First Look at the FlipStart

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA -- The notebook I tote weighs about 3 pounds, which I thought made it a featherweight worth bragging about. Then I tried Vulcan's FlipStart, announced here at the Demo 2004 conference, and suddenly my trusty Fujitsu looks a tad elephantine.

Vulcan, a company owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, doesn't plan to ship the FlipStart until the end of this year. And it isn't saying anything about pricing except that the base unit will cost about as much as a midrange notebook. But the brief time I spent with a pre-production unit at the show was enough to leave me coveting one.

FlipStart isn't the first super-tiny Windows XP computer: Models by OQO and from Antelope also cram PC functionality into cases that might be mistaken for a chunky PDA. The FlipStart, however, comes closer than anything else I've seen to feeling like a truly Lilliputian notebook.

Rod Fleck, Vulcan's director of engineering for mini-PC, predicts the gadget will appeal to super-mobile workers who might otherwise tote a handheld device such as a PocketPC. But the FlipStart is "much more than a PDA," Fleck says, and will also compete with an array of dedicated portable video players due out in 2004.

At 5.8 inches by 4 inches by 1 inch, the device fits in a pocket--at least one unencumbered by a wallet, keys, and other doodads--and with its weight of just 1 pound, you might forget you pocketed it. Squeezing a PC into a case that small requires equal parts ingenuity and compromise.

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