Do the MIDs have an advantage over the Advantage?

gigabyte_m528_lgSize matters was one of my first posts on this blog. It got a lot of comments– mostly from forum spambots promoting Viagra., etc. While the spambots put my Akismet spam filter to the test (it passed), they missed the point of my post, which was to review the different sizes, from 5″ to 12″, of touch and tablet devices.

My Size matters post discussed several 5″ devices, including my HTC Advantage. However, it didn’t discuss one 5″ device-type, the MID (an acronym for Mobile Internet Device). The reason was it wasn’t clear to me at the time whether the MID would be vaporware. But the MID apparently is for real.

Gigabyte M528 MID Update: Official pricing and availability info indicates that the Gigabyte MID M528 (pictured) will be available in Taiwan in late July. Yes, that’s Taiwan, but importers such as Dynamism already are advertising it for U.S. availability. Additionally, per GBM’s MIDs Coming Soon From Samsung and LG?, the LG XNote B831 and a Samsung MID will be available in about the same time frame.

Exciting news! But what exactly is a MID?

First, it’s small; the screen size being around 5″, ± 1″. Both the Gigabyte MID M528 and the LG XNote B831 have a 4.8″ screen (I don’t know yet about the Samsung MID). The MID’s size fits a niche between phones (2.9″ to 3.5″) and the 7″ UMPCs.

This ±5″ screen makes the MID “pocketable”, assuming of course you’re not wearing ungeekly tight jeans with small pockets. “Pocketability” is important since it makes more likely that, like your cell phone, you’ll actually take the MID with you everywhere (except swimming pools, scuba diving, etc.). This isn’t just my opinion. Per Intel Makes a Push Into Pocket-Size Internet Devices, the two makers of chips for MIDs refers to the MID as “Internet in your pocket” (Intel) and “pocketable computing” (Qualcomm). Of course, the more pocketable, the more mobile.

Second, it’s inexpensive (relatively speaking); necessary since the MID is supposed to be a consumer or prosumer (a professional/consumer, new word for my vocabulary) device rather than being limited to the enterprise. Inexpensive in this context mean $500 or less. GBM’s MIDs Coming Soon From Samsung and LG? states that the Gigabyte’s initial price is $750. However, being the first MID out of the gate, some surcharge is to be expected, so the $500 or less price point may be realistic once there’s competition from other available MIDs.

Third, it’s connected. All 3 MIDs are supposed to have HSPDA/3G (or similar) modules.

Fourth, it should have a long battery life. A device isn’t very mobile if you have to take it back to the barn for charging after an hour or two.  Intel promotes MIDS because many will use Intel’s Atom processor, which supposedly is powerful enough for good performance but still sips rather than chugs battery juice. However, not all MIDs will use the Atom processor. Per MIDs Coming Soon From Samsung and LG?, the Samsung MID is using the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

Fifth, it should have a fast boot up. But here the OS’s are all over the map. The Gigabyte MID is reported to have a Linux Moblin core. The LG MID is reported to have Vista (??), and the Samsung MID possibly may have … Windows Mobile 6.1!

(Tech Break: As explained in Facts on Ubuntu Mobile and Moblin, the Linux Moblin core is not strictly speaking an OS. Instead, it’s a standardized Linux core stack designed to maximize the potential of Atom-based mobile devices. The OS would be a flavor of Linux such as Ubuntu or Red Flag.)

Pondering what is a MID gave me the Yogi Berra feeling of déjà vu all over again. My HTC Advantage is a MID! Why not? It has a 5″ screen, an HSPDA/3g module, good battery life and fast boot up. Yes, its OS is Windows Mobile 6.1, but so what? The Samsung MID may have the same OS, and the Gigabyte has a non-Windows OS. The Advantage’s price is north of $500, but that’s probably because the relative lack of competition in this form factor (up until now).

Realizing my Advantage could be considered a MID got me wondering why I should prefer one of the new MIDs over my Advantage? That called for a comparison of the specs. Caveat for accuracy: While the Gigabyte MID has a product page, the LG MID does not seem to yet, so I did the best I could from available sources. I couldn’t event do that for the Samsung MID as I could not find enough reliable information, so I did not include it in this table.

  Advantage 7510 Gigabyte MID LG MID
Processor 624 MHz Intel PXA270 800 MHz Intel Atom 1.33 GHz Intel Atom
RAM 128 MB 512 MB 1 GB
OS Windows Mobile 6.1 Linux Vista
Storage 256 MB Flash ROM + 16 GB Flash drive  4GB SSD 40GB
Expanded Storage miniSD (SDHC) miniSD (SDHC?) SD
Display 5″ touch, 480×640 4.8″ touch, 400×800 4.8″ touch, 400×800
Size (inches) 5.26/3.86/0.63 (0.79 w/keyboard on face) 5.98/3.15/.9 5.83/3.23/1.14
Weight (ounces) 10.75, 13.22 with keyboard attached 12 20.8
Phone Yes No No
Bluetooth 2.0, A2DP 2.0 2.0
WiFi 802.11 b/g 802.11 b/g 802.11 b/g
GPS Yes No No
Camera 3MP Autofocus 3MP Autofocus No?

