Dopod U1000: More than an ultramobile PC

Dopod International Corp. unveiled its U1000 on Tuesday. Although it could be mistaken for an ultramobile PC, the device offers far more.

The U1000 is everything an ultramobile PC should be, with a 5-in. touch screen, an 8GB hard drive and PC functionality. But it fits in your pocket, and you can use it as a mobile phone.

One of the coolest things you notice right away about the U1000 is its magnetic QWERTY keypad. It attaches magnetically to the face of the U1000, to protect the screen. To use it, you pull the keyboard off and set it flat, then set the screen part upright in a slot. They lock together and look like an open laptop.

It might be easy to compare the device to an ultramobile PC, and although a lot of Web sites do, it's not.

The U1000 is manufactured by High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC), which markets its products through Dopod. Instead of following the Microsoft Corp. model for an ultramobile PC, HTC looked at the design from its perspective as a smart-phone/handheld device maker. It enlarged a smart phone; figured out a way to make it perform like a laptop and a mobile phone; and added a 3-megapixel camera, speakers for music, a Global Positioning System receiver and more.

Using internal flash memory for storing photos and songs, instead of a hard disk, shows the company was thinking of precious battery life. Flash memory and the use of Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Edition as its operating system ensures longer battery life than, say, an ultramobile PC with a hard disk drive and Windows Tablet Edition, said Leo Hsieh, product manager at Dopod, on the sidelines of the U1000 launch event.

Flash memory performs the same function as a hard disk drive but without any moving parts, saving electricity. And users requiring more memory than the U1000 comes with will like the MiniSD drive, which can take cards up to 4GB in capacity.

As a mobile phone, the U1000 boasts 300 hours of standby time, 5.5 hours of talk time on quad-band GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications, 850/900/1800/1900) or GPRS/EDGE (General Packet Radio Service/Enhanced data rates for GSM evolution). Other alternatives include 4.5 hours of talk/Internet time with 3G (third-generation) service, Universal Mobile Telecommunications System or a standard with slightly faster download speeds known as 3.5G, High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA).

Users can talk into the device itself, which would be kind of awkward considering it's about the size of a paperback book, or they can connect an earphone or a hands-free Bluetooth headset.

The mobile-phone function isn't the only way to make calls using the device. The U1000s on display all had Skype Technologies SA's voice-over-IP software on board, so users could make low-cost or free voice calls over the Internet. There are a few ways to connect to the Internet using the U1000, and the device has a hot key on board that will find the most convenient way on its own. It will search for wireless networks such as HSDPA or connect to a wireless LAN if one is available.

The U1000 has a lot of computing functions. During his introduction of the device, Hsieh hooked his U1000 directly to a digital projector and showed his PowerPoint presentation from it. It runs mostly mobile versions of Microsoft software, including Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Outlook Mobile with Direct Push Mail.

As a media device, it can play music through headphones, external speakers or an internal pair. It can play songs for up to 12 hours or video for up to eight hours. Windows Media Audio files and Windows Media Video files were used during battery testing for Dopod, but the onboard Windows Media Player 10 Mobile can handle many other formats.

The only drawbacks to the U1000 were its screen and price. The U1000 nearly has it all, but the plain vanilla LCD screen could have been improved with an LED backlight, which is what gives the PlayStation Portable such a nice picture. But adding an LED backlight would have probably added to the already hefty price tag: 39,900 New Taiwan dollars ($1,211 U.S.).

The Dopod U1000 is currently only available in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but the company plans to roll it out in other parts of Asia over the next few months. The device, also known at HTC by the code-name Athena, will also be launched in Europe by T-Mobile International AG as the Ameo. Taiwan-based HTC is the largest developer of handsets that run Microsoft Windows Mobile.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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