Samsung launches Q1 Ultra ultramobile

Ultramobile PCs have often been criticized as falling into a gap between laptops and smartphones, but Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. hopes to change that perception with a reduced price and upgraded performance for its Q1 Ultra.

Samsung first exhibited the Q1 Ultra in March at the Cebit trade show in Germany, but did not set a specific price or launch date until Monday.

Now the company has officially announced it will sell four models of the Q1 Ultra for a range of US$799 to $1,499, significantly below the price range of $1,300 to $2,000 for the original Q1 product. 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 UMPC as a lightweight companion device to a user's desktop or notebook PC, as opposed to a stand-alone computer, and could help it win market share from competitors Sony Corp. and OQO Inc.

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

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

Instead, Samsung hopes to sell the 1.5-pound product to frequent business travelers and to users in vertical markets like sales force automation, field surveys and education. The Q1 Ultra uses Microsoft Corp.'s "Origami" interface, offering 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 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. Combined with an improved type of lithium ion battery, the design extends battery life from a minimum of 1.5 hours to at least 4.5 hours, Berg said.

Previous versions of UMPCs have earned criticism for their short battery life and large size, leaving them stranded between notebooks and smartphones. 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 UMPC or some morphing of that idea will be the same thing," said Stephen Baker, vice president for industry analysis at the NPD Group Inc.

Just as the digital cameras in cell phones have not driven pure cameras out of the market, there may ultimately be room in the market for UMPCs as well as smartphones. "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 600Mhz Intel A100 processor, 40G-byte hard drive and Windows Vista Home Premium. The midrange Q1U-XP version will cost $1,149 with an 800MHz A110 chip, 60G-byte 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, 80G-byte hard drive, Windows Vista Home Premium and HSDPA connectivity. Samsung will sell all four models by August.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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