First Look: Lenovo Skylight Smartbook

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PCWorld Staff
PC World
Tuesday, January 12, 2010; 12:19 AM

At first blush, the Lenovo Skylight is exactly what the netbook should've been.

Instead of slapping a pared down OS onto low powered hardware, the Skylight approaches the widget-centric Internet we've grown accustomed to on our mobile phones, armed with a full-sized keyboard and clamshell design.

Technically, it's an oversized smartphone. Announced at CES on Tuesday, the Skylight is powered by 1.8 GHz Snapdragon processor, with built in WiFi and 3G mobile broadband. Its 10.1-inch HD screen offers 1280 by 720 resolution. And despite being a featherweight at 1.95 pounds, the machine felt sturdy, with a solid hinge and chassis. The full-sized keyboard is typical Lenovo-fare: comfortable, roomy keys made my admittedly limited typing session a pleasant one. The track-pad wasn't as responsive as I would liked, but I was told that this iteration would change before the unit starts to ship in April.

An important note: that garish, hinged column sticking out on the image isn't an antenna -- it's the included USB storage stick, and typically lies flush with the chassis. Tucked beneath it are slots for a micro-SD card, and a SIM card. Insert a SIM card from any 3G-ready GSM provider (that's AT&T and T-Mobile here in the US), and you'll be up and running on their 3G network.

The Skylight will ship with 18 web gadgets, encompassing much of what the Internet has to offer. These run along a dock at the bottom of the screen, and include access to Amazon's MP3 store, GMail and Google Maps, Facebook, or Firefox. If 18 widgets aren't enough, I was told that Lenovo will be releasing the platform's SDK -- expect enterprising developers to pad that list soon enough. The device also supports normal web browsing, so standard web apps will work just fine.

The device offers 20 GB of flash storage, and an additional 2GB of free online storage. If you'd like a bit more room, you'll have to rely on USB keys (the included storage stick can be replaced with a typical USB key), though there is an SD card slot, and an additional USB port. The Skylight will gather media stored across formats and display it on the appropriate widget, re-populating the library as USB keys and the like are removed. If 10.1 inches isn't enough screen real-estate, a mini-HDMI output port is included, for piping your media out onto a larger screen.

The Skylight will retail for $500. It will also be subsidized by phone carriers, starting with AT&T, but pricing wasn't available at the time of my demonstration.

The challenge here lies in finding the right market for the device. Despite the smartbook title, the Skylight isn't so much a new niche, as a re-imagined netbook. This one just happens to focus on the always-on, perpetual connectivity that the "net" prefix should have implied.

--Nate Ralph

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