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When Fantasy and Reality Collide

Here we go again. Another Star Trek inspired gizmo. The Ultra Mobile PC.

Star Trek fans will instantly recognise the idea. You have an A5ish sized object in your hand that’s almost entirely screen. You read from it, you prod at it. It is your constant companion, your way into any bit of information you might need.

Anyone who remembers Deep Space Nine (my favourite Star Trek spin off, but we can argue about that later), will recall young Jake Sisko’s early forays into writing being done on one of these.

Other, less, er, dedicated fans, will surely get mental images of various characters wandering around holding the ubiquitous object and staring at its contents, obviously getting precisely the information they want from it.

Lord knows how the things are fed with data in the first place. We never see one of them docked, as far as I am aware. I suppose we have to assume that they get their info wirelessly, though such technicalities don’t trouble the characters on screen or, I’ll bet, many of the viewers.

Before you all start emailing in your droves, I am aware that there are many places on the Web that you can go to find out whether any of the stuff seen in Star Trek is feasible, and if you want treeware, then try The Physics of Star Trek, a book I once owned myself.

But the veracity or otherwise of Star Trek tech is not my point here. I’m interested in the clash between what it suggests might be possible, and real life.

I’ve always hankered after a tablety device like Jake Sisko’s. PDAs are, in many ways a small version of the idea, in both size and capability. They fulfil my hankering up to a point. I can carry information on them, read books on them, and, when within the reach of my network stream to them. Around the house I am, to an extent, in a Star Trek world with ubiquitous access to my own universe of information and to the universe that is the Web. Great.

Enter the Ultra Mobile PC, Microsoft’s new attempt to get me closer to my Star Trek ideal. The theory is compelling. Smaller than a notebook computer, bigger than a PDA. All screen and no keyboard. All singing and dancing too? Maybe.

The Ultra Mobile PC made its debut as a tangible product at the huge CeBIT show in Hanover in March, and the TrustedReviews crew got their hands on one of the announced machines, the Samsung Q1.

I wasn’t so lucky, and have to rely for the moment on looking at pictures on the Web and reading the official information. I have to say, that I’m not all that convinced about the Ultra Mobile PC being my Star Trek device.

Looking at Microsoft’s Ultra Mobile PC Web pages, first impressions are certainly compelling.

“The Ultra-Mobile PC is a new kind of computer……. with small, lightweight, carry-everywhere hardware designs, you can connect and communicate, accomplish any task anywhere and at any time, and be entertained and informed wherever life takes you.”

Sounds great, and some of the specs certainly add to the feeling that this is a go-anywhere, do anything type of device. WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, music playback, movie playback, gaming, touch screen, PC synch. Microsoft suggests the devices will weigh around 2lbs (under 1kg) and have 800 x 600 pixel, 7in touch sensitive screens.

So far, so good. The Ultra Mobile PC runs Windows XP Tablet Edition, with a special overlay called the Touch Pack, which provides a program launcher designed to be easy to prod at with fingers. From the look of things here simplicity and clarity are at the forefront, and you can customise the interface so that the stuff you use regularly is easily accessible, which is nice.

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