The UMPC’s (Ultra Mobile PC) Place in a Writer’s World

January 21, 2009

Sony Vaio P Series

You’ve all seen them – those ultra portable computers, with ultra small screens and keyboards that fit darn near anywhere.   What writer in their right mind would actually make use of such technology?  Actually…there is good reason to look closer at this technology.  On the heels of CES 2009 (where new UMPCs like Sony Vaio’s P Series made its debut) I think it’s important to shed light on these devices and how they can be great for writers. 

What qualifies as "ultra mobile"?  The intro of the netbook has blurred the lines,  but UMPC’s generally start with a  7" screen and go down to as little as 4.5".  Anything smaller usually falls into smartphone territory. 

Fujitsu U820 UMPC

UMPCs are first cousins to netbooks.  Most of them are using the same Intel processor chip – Atom.   Just like netbooks, power is not king in the land of UMPCs. These little devices are very mobile and they are designed to do one thing very well – access the web.  But just like any computer most come equipped with USB inputs, a VGA port for extended monitors and projectors, SD card readers, Bluetooth, Wi-fi, ethernet, cameras, etc.  They also have ample hard drive space (as much as 160GB+).  If the machine is running Vista, make sure it has at least 2GB RAM.  Some OEMs will still allow you to order their UMPCs with Windows XP.

Types of keyboards:

Does Keyboard Matter?
Absolutely.  However, it’s based on personal preference.   For the sake of a writer’s sanity I highly suggest you stay away from touchscreen keyboards.   If you use a BlackBerry or a smartphone with a tactile keyboard you have most likely developed a motor skill.  After awhile you stop looking at the keyboard and rely upon TOUCH and a faint sense of SOUND – an on-screen keyboard completely shelves that motor skill.  This can be very frustrating for writers trying to adhere to a writer’s 2nd commandment – Let nothing disrupt the flow!

Can I use a UMPC as my main computer?
Yes.  Writer’s don’t need powerhouse computers.  For the most part, you’re using computer technology for word processing, email, music, photos and to access the web.  Basically, your ideal in-home setup would require an extended monitor, a docking station and a wireless full-size keyboard and mouse. 



Six Writer UMPC Scenario Usages

Scenario #1:  [Cafe] You’re at a cafe you frequent every Saturday just to get out of your writing headquarters and be amongst warm-blooded earthlings. Your friend is twenty minutes late.   Suddenly a thought… What time is Meryl Streep’s new movie playing? This would be a great time to respond to a few emails.  Let me make a Skype call to Freddy in England. In other words, a UMPC can actually serve as an excuse to give yourself a much needed break by not having access to your main computer.  There are many type-A personalities who have to safeguard against themselves.
Scenario #2:  [Travel] You’re out having fun with friends at Pike Place Market. You had the good sense to lock your laptop with your latest greatest novel in the hotel safe.  However, you need information on Rachel Ray’s restaurant suggestions for Seattle and need to access the internet.  In this case a UMPC protects your writing laptop by serving as an alternative for when you still need the web.

Scenario #3: [Hiking] You’re half way up Mount Kilimanjaro and the idea for your next screenplay just popped into  your head. You quickly turn into a Detrol commercial "Gotta go, gotta go write now".  Unless you intended this revelation, chances are you didn’t pack your main laptop.  Always having a UMPC handy takes care of Detrol Writer’s Syndrome.

Scenario #4: [2-Do List] Writing a novel is your dream and you just need to find the time to finish.  At home you have a desktop that anchors you to your desk.  However, there is that 35 minutes a day you find yourself in that damn one-way pickup line waiting for your offspring to swarm the car.  Thirty-five minutes a day = almost 3 hours a week extra writing time…hmm, this could be another check on my 2-Do list!  Two-hour kid’s soccer practice + UMPC = Ooh now we’re talking. 

Scenario #5 [Moonlighting] It’s typical to find burgeoning writers moonlighting as security guards, substitute teachers, secretary temps, etc – all positions that offer downtime or dull-time.  I use to substitute teach to subsidize my living costs while earning my masters degree.  This was years ago, so during my lunch break I would bring a pad and pencil and handwrite scenes that I would later retype when I returned home to my computer. That’s so…1998!

Scenario #6 [On Assignment]
The truth is not all writing assignments are ideal.  Maybe you find yourself in a high crime, third-world hotel where you’re forced to carry even your toothbrush when you leave the room. Perhaps you’re a movie critic or a restaurant critic who could boost your viewership by offering real-time critiques with videos to boot.  Many UMPC’s come with built-in cameras.  Take pictures of the meal, the waitress, and the dirty fork with egg remnants stuck between the prongs.  

Fujitsu P1620

Where do I start my research?

  • The most comprehensive comparison chart I found was at UMPC Portal.  Note: By default the page is set to display 30 products. Select "All" to see the full scope of choices out there.
  • Also check out  Their website is terrible with Firefox so use Safari or IE.  Go to this page and scroll down to the 7" and smaller screen size.
  • Lastly, Linda at Ultra Mobile PCs hasn’t updated this page in a while but it’s a good start with solid tech stats.

What UMPC do you recommend Robin?
It all depends on your budget and needs.  Don’t let anyone tell you "this is the best UMPC on the market".  I purchased the Fujitsu P1510 tablet pc (predecessor to the P1620 shown above) and installed both Final Draft and Movie Magic.  I loved it! 

Video Links:
Sony Vaio P Series

OQO Model 2+


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

CountryTechman January 22, 2009 at 10:04 pm

This is a damn good article spun perfect for writers. Rarely do I see bloggers customize topics for any particular group.


Robin January 23, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Before starting Founders’ Blog we noticed that 90% of tech blogs just wrote about the gadget of the day rather than how it applied to the reader’s lifestyle. I hope we’re helping writers bridge the gap between what they do and technology. Thanks for the comment.


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