One thing that has been lost is the Transmeta CPU. FlipStart utilises a Pentium-M ULV at 1.1GHz backed up by an Intel GMA 915 chipset and Realtek HD audio, offering surprisingly snappy performance – notable given the only memory option is a meagre 512MB, and this is claimed not to be upgradable. A similarly small shock-mounted 30GB HD provides adequate space for Windows XP and a handful of applications, but fails to match up to the capacities offered by the competition – when devices like the iPod are carrying 160GB drives and OQO are announcing 120GB options, it feels like this premium product is being given quite a short specification.
The small RAM and HD don’t seem to hamper performance even when running the sort of applications I’d use a small PC for – processing RAW files from high-end digital cameras like the Mamiya ZD and Hasselblad H3D in Adobe Lightroom. The performance isn’t staggering, or comparable to similarly-priced conventional laptops, but it is adequate. Being able to reduce the size and weight of kit a professional photographer needs to carry is quite worthwhile. I had the opportunity to put several UMPC devices to this task, and the FlipStart was comfortably the fastest I have used myself, outperforming the OQO Model 02 and Ubiquio 702.
This responsive feel is backed up with a PCMark05 performance of 1240 – slow by desktop standards, but comparable with a modern budget laptop, and indicative of a system which will handle pretty much any office administration or mobile worker’s demands. Surprisingly, with appropriate levels of detail, it also handled World Of Warcraft sufficiently for it to be playable.
Using FlipStart is slightly different to conventional UMPC devices due to the lack of a touch screen. Initially, I did keep wanting to tap the 220dpi, 5.6″ display despite the presence of a trackpad and a thumbstick. Both these, and the pleasingly full-featured keyboard, are designed with real world use in mind – the pointing devices are above the keyboard, providing a natural location for your thumbs when holding the device at the expense of having to ‘reach’ over the keyboard when using the system on a desk. Thumbs are also considered with such simple things as the design of the shift keys (yes – two shift keys), which are larger and clearly intended to be held with the thumb of either hand, making typing well-formatted documents on the small but well spaced keys considerably easier than the stylised ‘chiclet’ keyboards of many UMPC devices. Mouse-clicks are provided by a pair of substantial buttons on the opposite side and complemented by tap capability on the trackpad.
The lack of a touchscreen provides one of the benefits the FlipStart has for working with images (or viewing media) – there are fewer layers between your eye and the surprisingly fine LCD. Colour performance is very good for a handheld device screen and comparing with touch-screen equipped devices, there is a lack of moiré that makes the 220dpi resolution vastly more comfortable. I’m not blessed with great eyesight and I found the tiny display comfortable, and the intuitive zoom function made up for when it was not.
Additional controls come in the form of a series of small media control buttons on the edge of the screen, and a jog wheel/esc button combination on the right rear, designed to fall neatly under your index finger. These controls have three functions, providing a scroll wheel and click in most Windows applications, a rapid access control to change the Zoom level when combined with the zoom button on the keyboard – which allows individual windows to be expanded and magnified, then dropped, very quickly – and as a control for the InfoPane display on the rear of the display or companion Navigator menu system.
When closed, the FlipStart will go into standby much like any other laptop. Whilst it was running and assuming you have been using Microsoft Outlook, the FlipStart Navigator software synchronises the InfoPane’s information, and can be set to wake the sleeping FlipStart, check mail, and resync before returning to standby at predetermined intervals. You can check the display at any time by tapping the scrollwheel control, and then navigate email, appointments and contact information on the secondary display without having to wake the device. This extends the battery life for a useful day of ‘keeping in touch’ such that the FlipStart can be used for a full day quite comfortably, only waking it to reply to urgent emails for example. The drawback of this system is that it will only work with Outlook 2003. Despite early rumours suggesting it would double as a media display for music playback control when closed, its functionality is limited to this Outlook replication at present.