Lenovo's laptops shake things up at CES

Lenovo is getting creative with a laptop that converts into a slate tablet, ARM-based smartbook, and touchscreen netbook among other new PCs.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

Lenovo is everywhere in Asia and its ThinkPad is a business icon, yet it is still working on breaking into the crowded consumer market in the U.S. Now the company is getting more creative. To get a jump on the competition, on the eve of Consumer Electronics Show, Lenovo announced several new and updated PCs including a novel laptop that converts into a tablet, the first ARM-based "smartbook," a touchscreen netbook and lower-priced ThinkPads with AMD processors.

Lenovo's IdeaPad U1 is both a laptop and tablet.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 is both laptop and tablet. (Credit: Lenovo)

The IdeaPad U1 is a hybrid notebook with a detachable 11.6-inch display. To make this work, Lenovo included two processors and two different operating systems. When you are using it as a conventional notebook, it employs an Intel ultra low-voltage (ULV) chip and Microsoft Windows 7. When you use the display as a separate resistive multitouch tablet, a Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM-based processor will run a Linux-based OS (more on that below). Lenovo said special software will make it easy to switch between the two modes within a few seconds. I'll get a closer look at the IdeaPad U1 later today, but a few sites have posted some impressions of an early version (links below). The IdeaPad U1 will be available June 1, 2010 starting at about $1,000.

Some first impressions of the IdeaPad U1:

The IdeaPad U1 isn't the only new Lenovo laptop that is taking up ARMs. In November, Qualcomm spilled the beans on a Lenovo smartbook using its Snapdragon processor, and Lenovo made it official earlier this week. The Skylight has a 10.1-inch display, 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 20GB of flash memory (supplemented by 2GB of online storage). Until Microsoft decides to port Windows to ARM, smartbooks will make do with alternatives based on Linux, Windows CE, or eventually Google Chrome OS. In this case, Lenovo is using a Linux-based environment that looks similar to Intel's Moblin with several large panels that provide quick access to common apps, such as Web browsing (Firefox with Flash 10 support), e-mail and photos, as well as services. It will come with 18 of these widgets including ones for sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon's MP3 store and Roxio's CinemaNow. The same Skylight OS is use on the IdeaPad U1 when it is tablet mode.

Lenovo Skylight is the first ARM smartbook. (Source: Lenovo)

Lenovo Skylight is the first ARM smartbook. (Credit: Lenovo)

The advantages of the Skylight are that it weighs less than two pounds and, according to Lenovo, will have 10 hours of battery life (the design is very attractive as well). The disadvantages are that it isn't likely to match the performance of netbooks and isn't compatible with Windows software (hardware support is a big question mark too). The Skylight will be sold directly from Lenovo and through AT&T in April starting at $499. No doubt AT&T will sell the hardware for less with a wireless contract, but the price is still a far-cry from the sub-$200 prices predicted by companies that design and sell ARM-based processors. The Skylight is the first of what I expect will be several new smartbooks announced at CES. With some early Intel Pinetrail netbooks getting close to 10 hours of battery life, at lower prices, it will be interesting to see if these early smartbooks will sell.

Hands-on coverage of the Lenovo Skylight:

The IdeaPad S10-3t netbook has a convertible multitouch screen. (Credit: Lenovo)

The IdeaPad S10-3t netbook has a convertible multitouch screen. (Credit: Lenovo)

Apparently Lenovo likes hybrids since the latest version of its IdeaPad S10 is also a cross between two products, in this case a netbook and a convertible tablet. Far as I can tell the IdeaPad S10-3t is the industry's first 10.1-inch netbook with a capacitive touchscreen display that swivels and folds flat for reading or working directly with the screen using multitouch. The IdeaPad S10-3t is currently shipping and starts at $549 with a 1.66GHz Atom N450, 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive and Windows 7 Starter Edition. Lenovo also has a version without a touchscreen, the IdeaPad S10-3, which starts at $369 with the same configuration, but with a larger battery. The IdeaPad S10-3t is an example of a trend toward lower-cost touchscreen PCs that started with the release of Windows 7 in October. I expect to see others from HP, Toshiba and others at CES this week.

First impressions of the IdeaPad S10-3t:

In a break, Lenovo announced two ThinkPads that will use AMD dual-core processors. The first, the ThinkPad X100e, is Lenovo's first business ultraportable under $500, though at that price the specs are a far-cry from those of popular X series ultraportables such as the ThinkPad X200 and X301. The X100e is now available starting at $449 with an 11.6-inch display, 1.60 AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 single-core processor, 1GB of memory, ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics and a 160GB hard drive. That sounds more like a netbook than a notebook to me, but it should broaden the ThinkPad audience. The second AMD-based ThinkPad is part of a new Edge line designed for small- and medium-size businesses. The ThinkPad Edge 13 is also available now starting at $579 with a 13.3-inch display (1366x768), 1.50GHz AMD Athlon Neo X2 L325 dual-core processor, 2GB of memory, ATI Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics and a 250GB hard drive. Other versions will have faster AMD Turion or Intel Core 2 Duo processors, including the ThinkPad Edge 14 and Edge 15 models, available in mid-2010. The ThinkPad Edge series is different outside, as well as inside. Unlike the matte black ThinkPads, the Edge line has a silver bezel and also comes in glossy back or bright red.

These more novel laptops have been getting the most attention, but Lenovo also announced several other new consumer laptops and desktops, as well as updates to the existing ThinkPads. Many of these will make use of Intel's Westmere processors, which the company will finally announce at a press event tomorrow (Jan. 7). Whether all these new products will help Lenovo catch the eye of consumers remains to be seen (already Lenovo says some Best Buy stores will carry the ThinkPad Edge 14). But you have to give Lenovo credit for shaking things up, and I look forward to testing out all of these starting this week.

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