I'm having deja vu. I've definitely done this before. Except this time, when I try out the Lenovo U1 Hybrid, most of last year's lingering doubts have been replaced by anticipation.
The U1 owes it most of its renaissance to its totally overhauled tablet. Instead of that proprietary Skylight OS, Lenovo's finally embraced Android for the ominously French-sounding LePad. While the model that I saw - the one that's shipping to be sold in China as we speak - runs Froyo by the time the U1 reaches the US around the middle of the year it'll have the delicious-looking Honeycomb on board.
Until then, it's hard to tell exactly what your LePad experience is going to be like. What won't change, presumably, is Lenovo's custom skin. It recalls Skylight's four-paned approach for organizing your content, and as far as custom interfaces go it's relatively non-intrusive. And other than photos, you'll probably be navigating your oceans of video and books and music through apps anyway.
The LePad's also mercifully large at 10.1 inches and feels light in the hand. The display was nice and responsive, although the accelerometer was a little slow on the uptake. But between the solid build, 1.3GHz Snapdragon processor and 1280x800 display, its hardware is definitely in the advance guard of Android tablets.
Of course, LePad can also do something those other tablets can't: turn into a Windows 7 PC with a flick of a switch. And it really is nearly instantaneous going from Android to Windows, although the reverse has a delay of a couple of seconds. As a ULV-processor PC, it's not going to break any records; best to think of it as a small step up from a netbook. And don't expect much PC mode battery life, either.
There was no internet connection to this out, unfortunately, but the U1 purports to offer a continuous browsing experience, meaning that the page you're viewing in on the LePad will still be there in PC mode after you've docked. And after undocking, the base continues to run as a functional PC. Right now web pages are the only thing that transition seamlessly, but Lenovo says they're looking at how to expand that feature.
Let's hope they do! Because otherwise, I'm not sold that there's a clear advantage to this type of hybrid. Lenovo will tell you - and they did tell me - that the U1 cuts down on the number of screens you need to travel with. But that's not entirely true; most people who need a PC when they're travelling will need something with a little more oomph, especially considering the nearly $US800 premium the dock will cost you.
But for now, even if we just look at the U1 hybrid as a novelty, it's the right kind of novelty. One that blurs the lines between the categories we parcel our gadgets into while still being, at its core, functional. $US1300 is a lot to pay for an experiment. But at least it's not mad science.