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A completely academic guide to ultramobile jargon

OQO model 02OMG, GMTA! Engadget and Gizmodo have both posted mini-treatises (the latter less mini) on terminology for small, inexpensive notebooks, answering the call of a comment on one of my posts a while back.

Analysts love to put things in boxes (and I deal with my share), but I think it’s probably too early to start getting into semantic taxonomies. That may be prejudiced by working at a firm that substantially tracks technology products after they ship and often after they reach a high enough volumes to penetrate retail. Nevertheless, the terms being bandied about for these products are tainted by older contexts that the Gizmodo article doesn’t fully explain, even though they do reference the Libretto, one of the earlier subnotebooks.

Speaking of which, I view ultraportables as a synonym for subnotebooks. The former term began being used by notebook manufacturers who didn’t like the idea of their lightest smallest wonders being referred to as “below” notebooks.

Anyway, here’s how I break down these products using a lot of the vernacular currently being thrown around:




Ultra-thin notebook PC

Way thin notebook PC that manufacturer obsesses over fitting into office supplies, 13″ to 15″ screen. The next generation of “thin and lights”.

MacBook Air, Lenovo X300

Ultraportable/subnotebook (classic definition)

Full-featured 10″ to 12″ screen notebook PC designed to support mainstream PC software. ‘Spensive.

Sony TZ series, Lenovo IdeaPad U110

Mini-notebook/subnotebook (new definition)/netbook

7″ to 10″ clamshell designed for light on-the-go computing. Cheaper than ultraportables but seem to be creeping up to traditional notebook price points. Subclass of this group are the “kiddie notebooks” like the XO and Classmate

Asus Eee, Cloudbook, HP Mini-Note, etc.

UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) 4″ to 7″ screen, slide-out or other alternative keyboard. Differentiated from mini-note by its intent to be used standing up. As Microsoft coined this one, I’ll insist that it ships with Windows. OQO Model 02, Samsung Ultra,
MID (Mobile Internet Device) 3:” or 4″ screen. Often no keyboard. Designed primarily for media playback or light information consumption. However, is in some sense a platform. Can be thought of as a media player that has branched out or a reticent smartphone. Nokia N810, iPod touch (post-SDK), Sony Mylo, Archos Series 5.

Update: Intel (or parties therein) is now referring to the mini-note category as a “netbook” which people might remember was a name given to the Psion Series 7-type device years ago. I’m not wild about this term because I think it implies too much of a thin client approach, particularly as these PCs are increasingly shipping with Windows. It may be catchier, though, than “mini-note” (which I think has more momentum now, and which somehow has a more European flavor (Minitel?). In any case, I’ve added it as a name to the device class.


  1. Sterling Sterling June 29, 2008

    “As Microsoft coined this one, I’ll insist that it ships with Windows.”

    You’ll insist that it ship with Windows or that Windows is offered as an option by the manufacturer? For example, the Asus EEEs all have Windows as an option but I think most people are running Linux on ’em.

  2. Ross Rubin Ross Rubin July 2, 2008

    Shipped with. Just about any PC-based architecture can accommodate Windows as an option. Regarding the Eee, though, first, I wouldn’t consider the Eee a UMPC according to the classification. And second, actually what I hear is that a lot of these low-cost PCs sold with Linux are targets for pirated versions of Windows, particularly in Asia.

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