- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

At $1,999, the FlipStart PC costs $12 an ounce less than the $95 you might expect to pay for Beluga caviar. But it could be more than just the FlipStart’s price that is 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 in the wave of truly transportable devices, or it’s a flip-up BlackBerry with a thyroid problem.

I’m not sure which will hold true.

In concept, the FlipStart, with a 1.1 GHz Intel processor, a 30-gigabyte hard disk drive and 512 megabytes 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) that delivers good online connectivity, there’s a very-necessary Bluetooth connection, and you can plug in headphones with a microphone that will let you use Skype or other online calling services. A small “InfoPane” alerts you to Microsoft Outlook e-mails when the lid is closed.

In operation, there are hiccups, some of which may be unavoidable.

First is the screen measurement: 5.6 inches, diagonally. In a tiny device the screen must be small, but remember, it’s Microsoft Windows, or even Windows Vista, you are 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 are 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 necessary.

The FlipStart’s mousing options are nice: a touchpad and a microjoystick 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.

There is an optional miniature docking station, which allows great connectivity to local-area networks, external monitors and USB devices.

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.

Performancewise, 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 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. 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 actor Yul Brynner used to say. The FlipStart, which ships formally next week, is a great idea, but also potentially a great challenge for users. Details are at www.flipstart.com.

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