Review: Vulcan FlipStart Ultra-Mobile PC

By Troy Dreier

April 15, 2008

This ultra-mobile Wi-Fi-enabled PC is impressive but still overpriced.

This ultra-mobile Wi-Fi-enabled PC is impressive but still overpriced.

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So you didn't care for the Vulcan FlipStart for $1,999 when it was first released in mid-2007. Sure, that was a stretch. But how do you feel about it for $699?

We recently got our hands on the first version of Vulcan's much-anticipated ultra-mobile personal computer (UMPC) and while we're impressed by its features and performance, it's hard to imagine depending on it in real-world situations. Its chicklet-sized keys require thumb-typing and its weight is on the hefty-side for a ultra-mobile device.

The drawbacks point to something more ominous than just an unsuccessful product. If the FlipStart is the best UMPC on the market and it's not attractive at even $699, then maybe the concept of the UMPC is flawed. Maybe consumers don't want a device that fits between a smartphone and a laptop, no matter how cool they sound.

The FlipStart measures 5.9 x 4.5 x 1.6-inches and weighs 1.8 lbs. with its standard high-capacity battery. Buyers can also purchase a slimmer battery (good for 3 hours of power, versus 5 hours for the high-capacity) for $112.99 at checkout.The Vulcan FlipStart, closed.

The screen measures 5.6-inches diagonally, which means that you'll have to hold it close to read text if you're using the default screen font. Just below the screen sits a VGA Web camera, which you can use with the included Vimicro software.

We weren't impressed with picture quality; images came out far too dark. We did like the smaller 1.8-inch, 220 x 176 pixel, secondary screen on the case, though. It makes it simple to see when new e-mails have arrived, even when the device is close.

The keyboard configuration is well thought out and offers every control you could need to work the FlipStart without a mouse. Buyers can add a slimmer, 3-hour battery for $112.99.

The center space is occupied by a QWERTY keyboard with small keys. Thumb typing is better for instant messaging than real work, and just the idea of finishing a report on the FlipStart had our thumbs aching.

Its layout includes not only function keys, but also left- and right-click buttons, a directional navigation button, a track pad, and a pencil eraser-style cursor control. The track pad would have been enough, but this should make ThinkPad veterans happy.

The FlipStart offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Sprint Mobile Broadband for wireless connectivity, but wired connections aren't its strongpoint.

It offers only one USB 2.0 port. It ships with a port replicator, however, which you can use while parked at home. The replicator gives you a VGA connection, Ethernet, two USB ports, and an audio-out jack.

Included port replicator gives the FlipStart greater connectivity.

Running on either Microsoft XP Professional or Windows Vista Business, the FlipStart offers the usual software apps, including Windows Media Player and Messenger, and Movie Maker. You can add Microsoft Office as a built-to-order option when you check out. Otherwise, it comes with a 30-day Office trial.

The FlipStart felt just as fast as a low-end notebook in our testing. It comes with a 1.1-GHz Intel Pentium M processor, a 30GB hard drive, and 512MB RAM. FlipStart also comes with a travel case and earbuds.

There wasn't room in the FlipStart for an optical drive, so if you plan to install programs or load music, pick up the external DVD+/-RW drive at checkout for $169 more.

Rather than fitting comfortably between a smartphone and a notebook, the Flipstart combines the biggest drawbacks of both: it's too small for real work but too large to carry comfortably.

While we're impressed with the ingenuity and execution of the FlipStart, even $699 is a hard sell.

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