FlipStart Takes Handhelds Beyond the BlackBerry

If you’ve ever wished you could slip your laptop into your pocket at day’s end, the engineers at Seattle startup Vulcan would like a word with you. The design firm, founded by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, has crafted an unusual miniature computer called FlipStart, which was set to ship in late March.

For $2,000, you can carry full-blown Windows Vista on a computer about the size of a Tolstoy novel. Compared with RIM’s BlackBerry or Palm’s Treo, FlipStart has packed a lot of technology into a small package. But a high price and a slow chip may consign the FlipStart to a market niche or worse—a novelty.

FlipStart runs Windows with an Intel 1.1GHz Pentium M processor and a 30GB hard drive, packed into a 1.75-pound brick. Users get a qwerty keypad and 5.6-inch display, as well as digital camera and stereo speakers. “Flip the lid and there’s your office—in a clamshell,” the company brags.

We’ve heard this song before, and nobody has written it quite right yet for mainstream users. FlipStart and OQO’s Model 02 handheld fall into Gartner’s “one-kilogram wasteland,” a designation for computers weighing between one pound and one kilogram (2.2 pounds), says principal analyst Todd Kort.

FlipStart will be stuck in small market niches alongside Samsung’s ultramobile PC and Sony’s UX “micro PC” until designers improve its heat, chip, battery and price, he says. “There are not many people or enterprises that are willing to spend that much when they can get a much more powerful notebook computer with full keyboard and large display for much less money,” Kort says.

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