Thin, light, and simple — as I played around with Lenovo’s Skylight smartbook at CES 2010, it occurred to me that this is what netbooks were supposed to be.
Of course, netbooks have taken on a life of their own, offering more and better features and ever-longer battery life while remaining firmly in the $300 to $400 price range. They may not be adequate as primary PCs, but they can handle most road warriors’ computing needs.
Smartbooks, on the other hand, are dead simple. Lenovo’s version, for instance, has no usable on-board storage. Instead, users will swap in USB memory sticks and MicroSD cards. Windows is nowhere to be found. Instead, there’s a custom Linux-based operating system that features a dock full of Web apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Picasa. You can’t install any software on this machine, you can only add to your collection of Web apps.
But most importantly, the Lenovo Skylight is compact, measuring 0.7 inches thick and weighting less than 2 pounds with a 10-inch screen. Regardless of how that looks on paper, the Skylight felt extremely lean in my hands.
Still, I’m not sold on Lenovo’s product for a couple of critical reasons. First, Lenovo will charge $500 for the Skylight unsubsidized — a stiff price compared to more capable netbooks — though an AT&T subsidy will be available for a yet-unannounced price. But also, Lenovo’s custom-built, web-centric operating system is hard to get excited about with Google’s Chrome OS on the horizon. I see more longevity in Chrome OS, but a Lenovo representative told me it won’t be possible for early adopters to switch operating systems on their existing smartbooks.
Google hasn’t said that it’s targeting Chrome OS for smartbooks, but it seems like a logical area if the smartbook market grows. But if the price Lenovo’s offering is the norm, I don’t see that growth happening.