I am entering into day 5 of the hoopla that is the CES, and have a rare moment to kick back and reflect on what I’ve seen at the show. Before arriving in Vegas for the show, my feeling was that this would be the year of the smartbook. I expected to see smartbooks everywhere, those little notebooks with ARM chips and either Linux or Android on-board. That’s not what I’ve found, though, and it makes me wonder if the smartbook is going to finally take off.
There have been a few smartbooks lying around, chief among them the Lenovo Skylight we caught on video. I am impressed with how well this smartbook works, and it is easily the thinnest, lightest notebook I have used. It’s hard to get around the MSRP of $499, though, and even though it’s going to be subsidized and sold by AT&T, it’s likely still going to be a healthy pile of coin. I definitely believe that in addition to the always-on nature of smartbooks with the integrated 3G, they must be dirt cheap for consumers to pick them up. Sadly, there have been no super cheap smartbooks bandied about at CES.
Wandering around the CES exhibits found no shortage of notebooks, but I expected that. Every vendor was hawking its latest and greatest notebook models, but to tell the truth nothing really jumped out and grabbed me. Sure, there was no shortage of notebooks with the latest Intel Core processors, and thin and light laptops were everywhere. But I didn’t find much new, and that probably has as much to do with companies no longer waiting for the CES to make big notebook announcements. The Dell Adamo XPS is as innovative as any notebook that has launched in quite some time, but we’ve already seen months of teasers for that. Dell didn’t wait for the CES to launch it anyway. Heck, HP didn’t even have a booth this year, which is surprising.
In the mobile tech space the big thing was definitely the tablet, or slate as Microsoft and Intel have now dubbed them. You bumped into a slate display almost everywhere you went at the exhibition, and I lost count how many companies were pushing one at the crowd. These slates are in all shapes and sizes, from the super thin handheld sizes (5 – 7 inches) to the larger ones designed more for media consumption. I saw slates that stand alone and slates that pop into keyboard docks. There were literally dozens of these slates at the CES, and we should start seeing these hit the market pretty soon.
In the international exhibitions many Asian companies were hawking reference design for slates, trying to attract companies to bring them to market. There were slates running Linux, others running Android, and of course the mystery slate that Microsoft showed off at the keynote. That turned out to be a prototype by HP that is due to launch later this year. The anticipation over this slate was unfounded, as it is just a notebook without a keyboard that runs Windows 7.
It is clear that the months of rumors about the Apple tablet have gotten a lot of companies concerned. The conversations I had off the record with reps at several companies indicated that it is expected that Apple will bring something unexpected to market with its tablet, and that has many competitors concerned. Thus the race to get slates to market before Apple does is considered important.
Speaking of slates, so far the gadget that has impressed me the most at the CES is easily the Lenovo U1 Hybrid Notebook. Lenovo has done an amazing job integrating the two OSes involved, and it’s simply incredible how the device switches from Linux (in the slate) to Windows 7 (in the notebook). This integration makes this a slate with no compromises, as you always have Windows 7 and a keyboard when needed. You get it all with a single device. Let’s hope Lenovo can get the price down low enough to attract some decent sales. I’d love to see them have the incentive to further the development and evolution of the U1.
Given the hot focus on slates, it has been a lot of fun using the ThinkPad x200 convertible Tablet this week at the CES. It was a common sight to see me walking around the halls of the exhibit with the tablet in slate mode, interacting with the tablet via touch. It was a blast to see the interested looks I got everywhere, as folks were trying to figure out what new thing this was. I can only imagine the looks had I been walking around with the old HP tc1100 slate. Now that would have been something.
E-book readers are also everywhere you turn. I’ll have to address that down the road.