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Sunday, 07 January 2007 17:56

New Seamless S-XGen UMPC is not a UMPC at all, but a major disappointment


Perhaps they wanted us to this of it as the sexy gen… but really, although the S-XGen aims to bring a mobile version of Windows to users in an ultra mobile PC format, while still having access to a full keyboard, letting you type and do ‘real work’, it’s not a Windows XP or Vista powered UMPC, but a device that runs on the much more basic Windows Mobile CE 5.0.

The original UMPCs, codenamed ‘Origami’, presented a special version of Windows XP Tablet PC edition of a range of handheld ‘slate’ style tablet ‘screens’ that often had no keyboard, but relied on both stylus use, and a semi-circular ‘thumb board’ that was displayed on screen when you needed to input information.

Of course, being the equivalent of ‘full Windows PCs’ with a 5 to 8-inch LCD touch screen, they could easily have had USB keyboards and mice plugged in, but with most portable keyboards being larger than most of the UMPCs, this was not really a workable compromise, as it removed the truly portable nature of the device, especially if plenty of data entry was required or simply desired.

Now, the S-XGen brings us a fold-out qwerty keyboard, with a 4-inch LCD screen. It looks like one a Pocket PC with a fold-out qwerty keyboard, except that it’s one unit, instead of two.

But instead of running Windows XP Tablet PC edition as you’d expect, it only runs Windows Mobile CE 5.0 with the Mobile Office Mobile Suite, making this device somewhat disappointing.

Priced at US $1400, which is very expensive and would buy you a beautiful laptop, it’s available immediately, but I can’t see too many people buying it at that price, as all it really seems to do is to merge a real keyboard with a souped up Pocket PC device.

The S-XGen is also seriously underpowered compared even with sub US $500 notebooks available in retail stores today, although the S-XGen is infinitely more portable that most notebook and laptop computers.

Set to be unveiled at CES, at least the 8 hour battery life smashes the 2 to 3 hour battery life experienced on true 1st-gen UMPCs, with the real keyboard a major advanced over competing units, although I think I’d prefer a UMPC that ran Vista to the S-XGen. Vista powered UMPCs are set to be unveiled at Vista.

According to Al Reda, President and CEO of Seamless, "Fingers are a terrible thing to waste - especially when you have real work to do. Virtually all UMPCs offer similar applications but all the gadgets in the world are worthless if they are frustrating to use. The S-XGen not only combines a variety of productivity-enhancing digital devices, but does so in a way that turns users into mobile powerhouses not thumb suckers”.

Reda continues that: “The unit's industry-leading eight-hour battery life makes the S-XGen the first "panic-free" mobile device - one that seriously addresses the real needs of today's road warriors whether they are on a plane, held up in a taxi cab or out in the field."
All that is well and good, of course, but you’ll need to either buy special mobile versions of your applications instead of just using your existing software on a regular notebook.

According to Seamless, the S-XGen is a handheld device that eliminates the need for a separate laptop, cellular phone, Tablet PC and PDA. WiFi, Bluetooth and tri-band cellular wireless technology as well as Ethernet connectivity come standard with S-XGen as does both USB and RJ45 input options. That, of course, is true, but it’s still not a real Windows computer.

Built with an Intel PXA 270 Xscale(TM) 520 MHz processor, the base unit includes 256MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. As the press release depressingly reminds us, The S-XGen comes with Microsoft Windows CE 5.0 and is ready to run Microsoft Office Mobile Suite which is included.

If, after all of this, the S-XGen still appeals, you’ll be pleased to know that its total size is approximately 6.5 inches long by 3.8 inches wide, and it weighs only 14 oz.

Further tech specs include a 4-inch TFT 470 x 280 resolution monitor / touch screen, a built-in 280 pixel web video camera and functionality buttons for gaming applications, camera and computing.

Seamless, if you can make a Vista UMPC at this size, I’ll be interested. Given that Sony has created one of the world’s smallest computers that runs Windows XP (and is Vista Capable), I’d be much keener to see that their Vista UMPC is like. The original tiny Sony had a slide-out thumb keyboard, and not the S-XGen's nicer keyboard solution, but who knows what Sony will do with their second version?

For now, unless you need a souped up Pocket PC with its own keyboard, and you don’t want to buy a fold out keyboard for your existing Pocket PC, the S-XGen may well appeal. But for the rest of us, this is one product that will sink without a trace.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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