First major "smartbook" hits town in April

lenovo-skylight-smartbook-small.jpg People keep saying that netbooks are dead, and they're right: size, features and pricing have all but merged back into the mainstream, making them little less than unpleasant laptops. With the Skylight, announced today, Lenovo puts new technology -- Qualcomm's Snapdragon CPU and a custom UI -- into reviving the svelte, simple, good-enough notebooks that got us so excited three years ago.
We're apparently supposed to call this one a "smartbook," but that's just a marketing line already buried in an international purse fight over trademark ownership*. It's really just a new generation of netbooks that benefit from a few critical differences to the standard fare, keeping form factor small and mandating smartphone-style connectivity. The Skylight doesn't come with Windows, OSX or even (it seems) a fully-featured linux distro, which creates breathing room for its hardware--think smartphone operating systems--even as it creates a new hurdle for buyers in the lack of available software. It should suffice to say that there is much talk of 'the cloud,' and various web-based services, in the press release. The hardware is nice: seamless-handoff Wifi and 3G, a 20GB SSD, a big keyboard and a 10-inch 1280x720 display. This matches what's on offer from the likes of Dell and Asus, but in an exceedingly slim body that adds the ultralight cachet currently reserved for expensive super-netbooks like Sony's Vaio X and the MacBook Air. It will come in blue and red and boasts 10 PR hours of battery life. It'll be $500 at 'full retail' price, too, implying that getting it from AT&T with 3G will be significantly cheaper. (alternatively: if you have to agree to a two-year agreement to get the $500 price tag, it's a swizz). Assuming Skylight won't just be carrier contract bait, the key will not be the oft-assumed matter of Snapdragon's performance, but rather the user experience offered by the whole package. I'd call it the 'iPhone factor,' but really, that sets an unfairly high bar. If you remember the experience of actually using Asus' original Eee PC, you'll probably be happy just to get a linux netbook that doesn't make you want to throw it into the sea. * As an aside, this may help explain some of Microsoft's most demented branding failures -- it knows that all the good phrases are already taken and isn't up for a fight. Recall, if you will, Redmond's attempt to rename netbooks as LCSNPCs. Bing it on your Zune!
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