We’ve talked before about the MID (“Mobile Internet Device”). The MID’s concept is exciting, at least for geeks like me. The MID is small enough to put in your pocket, but its screen is large enough to view the Internet without your having to put on reading glasses. Like a phone, the MID is always connected and has a fast boot up and long battery life. But unlike a phone, the MID can serve as a computer; MIDs run either Vista, XP or a flavor of Linux.
Until recently, there hasn’t been that much to talk about MIDs because their specs were speculative, no MIDs having then been released to market. However, the wait is over; the first MIDs are now for sale. One of the first out of the chute is the BenQ S6, which recently became available in Europe. Hopefully a version of the S6 supporting US frequencies will be available soon.
Do the MIDs have an advantage over the Advantage? explored whether the MID has any advantage over my HTC x7500 Advantage, which has a very similar form factor to the MID. The major difference is that the Advantage’s OS is Windows Mobile instead of Vista, XP or Linux.
When I wrote that article, the Advantage was the only large screen Windows Mobile device to compare with the MIDs. That no longer is true. Recently there has been a proliferation of Windows Mobile devices with 3+” screen sizes, in particular the 3.8″ HTC Touch HD.
So let’s do a comparison between the S6, which has a Linux Midinux OS, and the Advantage and the HD, both of which have a Windows Mobile OS. There are other MIDs, but the S6 is representative for comparison purposes. My sources for the comparison are the specifications pages for the S6, Advantage and Touch HD. My comparison doesn’t cover all of the hardware features, but I think it does cover the key ones.
Screen and Size
Let’s first focus on the size of the screen and the size and weight overall device, since viewing and being pocketable are characteristics that define a MID.
S6 – 4.8” WVGA 800 x 480.
Advantage – 5″ VGA 640 x 480.
HD – 3.8” WVGA 800 x 480.
S6 – 158 x 90 x 22mm.
Advantage – 133 x 98 x 16 mm, 20 mm with a keyboard.
HD – 115 x 62.8 x 12 mm
S6 – 370g
Advantage – 359g (with battery)
HD – 146.4 (with battery)
My comments – Both the S6 and the Advantage and the MID are at the extreme edge of being pocketable. I can fit my Advantage in my jeans pocket. However, it’s a bit too large to be comfortable, and I wear my jeans loose. The S6 is even longer and thicker than the Advantage.
By contrast, the HD is very pocketable. Indeed, it has the size characteristics of the iPhone 3G.
However, the HD’s smaller factor has a consequence; its screen is 1″ less than the S6. In my opinion, this raises the proverbial $64 question: How large can you make the screen before the device is too big? Or how small can you make the screen before it’s too small to view the Internet comfortably?
The answer is partly subjective and perhaps partly dependent on how good or bad your near vision is. The 3.5″ screen on my wife’s iPhone 3G (she nationalized it from me) is very readable, but I do wish it was a bit larger. I don’t have an HD, so I really can’t gauge the difference .3″ would make. I don’t believe the screen needs to be as large as the 5″ on my Advantage. My guess is for me 3.8″ would be OK, but a 4.25″ screen would be the sweet spot. However, I’m speculating without having a device with that screen size and the corresponding dimensions.
Processor and RAM
Let’s now talk about the processor and RAM. If the device’s performance is pokey, it’s not a very good device.
S6 – Intel Atom 800MHz
Advantage – Marvell PXA270 624MHz
HD – Qualcomm® MSM 7201A 528MHz
S6 – 512MB DDR2 SDRAM
Advantage – 128MB SDRAM
HD – 288MB
My comments – Some advantage to the BenQ if the hardware requirements of Midinux aren’t significantly greater than Windows Mobile. I don’t know the answer. What I’m getting at is 128MB of RAM for a Windows Mobile OS may be superior to 512MB of RAM for a Vista OS given the significantly greater processor and RAM requirements of Vista.
Even if there is some advantage, I’m not sure how meaningful it would be. The performance of my Advantage is peppy with only 128MB of RAM, provided I have a good ROM (I use the custom ROMs of xda-developers) and don’t try to run too many memory-intensive applications at once.
Phone vs. Computer
You can use both the HD and the Advantage as a phone (though the Advantage’s phone has to be used with the speaker or Bluetooth since it has no earpiece). I’m not sure whether the MIDs have phone support. It doesn’t seem most do, though the sparse information on the subject is not conclusive. If not, that means you have to carry 2 devices, the MID and your phone, rather than one device, a MID-like Windows Mobile device that doubles as a phone.
The MIDs have more support for standard computer applications than do Windows Mobile devices. After all, a MID with Vista or XP should be able to run anything your desktop can — though likely more slowly. By contrast, Windows Mobile only supports a subset of PC (or Linux) applications. But depending on your usage, that subset may be enough. In the critical area of Internet browsers. the latest beta releases of Opera Mobile for Windows Mobile will run Flash Lite. Java applets may not be far behind.
I’m unconvinced about the MID’s future. The Touch HD is far more pocketable and doubles as a phone, meaning you only have to carry one device rather than possibly two. The Touch HD may not have the processor/RAM firepower of the MID, but I’m not sure that difference will be as meaningful. Yes, all things being equal, a 4.8″ screen is more viewable than a 3.8″ screen. But they’re not equal — greater screen size translates to greater device size — and a 3.8″ screen seems good enough. (And of course there’s nothing to prevent a future Windows Mobile device with a 4+” screen). So despite the delay in Windows Mobile 7, maybe Windows Mobile’s future may still be bright as larger screen Windows Mobile devices become available. The Touch HD is one of the first of that kind, but it’s hard to believe it will be the last.