The Advantage compares well in all categories except two. The Advantage clearly falls short of the MIDs in RAM and (to a lesser extent) its processor.  Of course, the Advantage does not need the firepower of the LG, which has to handle the considerable extra demands of Vista. I don’t know how the processor and RAM requirements of the Linux Moblin core of the Gigabyte MID compare to Windows Mobile 6.1’s, though it’s probably less than Vista’s, which may explain the Gigabyte have a slower processor and less RAM than the LG. Which isn’t all bad, since a more powerful processor and additional RAM increases the price and decreases battery life.

But how meaningful is the Advantage’s RAM and processor deficit? It depends on your intended use. I don’t see any of these units as an enterprise device. Rather, I would use them for primarily for email, the Internet and as a PIM, and secondarily for reading e-books. Others more fun-loving (or having more of a life) might add games, videos and music. Most of these uses (video being a possible exception) don’t involve great hardware demands. 

The Advantage’s Windows Mobile 6.1 OS may be the key. The good news is Windows Mobile supports the functionality Windows users are used to, including pocket versions of the Microsoft Office applications, without the additional overhead of the LG MID’s Vista and the consequent necessity of a more powerful processor and additional RAM that increases the price and decreases battery life. By contrast, the applications for the Linux Moblin core (or Ubuntu or Red Flag) also may not support functionality Windows users may want, e.g. Outlook. It would be over-dramatizing to call this the Achilles’ heel of Linux for MIDs, but I think it is an issue.

However, the Windows Mobile 6.1 OS, like the Force in Star Wars, has a dark side. First, and maybe it’s me, it’s just not that responsive. Yes, the boot time is fast enough, but starting applications isn’t, especially after its been a while between reboots. Possible it’s a memory management issue. Second, even when starting applications is fast, switching between them isn’t fast or particularly easy. Third, the OS is a bit buggy.

This being said, the Vista OS of the LG MID doesn’t exactly shine in these respects. Vista just seems an unnecessarily “heavy” OS for a MID. So will the dominant MID OS be:

  1. Linux, perhaps teamed with the Atom processor? See Intel shuns Microsoft, taps Linux for mobile Net devices.
  2. Windows Mobile 7? See Windows Mobile coming to a netbook near you?

And perhaps some longshots:

  1. Can anyone say Symbian? Linux vs. Windows Mobile and Symbian: Which is best for mobile?
  2. XP? For those of us who believe Elvis is returning.

Back to the question posed by the title of this post. I suspect the answer may come down to which OS is the best for the MID. I think it’s telling that the first MIDs out of the gate are all over the map on the OS. Who’s to say the dominant MID OS won’t be Windows Mobile 7? Yes, Intel is powerful, and Linux is loved, but you can lose a lot of money betting against that company from Redmond.

Finally, before leaving the world of 5″ devices, I should mention the OQO model 02. It’s also pocketable, even a bit more so than the Advantage, but it is even more expensive than an Advantage. Additionally, it does not have an HSPDA/3g module which can share your SIM card with other devices. Instead, the OQO has integrated Sprint or Verizon EVDO bound to the OQO. The OQO does have a model e2 with an HSPDA/3g module, but alas the bands are for Europe, not here. I am curious how OQO will react to the growing MID competition. Time will tell, as it will for the coming wave of MIDs.

5 Responses to “Do the MIDs have an advantage over the Advantage?”

  • I looked at getting the Advantage before going with the N95 in Marh last year. I don’t think the processor speed or the RAM are it’s real problems. For running WM6 thay’re better then most.

    The reason I returned the Advantage was the screen resolution and size. The screen size is great but browsing on the 5″ VGA screen would be the same as browsing on one of the smartphones with 3.5″ VGA screen, especially with IE Mobile as your portal. If HTC were willing to take the Tytn II and give it better RAM/CPU and the same screen as the MIDs listed above then they’d have a winner on their hands, especially is preinstalled with a good browser and Core Player for videos. With WM’s PIM applications and the Office Mobile suite it’d make the best MID available. Oh and don’t forget to keep the price down!

    Browsing on small screens (even 800 x 480) was doomed to failure (as we saw in the first batch of UMPCs) but now that Apple has shown us that browsing the web is possible on a small screen and how a little feature like zoom makes all the difference I think MIDs are likely to succeed. I held out with my N95 and didn’t buy an iPhone but I’m very likely to buy it in July, instead of an MID!

    So, how does the iPhone 3G compare with the MIDs above??

  • Oops sorry about the typos!

    By size I mean it’s HEAVY (weight) – not pocket friendly in that regard.

    Personally, I’d say that the Nokia N800/N810 should be included as MIDs. I know they’re not ‘connected’ unless through a phone but they’re definately MIDs and also cheaper without the extra IP.

  • Hi Ahmed. Interesting posts (I combined the 2nd and 3rd).

    Advantages’s screen resolution – There are programs (RealVGA) and tweaks on xda-developers that permit 96, 128 or 192 dpi.Opera or NetFront may provide better browsing than PIE.

    Advantage’s size/weight – Its dimensions are more square, which I think makes it a bit less pocketable. It’s lighter than the MIDs. Still, it feels more like a small brick than a cell phone in your pocket. But I’m not sure if the MIDs will be any better.

    Nokia N810 – I thought of including it. I didn’t for the reason you stated; it’s not connected.

    iPhone 3G as a MID? – Hmmmmmmm…

  • I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  • Hello from Germany! May i quote a post a translated part of your blog with a link to you? I’ve tried to contact you for the topic Do the MIDs have an advantage over the Advantage?, but i got no answer, please reply when you have a moment, thanks, Gedichte

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