GigaOm’s Om Malik has a nice, thoughtful article on mini-notebooks. And it kind of misses the point. Malik says he spent a few hours playing with an HP Mini-Note before giving up on it. Not because it wasn’t fast enough or capable enough. The version he was using ran Windows XP, had a good keyboard, and felt zippy. But he decided it was too heavy, took too long to boot up, and got too hot.

I’ll grant him the heat issue. It’s a well documented problem with the Mini-Note. But complaining that a laptop takes too long to boot Windows XP (which the Mini-Note does in under 60 seconds) and claiming that ultraportables should have instant-on features kind of misses the point. We already have instant-on devices. They’re called cellphones and PDAs. And they can’t do half of what a good computer can.

Malik wrote a 10-point wish list, and for the most part, it looks like he was describing an HP Jornada 728, a Windows CE-based handheld clamshell device that’s been out of production for years. It had instant-on features, weighed less than a pound, had a full (albeit tiny) keyboard, and could connect to the internet via Ethernet or a PCMCIA WiFi card. But there was one major problem: It didn’t run the applications you really needed on the go.

While many PC makers are touting this new class of netbook as something other than a computer, part of the reason they’ve caught on is precisely because they are computers. You can run Ubuntu, Windows XP, Windows Vista, even OS X on them. You can run Office, OpenOffice, Firefox, and other software. If you want a tiny computer for making Skype video calls on the go, you’ve got it. Want to do some light digital audio editing? No problem. Want to view and create PowerPoint presentations? Sure, why not. It’s a mistake to think of a 7-10 inch clamshell PC with an Intel, VIA, or AMD chip as a portable web browser, when it’s capable of being so much more.

Not that I wouldn’t love an instant-on machine. But Asus and other PC makers are addressing this by adding “SplashTop” and other feature that let you boot into a Linux-based OS in a matter of seconds and browse the web, use Skype, and do a few other basic tasks. When you need the full operating system, though, it’s nice to know that it’s available.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved the JP Jornada, NEC MobilePro, and other old school palmtop devices. But I think the HP Mini-Note, Asus Eee PC, and MSI Wind are completely different. They’re full computers packed into a tiny case and wrapped up with a small price tag.

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4 replies on “Om Malik takes on the mini-note, misses the point”

  1. My Fujitsu Lifebook, running linux, and a whole string of Powerbooks/MacBooks I’ve owned – all have great sleep functionality. For all intents and purposes they are “instant-on”. I know there’s a small power drain in sleep mode, but for my use that’s negligible. The only time I have to reboot my machines are occasionally after installing software. Otherwise, they just sleep.

    I know that Windows also has some kind of sleep functionality, but I have minimal (and non-flattering) experience with it, so I’ll leave that for others to comment on.

  2. I also agree. I still use my Jornada 720 for light typing, but lets face it the software that it comes with is nothing compared to the Asus EEE PC or any other UMPC for that matter.

  3. I agree with you, Brad. As a former owner of NEC MobilePro Handheld and Toshiba e740 Pocket PC, I appreciate instant-on, but software was so limited on these PDAs and you couldn’t (easily) put Linux on them. For ultraportability without sacrificing functonality, I am almost totally happy with my EeePC 701. I say “almost” because I can’t wait for the MSI Wind so I can add both Ubuntu and SuSE to XP for a triple boot.

    1. I still keep a Dell Axim X50v in my pocket for whenever I need an instant on
      device for looking up phone numbers, scheduling appointments, playing a
      game, checking my email (over WiFi), jotting down notes, listening to MP3s,
      or watching movies. But as much as I wanted to love the MobilePro and
      Jornada handhelds, I only ever really used them for note-taking.

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