Can a tablet David take on the Apple Goliath?
Everyone loves a David-and-Goliath story, don't they? And for sheer audacity a tiny business formed this year called Exo PC has to be applauded. After all, it's hoping that its 11 staff can take on the mighty Apple with a product that claims to be better than the iPad.
When a man called Kevin Dark got in touch a week ago and asked me to take a look at a new tablet computer, I have to confess I had to stifle a yawn. Suddenly, everyone and his brother is bringing out a tablet, and promising that it can beat the iPad. What's more, the machine ran on Windows 7, which doesn't seem optimised for tablet use at the moment.
But I always enjoy playing with a new gadget, and I was also intrigued by the firm behind it. Exo PC was formed in January 2010 by two Canadians, and is primarily a software company. One of the founders had an idea 10 years ago for a touch-based user interface for a Windows machine, but struggled to find the hardware.
Now the company has found that hardware, and, according to Mr Dark, has built an enthusiastic online community to support the idea of the Exo PC. So I arranged to get my hands on one.
The first thing that strikes you when you lift the slate out of its box is the sheer size and weight of it - some people find the iPad too heavy, but this is is bigger and weightier.
Turn it on and you first see a classic Windows 7 startup and desktop; then you find that special Exo PC user interface which has been 10 years in the making.
A series of bubbles are ranged across the screen, each occupied by an icon. I thought at first these might be apps, but most are simply links to web pages, although there are a few simple games. Kevin Dark tells me that you can simply install Windows software on the tablet, and that developers are starting to build apps for it too.
I quickly managed to do three things that are impossible - or at least challenging - on an iPad. First, I clicked on the iPlayer link on the home screen and found that I was able to watch live television on the Exo PC; on an iPad, that's only possible if you go to a site called TV Catchup.
Then I realised that the tablet had a tiny forward-facing camera, and had Skype pre-installed, so within minutes I was on a video call to a friend. There's no camera on an iPad - though surely that must be coming in the next version.
And finally I went to the BBC website and watched a couple of videos - on an iPad I would have been told to install Flash, which would then prove impossible.
The Exo PC also has all manner of ports - HDMI, USB, and SD card reader - making it far more connected than an iPad.
The touchscreen interface is more responsive than on some other tablets I've tried. You can plug in a DVD player and watch a movie on the 11-inch screen, and generally do most of the things that you could on a netbook computer.
Pretty impressive - but I still have to confess that I wasn't really wowed by the Exo PC. I found it a slightly cumbersome mixture of Windows machine and media tablet. Without the wide range of easy-to-use apps that you get on an iPad or Samsung's Galaxy Tab, you're left with a very heavy surfing device that isn't as intuitive to use as those two - and with a four-hour battery life that means you can't leave home without a charger.
One thing that Kevin Dark told me provides a clue to my misgivings:
"Our hardware may not be as 'pretty' as the iPad, but we believe most people know that choosing functionality over aesthetics is the better option in the long run."
I think that misses the point. Form and function are inextricably linked - iPad users find the look of their tablet "pretty", but also enjoy the beauty of the way it functions.
Still, the Exo PC, which is already on sale in parts of Europe, will be coming to the UK soon, with prices roughly the same as an iPad for equivalent storage.
Then we will see whether there is a market for a tablet running Windows 7. At the moment, I'm sceptical, but if this tiny firm can work with Microsoft to produce a rather prettier experience, then maybe the Exo PC can score a few hits on the Goliath that is Apple.