches may
be too small for those who actively remember, say, Richard Nixon's first
inaugural. Maybe if they had some of those video goggles that simulate a
large screen that can plug in to the machine. Oops, there's that
bulking-up thing again.
"Is a puzzlement," as Yul Brynner would say. The FlipStart, which ships
formally next week, is a great idea, but also potentially a great
challenge for users. Details at www.flipstart.com.