Portable Internet devices rely on Wi-Fi and WiMAX technology to connect to the Internet.

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Types of Portable Internet Devices

Portable Internet devices can be categorized in several different ways. You can, for example, consider their form and function. Or, another way to look at these portable devices is to consider the type of Internet technologies that they use.

A portable Web device operates at short, medium or long range:

  • Short-range: Using technologies like Bluetooth, ZigBee or RFID, an Internet device can connect at low power within 100 feet.
  • Medium range: Technologies like Wi-Fi can allow a device to access the Internet anywhere from 500 feet to several miles from a hotspot.
  • Long range: WiMAX, MIT-2000 and other long-range technologies can allow Internet communication up to 150 miles from a base station or across the country as a networked service. Other long-range technologies include high- and low-altitude platform stations (HAPS/LAPS) and satellites.

While PCs and UMPCs may have relied primarily on mid-range Wi-Fi technology for connection in the past, the move now is toward portable Internet devices that can take advantage of WiMAX and other long-range technologies [source: ITU Internet Reports 2004: The Portable Internet].

Another way to look at portable devices is by their function. ABI Research divides portable Internet devices into two categories: UMPCs that run Windows and are targeted at business users, and MIDs that are focused more at consumers. ABI predicts rising popularity for both tools and toys, with shipments of portable Internet devices expected to grow from fewer than 3.5 million in 2008 to nearly 90 million in 2012, but consumer devices are expected to lead the way.

Both types can feature Wi-Fi or WiMAX technology -- and in the case of Intel Corp.'s Montevina processor technology, one device features both technologies. UMPCs and MIDs also offer Web applications such as browsing, e-mail, IM, photo and video exchange, and global positioning system (GPS) navigation. Advanced functions like medical monitoring are being developed.

But portable Internet devices also vary in form. They can be:

  • Notebooks, like the Asus eee PC models, that open like small laptops
  • Sliders, like the Fujitsu Lifebook U810, with a keyboard that slides out from under the screen
  • Tablets, like the Samsung Q1, with a side keyboard and touch screen

[source: UMPCportal.com]

While a variety of portable Internet devices are available, many more are under development or being introduced. If you're ready to buy, let's look next at what you should consider.