Coby’s Midget PC: I can’t look away (and had no comment)

imageThe $100 laptop concept has attracted attention from the likes of high-minded philanthropists, microprocessor giants, Handheld PC revivalists and even an eBay-scavenging Engadget columnist. But it may finally hit US shores this spring courtesy the unassuming and generally publicity-shy drug store shelf spelunkers at Coby — a race to the bottom indeed, even if the vendor of portable cassette boomboxes has been stepping up its digital design game of late. If reports are true (and I have reason to believe they may not be), the $100 Midget PC will run Linux and come with a 7″ screen but will be smaller than the original Eee PC that already tested the limits of keyboard usability.

As I’ve written, Linux-based ultraportables have a lot more potential as a true PC companion once they dip below $300. Consider that at $100, this product would be significantly below the price of most digital cameras and many MP3 players on the market. Still, consumers have higher expectations from devices they expect to achieve at least a modicum of productivity and this product still supposedly has the letters “PC” in its name. . I remember several lower-end competitors to Palm PDAs that never took off, for example, but they never had the draw of mobile Internet access.

So, assuming that the device has Wi-Fi (and if not, it’s a nonstarter or some kind of curiosity), the quality of the browser will be key. Here’s hoping Coby keeps a USB port for transferring some files to and from the device.although I’ll understand if it ditches an SD card reader or VGA out. More important variables are the previously-addressed keyboard and the critical screen. I briefly used a Coby hard drive-based portable video player last year with a low-resolution 7″ screen that was practically unwatchable. But they’ve done other niche products I’ve liked.

One other personally interesting aspect to this rumor is that I am quoted in this story, which seems to be the original source (though I couldn’t tell you what it has to do with Arkansas). However, I never spoke to the piece’s author. The quote is lifted from a New York Times story about Coby that I was interviewed for back in 2006. Also, the device pictured sure looks a lot like the Everex Couldbook. These and other anomalies in the article lead me to question its authenticity.

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