Let’s clarify two things right away: First, the Ideapad U1 hybrid notebook tablet is still in the very rough stages of development. Second, it’s going to be awesome – if it can live up to its potential.
Let’s review the concept quickly before we get into the details. The U1 is literally two separate devices, joined together and made to play nice. One is a multitouch tablet that runs Linux and has a speedily efficient Qualcomm ARM 1Ghz Snapdragon processor running the show. The other is a Windows 7 notebook with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU 4100 processor.
The build is like Lenovo’s other IdeaPads, except for the translucent red top that houses the tablet. When the base and the slate are linked up, the latter acts as an 11.6-inch, 720p (1366×768) monitor that looked crisp despite being saddled with Intel’s integrated graphics. The (non-chiclet) keyboard is based on the current lineup of IdeaPads, and both it and the touchpad worked smoothly. The U1 we saw wasn’t set up to do much other than web browse, and pages loaded smoothly. The notebook has built-in Wi-Fi, but can also run off of the tablet’s 3G connection, which I can see being a pretty great benefit for times when wireless isn’t readily accessible.
You can also enter a type of content mode, which divides up your stored files between music, video, images and documents. With the multitouch interface, you can quickly jump among all four and adjust how much of the screen is devoted to each. The resistive screen was good, but not great – it at times took some pretty insistent pressing to get the response I was looking for. The viewing angles could also use work; unless you’re looking nearly dead-on at the display, you’re pretty much out of luck.
I said the two devices are totally separate, and I meant it. There are advantages and disadvantages to this set-up. On the plus side, while the tablet is undocked, you can hook the base up to a monitor and get full functionality. If you remove it during web browsing, the tablet remembers which site you were on and places you there automatically (and vice versa).
About that release: it’s up in the air right now as to when you can get your hands on one of these, because of all of the tweaks that need to be made. It will also be crucial for Lenovo to be able to build up a decent store of apps for the U1 and the Skylight if these are going to have any functionality beyond very basic web browsing and media playback. And for an estimated retail price of $US999 – minus whatever subsidy they’re able to get from a partner carrier – that functionality had better be there.
All in all, the U1 is a slick device, if a little undercooked. If nothing else, I’m excited to see how far they can take this concept once they put it in production. But no rush, Lenovo. If you take the time to get it right, it’ll be something special.