Will the Litl Make It Big?

The scoop: Litl Internet computer, by litl.com, about $700.

What it is: With recent news about the Internet-connected CrunchPad (now called JooJoo), I thought it was interesting that the litl has already been shipping. Basically the same concept (except this is a notebook rather than a tablet with a touchscreen), the litl is meant to be an Internet computer (or "Webbook"), accessing its applications across the Internet. There's no hard drive for installing applications (there is some small memory for content caching), no optical drive and it runs on a Linux operating system instead of Windows or Macintosh. The UI is a bunch of "note cards" that let users access browser-based Web applications (such as Gmail, YouTube, flick), as well as specifically built Web applications such as an alarm clock or a weather app (there's even a Facebook application that lets you view friends' updates). The design also eliminates many extraneous keys found on notebooks, such as function keys, a number pad (there's no "num lock" key),  allowing for larger keys and making it look easier to use (some may say simplistic). Like a tablet, you can bend the screen backwards to create a digital photo frame-like device, enhancing some of the Web applications (like the clock and weather modules).

Why it's cool: The litl is meant to complement an existing home network -- it's not meant to replace your notebook. Rather, it's meant to be an "always on" device that can be used to quickly access Internet nuggets ("What was the score of the game?" "What's the forecast tomorrow?"), and placed conveniently in a kitchen, family room (on a shelf) or other non-traditional locations. Because many of us only use computers for things such as e-mail, photo sharing, social networking and other Internet-based activities, the litl can be utilized instead of having to boot up a notebook.

Some caveats: At $700, many would say, "Why not just buy a notebook or netbook, and get extra things like a hard drive, printer access and so on?" It's a hard sell for the litl to go against other notebooks for about the same price. As a complement to an existing network, it's still a tough sell, especially for people who have lots of experience with notebooks. In my tests,  the litl would freeze sometimes freeze up, or some of the apps would run slower than what I could do on my notebook.

Bottom line: I like the concept of an Internet-only computer (or Webbook), as it's clear that many people want a notebook that can do things without needing extra stuff. But the price needs to be lower, and the tasks on the device need to equal, if not exceed, the experience you can get from existing systems. It's not totally there yet.

Grade: 3 stars (out of five).

Last-minute 5-star items: The Shure X2u XLR-to-USB signal adapter ($150) is a great way to add a professional microphone to your computer if you're doing lots of sound recording (such as a podcaster like me). Epson's iPrint iPhone app (free!) takes iPhone photos and prints them directly across your home network to any network-connected Epson printer (such as the awesome Artisan 810).

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