Often the saying goes “Better late than never”, but I have already reviewed the FlipStart in print, when it was a new product first launched in the UK. At the time, I also provided a review for UK online tech publication “The Register” – which they declined to print. Interestingly despite coverage for many, many similar devices, the FlipStart has warranted only remarks about the “vapourware” nature of the project in 2004, and a grudging acknowledgement of a price reduction at the very end of 2007. Coming in at $699 now, the little FlipStart is a bargain for those that recognise the value of robust design.
With this in mind, here is the original article provided to El Reg, with a couple of changes to reflect current pricing and competition!
In February 2004, The Register featured an announcement from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan VCI firm covering one of the near-release concepts for a planned ‘always on’ MiniPC, the culmination (it seemed) of work Allen started in June 2001! The concept differed vastly from the tablet form factor favoured by the pioneering UMPC devices (predating the UMPC definition), but offered promising specifications for the time including a 1GHz Transmeta CPU and a 1024 x 600 5.8″ ‘HD’ display. Early adopters and eager customers were left hanging for some time – until April 2007, in fact, when the firm released the FlipStart PC V1.0.
The name implies there is more to come, but 12 months since the US launch, the FlipStart still sports the same specification, albeit with a significantly lower price. The form factor will be vaguely familiar to Register readers, as it bears some resemblance to the GD:Itronix GoBook MR-1 announced in September. This is no co-incidence, as the two computers share some intellectual property. The primary design goal of the FlipStart – the small size and weight – has been met with dimensions of 5.9″ x 4.5″ x 1.6″ (reduced to 1.35″ with the slimline battery) and a weight under 1.8lbs.
In the five years since the first MiniPC preview in January 2003, the UMPC market has matured and gained several notable products; the Sony Vaio UX-1WN and OQO Model 02+ being style-conscious and mature options, and the many flavours of Origami derivatives like the Ubiquio 702 and 711 bringing up the lower-cost end of the market. Recently Asus released the Eee, turning the entire market upside-down – the 711 and Sony are no longer marketed heavily and OQO also heavily revised their range and pricing. The MiniPC concept has held up well, although one can’t help but wonder how much market presence has been lost by the delays and the extremely similar external appearance of the system. Only the appearance of a small, 1.8″ external screen on the lid of the device gives any clue to the evolutionary process the original MiniPC has been subjected to in FlipStart’s labs.