First Look at the FlipStart

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Taking Stock

First the good news: Some of the FlipStart's specs are startlingly good given its size--better, in some cases, than those of my much bulkier Fujitsu. For instance, it runs a 1-GHz Transmeta Crusoe processor and has 256 MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive, and built-in 802.11G wireless networking.

The screen resolution is 1024 by 600. On first blush, that seemed impossibly high given that it measures only 5.4 inches diagonally; I thought text would be too microscopic to read. But the display on the pre-production model is crisp, colorful, and legible. You wouldn't want to run Photoshop on it, but I could see myself doing e-mail, word processing, or Web browsing without ruining my eyeballs.

Then there's the keyboard--and here's where compromise plays a role as important as ingenuity. It's a QWERTY model, but it feels more like an oversized version of the microscopic one on a BlackBerry handheld than a shrunken notebook keyboard.

The keys on the preproduction model were small, flat, and rubbery; I had to tap out text one character at a time. To some degree, that's intentional--Vulcan believes users won't want to touch-type, but use the device on the go, often cradling it and typing with their thumbs, BlackBerry-style.

"We think use will be 70 percent thumbing, 30 percent typing on something like a table" Fleck says. He adds that production models will have a better keyboard feel than the early model.

On the plus side of input, the FlipStart boasts not one but two pointing devices: A tiny touchpad sitting next to a tiny pointing stick. It also has a thumbwheel for actions such as scrolling through long documents.

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