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!


  1. I still think that my netbook -Samsung Nc10- is the best buy I’ve done in a very long time. Netbooks are dead? Please.

  2. Why do they insist on putting trackpads on these things when they have trackpoint on their real laptops? The trackpoint is a huge win because you can use it without moving your hands off the keyboard.

  3. Why the heck does their product render feature a giant doohickey in front of the screen? Is that an antenna or some kind of awkward port cover or thumb drive? Does it have to be in front of the screen? Even for the low, low price of $500 I’d expect to not have random bits of the case obscuring the screen.

    1. The doohickey is almost certainly the cell antenna. It looks like it folds flat into a hollow above the keyboard for storage, then folds out and sticks out the side when in use. Not sure why they chose to render it halfway between these two positions.

      Frankly, I’m not sure why they have it at all. Cell phones and normal netbooks manage to receive 3G data with small, internal antennas. Why this needs a Hershey-bar-sized paddle sticking out the side and getting in the way is beyond me.

      1. I’m pretty sure that the doohickey is actually a USB stick, and it comes in either 4gb or 16gb. That’s pretty clever in my opinion. This cloud-book think could definitely benefit from removable storage, and it does it without taking up extra space. Not bad.

  4. $500 for less processing power than a $300 netbook? What’s so smart about that? The new EeePC 1001P gets similar battery life (longer, if you believe the specs) for $200 less than this, and it will actually run Windows.

    Pretty much everybody is already paying $40-$60 a month for 3G data on their smartphone. Why on earth would you sign up to pay AGAIN for this Skylight thing, when you can just tether your phone to a normal netbook?

    This seems like an expensive solution to a problem that has already been solved by a much cheaper product.

  5. “… making them little less than unpleasant laptops.”

    Shouldn’t that be “little more?”

    Also, why am I fixated on that sentence?

  6. “People keep saying that netbooks are dead, and they’re right”

    but, but, but..”It’s really just a new generation of netbooks”

    so it’s a new dead netbook.

  7. Inexpensive ultra-portable computers aren’t going anywhere. Whether they are called “netbooks” or something else is a merely semantics.

  8. netbooks are dead because small, light, cheap, long battery life, lower CPU power machines have “merged back into the mainstream”?

    I think you got it backwards. Laptops are dead, because small, light, cheap, long battery life, lower CPU power machines REPLACED THEM.

  9. Once, those eager to declare netbooks as dead, reveal themselves as simply ignorant. This is revealed when they label a netbook as an ‘unpleasant laptop’. If you bought a netbook, thinking you were getting a cheap laptop, then yeah, it’s probably unpleasant. However, I, like many others, bought my netbook so as to get a netbook. I bought it because of the small size, not in spite of it, and it was still far cheaper than any laptop(don’t be fooled by the fact that there are lots of 12″ laptops with $500 price tags billing themselves as laptops. I paid $350 for my netbook). Until laptops get folding screens that make it possible to fold down to the size of ‘Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners’ I’ll keep buying netbooks as well.

  10. Drop the price by half, and remove the cellphone garbage and I might be interested.

    Using a “smartphone os” really cripples it to me.

  11. Actually the ‘antenna’ is a removable USB-drive; the aim being to allow users to port their data between devices a little in the manner of a thumbdrive linux disto… This looks good, but what I’d like would be a *really* light (less than 500g) laptop alternative that still had a usable keyboard and screen and could run for a whole day on a single charge…

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