ZuneHD Video MP3 Player, $220
Microsoft's ZuneHD is an excellent alternative to Apple's iPod touch, but not if you like apps or dislike the Windows-only media sync software.
The new model's 3.3-inch, 480x272 multitouch display and compact form prove that MS can get the design right given a couple of tries. ZuneHD's squared-off geometry (53mm x 102 mm x 9 mm) is trendy and unpretentious, and frames a smooth, Tegra-powered user interface. It comes in 16GB or 32GB, black and silver, $220 and $290. Once loaded with music and video, you're all set ... assuming that's all you care about.
Offered with it is a convincing subsription plan: $15 for all you can eat music over WiFi, locally cached, and you get ten keep-'em-forever MP3 downloads each month. ZuneHD's ability to output 14Mbps 720p video over HDMI is a killer app: this tiny PMP, three of which may fit in a deck of cards, is also a serviceable living room media center.
There are annoyances. In bright sunlight, that lovely OLED display disappears behind glassy reflections. Microsoft's bloated software reminds us why it's just not necessary to jazz-up mundane, straightfoward stuff like media organization. ZuneHD doesn't show up as a USB drive, either.
Its lack of an internal speaker is a likely annoyance for those used to the iPod touch: could you imagine having to wear headphones to enjoy games or hear incoming app notifications? Moreover, the first batch of available programs are amateurish and slow to load, with interstitial advertisments playing before they open. Let's not even get started on the lack of a cellphone edition or the platform's obvious superiority to Windows Mobile 6.5.
Get the ZuneHD if you like the looks, run Windows, and don't care about apps.
Zune HD 32 GB Video MP3 Player
Umid mbook, $600Photo: Dynamism.com
Umid's mbook miniaturizes the laptop to the point of near-absurdity: weighing just 0.7 pounds, it's 6" wide, 4" deep, and 0.7" thick. Smaller even than Fujitsu's U-series, it has a 4.8" display, a similarly tiny QWERTY keyboard, and netbookish hardware running Windows XP. Intel's 1.33GHz Atom, 512MB of RAM and a 32GB SSD lurk within. Outside are a microSD card slot and a single micro-USB port.
Assuming you can type on it--and don't assume you'll be comfortable doing so until you've actually used it--other flaws mar it. The hinge only lets it fold back about 130 degrees, making it difficult to view and use two-handed. There's no trackpad or nub, just the touchscreen and a stylus: bearing in mind that XP is not very accessible to touch in any case, finessing that high-PPI 1024x600 display is often a chore. An option for 3G internet would have added some magic.
Finally, there are better-looking MIDs about to hit stores, including Sharp's NetWalker and Nokia's N900. That said, if you want a real computer that fits in a normal
pocket, this is currently the leader of that very small pack.
UMID mbook M1 product page
Lenovo IdeaPad S12, $430
With its 12" display and Via Nano chipset, Lenovo's IdeaPad S12 is larger than most netbooks, but doesn't quite qualify as a mainstream machine. The 1280x800 screen resolution offers 200 more lines than most Atom-based miniatures, and the $430 price tag keeps it competitively priced against them. On the other hand, Windows XP and dismal 3D video performance suggest the same old limitations. 1GB of RAM doesn't go far these days, either.
In practice, the Via processor and HD display do lift the the S12 out of accessory territory, making it a productive and useful machine with an attractive budget price. And if the choppy full-screen YouTubes and lack of HD video get you down, it can be configured (for another $70) to have Nvidia's ION graphics chipset, which adds graphical grunt and 1080p HDMI output.
The design is clean and unfussy, a stout plastic chassis in black or white, with no silly keyboard shenanigans to make typing a pain. BlueTooth, WiFi, a 160GB hard drive, an ExpressCard slot and a 6-cell battery round it out.
Lenovo's S12 hits a sweet spot between compact size and practicality. It'll be most interesting to those who've been turned off by the experience of cheap netbooks, but who are still looking for something small.
Though Richard “Datamancer” Nagy died unexpectedly in 2013, his business partner and family continue to fabricate the extraordinary steampunk designs he pioneered.
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