Archive for August, 2006

Thoughts on TabletKiosk i72xx Series

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

TabletKiosk last week announced two new eo UMPCs, the i7209 and i7210. Both models have similar form factors and are re-branded versions of the UMPC marketed in Asia under the Founder brand-name. In some ways, these new models are a step up from the already (and still) available eo v7110, although the older model also still has some key advantages as well.

The key difference between the two TabletKiosk UMPC product lines is the choice of processor and chipset at their core. With the i72xx series, the “i” stands for “Intel” while the “v” in v7110 stands for “Via”. The i7209 is based on the Intel Celeron M while the higher-end i7210 is based on the Intel Pentium M. Both models also use the Intel 915GMS chipset, with integrated DirectX9 3D graphics. Both also have a 1.3 megapixel camera, an SD card slot, and 7.1-channel sound built-in. Finally, these new models also each come with a docking station that provides Ethernet, VGA, S-Video, and additional USB connectors.

These are all nice enhancements over the previous model. The Intel processors and chipsets should provide a decent performance boost over the Via, particularly with the Pentium M based i7210, likely to be the fastest performing UMPC yet available. Until some hands-on reviews of the units start to be circulated, it won’t really be known whether the battery life is better than what was found with the v7110, but improvement is very likely. The better video and sound capabilities should give these new models an advantage over the v7110 for multimedia features, also competing pretty strongly with what the Samsung Q1 offers in this area (other than its instant-on capabilities).

The main area in which the v7110 continues to have a big advantage is customization of the memory and hard-drive configurations. With the older model, you can select configurations of 256MB, 512MB or 1GB of RAM, while the i7209 is only available with 512MB and the i7210 comes with 1GB. Even more significantly, the v7110 uses 2.5” hard drives, which provide a considerably wider range of choices than the 1.8” drives used in the i72xx series. The i7209 comes with a 30GB drive while the i7210 comes with a 60GB, each running at 4,200RPM. Surprisingly, TabletKiosk doesn’t appear to offer the opportunity to customize the i7209 with more memory or a larger hard-drive, although I would think that such upgrades should be possible.

The v7110 is available with hard-drives ranging from 40GB all the way up to 160GB and at speeds of 5,400 or 7,200RPM. Obviously, the v7110 is capable of substantially higher storage capacities and much faster performing drives. They do also offer the ability to send the unit back for later upgrades to the larger drives or memory (at a pretty substantial cost, of course) or the components to perform those upgrades yourself are pretty readily available, assuming you are pretty comfortable with that kind of fairly delicate computer maintenance.

With the faster processors and other added features, the i7xxx series does cost more than the v7110. The i7209 is priced at $1,099 and the i7210 costs $1,399. By comparison, the v7110 starts at $899 for the minimum configuration, with 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. Even if you upgrade the RAM to 512MB to match the i7209, the price is only $998 and that is with a larger, faster hard drive. If you upgrade both the RAM and hard drive to match the i7210, the v7110 comes to $1,239. The price of the v7110 doesn’t exceed that of the i7210 until it is upgraded to either a 100GB 5,400RPM drive or a 60GB 7,200RPM drive, either of which comes to $1,423.

My v7110 has 1GB of RAM and the slower 100GB hard drive, meaning that I paid the above referenced $1,423 price, only $24 more than the i7210. Obviously, if I were purchasing my UMPC today, I would have to give serious consideration about which model to buy. I’m honestly not entirely certain which one I would have chosen if I were making the decision cold, but I don’t regret my purchase. Doing a quick check on my hard-disk, I have about 40GB free currently. That means that trying to carry everything I have on my eo currently, the hard-disk on the i7210 would be completely full with memory cards or external USB drives as the only option for adding additional storage.

I certainly would appreciate the extra processing power, improved multimedia features and, likely, improved battery life of the newer model, but portability of data was really the prime motivation for me purchasing a UMPC. In fact, that is the main reason why I choose the eo over the Samsung Q1. I use my eo to carry around essentially all of my personal and professional documents, my entire digital photo collection, all of my purchased tracks, as well as a fairly large number of tracks that I have ripped from CD at a lossless bit rate. If anything, I suspect that my storage needs on my UMPC are apt to increase, if anything.

While the new models would be more appealing to me if they used the faster, higher-capacity 2.5” hard drives, I still think that they are a strong addition to TabletKiosk’s UMPC line. More importantly, these new models indicate a definite commitment to UMPCs on the part of the company. Already, they have added several new accessories that are compatible with all of the available eo models. I’m sure that these new models will fit the needs of many potential customers better than any others currently available and overall that is a big positive for the UMPC in general.