Samsung launches Q1 Ultra ultramobile

Ultra mobile PC has lower price, stronger performance

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Ultramobile PCs have often been criticized as falling into a gap between laptops and smart phones, but Samsung Electronics Co. hopes to change that perception with its Q1 Ultra, which features a lower price and better performance than its predecessor.

Samsung first exhibited the Q1 Ultra in March at the CeBIT trade show in Germany, but it didn't set a specific price or launch date until Monday.

The company said it will sell four models of the Q1 Ultra at prices ranging from $799 to $1,499, significantly below the price range of the original Q1, which cost $1,300 to $2,000. Samsung made the announcement at a press conference in New York and posted additional details online.

The lower price also helps Samsung to pitch its ultramobile PC as a lightweight companion device to desktop or notebook PCs, and it could help Samsung win market share from competitors Sony Corp. and OQO Inc.

The Q1 Ultra has the same 7-in. display as the Q1, but it features a new split QWERTY keypad for thumb-texting, offering similar operation to Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry or Palm Inc.'s Treo smart phones. It also has 802.11 wireless networking and optional HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) cellular connectivity, but Samsung was careful to avoid comparing the Q1 to a smart phone.

"A smart phone will always be the ideal platform to be used as a phone. I would never suggest the [ultramobile PC] as a phone replacement; it's just too big to fit in your pocket," said Bret Berg, Samsung's senior product marketing manager for mobile computing.

Instead, Samsung hopes to sell the 1.5-lb. product to frequent business travelers and to users of sales force automation systems, as well as those who, for example, conduct field surveys and work in education. The Q1 Ultra uses Microsoft Corp.'s Origami interface, which offers a touch-screen version of Windows XP or Vista that allows users to perform most PC functions, from editing Excel spreadsheets to writing Word documents or answering e-mail, Berg said.

Samsung said participants in its focus groups had complained they found it too difficult to do those tasks on competing devices like the Sony Vaio Micro PC UX, the OQO model 02 and products from FlipStart Labs, Motion Computing Inc. and Tablet Kiosk.

The Q1 Ultra uses Intel Corp.'s new "McCaslin" A100 and A110 ultramobile processors instead of the power-hungry Celeron and Pentium chips used in the first-generation Q1. Combined with an improved type of lithium ion battery, the design extends battery life to at least 4.5 hours, Berg said.

Previous versions of ultramobile PCs have been criticized for their short battery life and large size, leaving them stranded between notebooks and smart phones. But the Q1 Ultra is drawing nearer to a winning design, one analyst said.

"The technology business is littered with the corpses of initially failed ideas that came back again to be huge successes. I think the [ultramobile] PC or some morphing of that idea will be the same thing," said Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Group Inc.

Just as digital cameras in cell phones have not driven pure cameras out of the market, there may ultimately be room in the market for both ultramobile PCs and smart phones. "Convergence doesn't mean you have to fit every single function onto every single device," Baker said.

Samsung will sell an entry-level version of the Q1 Ultra called the Q1U-EL for $799 including a 600-MHz Intel A100 processor, 40GB hard drive and Windows Vista Home Premium. The midrange Q1U-XP version will cost $1,149 with an 800-MHz A110 chip, 60GB hard drive and Windows Vista Tablet Edition. The similar Q1U-V will cost $1,199 with Windows Vista Home Premium. And the Q1U-CMW will cost $1,499 with the A110 chip, 80GB hard drive, Windows Vista Home Premium and HSDPA connectivity. Samsung will sell all four models by August.

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