Watch out, Foleo. There’s a Nanobook behind you. Right behind you. Via Technologies, best known for chipsets and tiny motherboards, has announced a new reference design for budget ultramobile computers.
“$600,” said Richard Brown, VIA’s Global Vice President of Marketing. “We’re taking that market into the mainstream.”
Via’s Nanobook has a 7″ screen, clamshell form factor and a full QWERTY keyboard. Weighing 850g (1.9 lb), the reference design offers a 1.2 GHz VIA C7 CPU, the VX-700 chipset, and up to 1GB of RAM. Connectivity comes with WiFi, BlueTooth, 2 USB ports, DVI, and a 4-in-1 card reader.
The battery will hold out for 4 1/2 hours with Windows XP installed, and somewhat less with Vista. Check out our gallery of Nanobook photos to see how the prototype looks.
If it sounds all too familiar, let’s hear that number again: $600. With features to rival a fully-equipped UMPC, at a price similar to Palm’s smartphone companion, it’s hard to believe.
“It’s real, it’s manufacturable, it’s just about ready,” Brown said.
One unusual feature of the Nanobook will be a USB-based modular expansion panel next to the screen. The aim is to allow the user to hotplug various peripherals, such as WWAN, GPS and VoIP gadgets, so that they won’t protrude from the case.
The product announcement comes with this year’s VIA Technology Forum, the theme of which is “Ultra Mobility,” and which will feature a keynote speech from President and CEO Wenchi Chen on the selfsame subject, followed by another from Otto Berkes, a chief architect of Microsoft’s UMPC spec.
Brown said that a “major customer in Europe” would announce a device using the platform, and a U.S. company would likely do so by the end of June. Though he wouldn’t name names, Packard Bell, still a major force in the E.U., is one of the manufacturers that will be hanging out at the show. The forum will take place tomorrow, June 6, in Taipei.
Though already serious about pocketable PCs — Via technology already powers numerous UMPCs such as the OQO model 02 — the new reference design suggests that the Taiwanese firm now intends to lead rather than follow.
The idea of a pocket-size computer, more akin to a laptop than a PDA, is nothing new. The UMPC platform masterminded by Microsoft is one example, but battery life is notoriously poor and prices often range far beyond the $1,000 mark. Palm’s Foleo minimizes the price at the cost of functionality and connectivity. Microsoft’s earlier Handheld PC platform still lurks in vertical markets, though the spec hasn’t been updated in years.
“It’s very much a niche segment,” Brown said of the extant models, adding that few consumers have even acquainted themselves with ultramobile computers.
By squeezing more capabilities into a cheaper device, VIA’s intent is to aim for something that UMPC makers, and now Palm, have taken pains to avoid: being all things to all people.
“I love the OQO, and I use one myself, but it’s targeted at a certain user base. This is more mass-market,” Brown said. “It’s not a phone companion… We want to keep the market simple.”
Anyone who is into working on the go, VIA hopes, will have reason to grab its new baby instead of, say, a cheap, low-end laptop.
“More and more people are in to content creation,” Brown said. “I’m hoping we’ve found the killer combination.”
Nothing beats side-by-side comparison, so here’s a table I threw together that shows the Nanobook’s features side by side with those of the UMPC and Palm’s Foleo.
Via, Nanobook, Notebook, Laptop