CES 2010: The Best And Worst Laptops

by Reads (98,078)

HP and Lenovo made the biggest splash in terms of notebooks during this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Lenovo, makers of the ThinkPad line of business notebooks, are determined to grab a larger market share among consumers this year.

The new IdeaPad S10 Tablet is an Intel Atom-based netbook with a 10-inch touchscreen that rotates 180 degrees in either direction. Available with either a flush 3-cell battery or extended life 6-cell battery this netbook tablet looks like it will give the ASUS Eee PC T91 a run for the money. As we’ve come to expect with Lenovo notebooks, the keyboard on the new S10 Tablet is second to none in this form factor. The screen bezel might be large, but that was done on purpose to provide more room for the larger keyboard. The keys feel fantastic with just the right amount of throw and there is no sign of flex in the pre-production keyboard we used.

Some Smartbooks Are Smarter Than Others
Smartbooks, a new category of thin and light laptops that bridge the gap between a smartphone and a netbook, will probably be a major push from several manufacturers in 2010. The Lenovo Skylight was the first of these smartbooks to go public.

Sure, the Skylight is thin and lightweight. It’s also got a great keyboard and screen. It even has the smartphone-like ability to almost instantly wake from sleep mode (a huge time saver compared to netbooks and ultraportable notebooks). However, the smartphone-like user interface just screams out for a touchscreen. The fact that user will have to control the Skylight with a standard touchpad and keyboard is probably the least smart element of this smartbook. Yes, a standard display makes the Skylight thinner, lighter, and cheaper but we’re starting to think that smartbooks, like all modern smartphones, really need to have a touchscreen.

Thankfully, it looks like our editors aren’t alone in wanting smartbooks with touchscreens. Although HP isn’t ready to announce a touchscreen smartbook, they did have an extremely interesting smartbook prototype on display at CES this year. The yet-to-be-named HP smartbook is based on HP’s current Mini family of netbooks, but this ultraportable is thinner, lighter, and based on the Snapdragon ARM II processor just like the Lenovo Skylight. The HP smartbook prototype runs a customized version of the Google Android operating system and, more importantly, features a touchscreen like you’d expect to see on a device that’s intended to act like an enlarged smartphone.

HP representatives were all quick to point out that this prototype may never see the light of day, but it should serve as an indication of what form factor HP thinks will work best for the smartbook category.

Not to be outdone, Lenovo also debuted the Lenovo IdeaPad U1 hybrid netbook and slate tablet/smartbook. Our entire staff was pretty impressed with this innovative concept … and even more impressed that it’s ready for sale. The IdeaPad U1 works just like a standard Intel Atom-based netbook with a full keyboard and touchpad running Windows 7, but with the flip of a switch you can unplug the touchscreen display and you’ve got an ARM-based tablet PC ready for travel with it’s own operating system and flash storage. What makes the U1 even cooler is that you can connect the bottom half of system to an external monitor and use it as a Windows desktop PC while the top tablet portion of the laptop is being used by someone else. When you reconnect the tablet to the bottom half of the laptop then the data will automatically synchronize so that you don’t lose your work. Time will tell whether consumers want smartbooks with thin standard screens or if they’re willing to buy a slightly thicker smartbook with a touchscreen interface.

Best Buy Gives You The Blues
One of the major stories from Sony, Dell, and Toshiba at the 2010 CES was their partnerships with Best Buy. Best Buy’s Blue Label 2.0 program will introduce exclusive notebooks that will only be available from Best Buy. The lineup includes a 14″ Toshiba notebook, 15.6″ Dell, and a 13″ Sony. All of the Blue Label 2.0 notebooks feature Intel Wireless Display technology, enabling consumers to wirelessly stream HD video and pictures directly from the notebook to HDTVs. For example, Hulu and Netflix shows can be streamed in up to 720p quality. The notebooks feature the latest Intel Core i5 processors and start at $899.99.

While the Dell and Sony Blue Label notebooks are nice, we were most impressed by the Toshiba Blue Label laptop we saw at CES. The fresh design of the new Toshiba Satellite E205 14-inch notebook looks quite different from previous Toshiba offerings, and the addition of Intel Wireless Display technology should prove to be extremely exciting for consumers. Research suggests that many shoppers ask for laptops with HDMI out so that they can connect their notebooks to their HDTVs, but most of those same consumers never bother to connect the two devices because running a physical cable from your laptop to your TV is rather inconvenient. Wireless display technology finally solves this problem and should help the laptop become the wireless center of your home theater.

2010: The Year of AMD?
One of the biggest and perhaps most welcome changes on the show floor at this year’s CES was the high visibility of laptops with AMD processors and ATI graphics. Dell, HP, Toshiba, MSI, Acer, ASUS, and Lenovo are just a few of the manufacturers offering high-profile laptops with AMD processors and/or ATI graphics in 2010. Although Intel still dominates the top of the CPU food chain with while multi-core CPUs like the Core i3, i5, and i7 processors, AMD is in a great position to dominate the ultraportable and budget mainstream laptop market in 2010. Ultraportable laptops like the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e and Acer Ferrari One offer fantastic performance and usability thanks to AMD processors and ATI graphics while keeping costs low enough for people to afford during rough financial times. ATI may likely continue to hold the largest market share for laptop graphics thanks to a strong price-to-performance ratio, but let’s hope AMD/ATI learn a lesson from NVIDIA in 2010 and start offering mobile GPU drivers on their website.

Worst In Show: Rebadged Netbooks
If there was a single blemish on the shine from this year’s CES it has to be in the netbook category. Despite new graphics options such as NVIDIA’s ION or entirely new platforms such as AMD’s CONGO processors and graphics, most of the netbooks we saw at CES were just minor refreshes of old netbooks with the latest Intel Pineview Atom processors. While it’s true that the newest Intel Atom processors are a little beefier than previous models and the latest Intel integrated graphics are better (particularly when paired with the latest Adobe Flash plugin), these Atom-based netbooks are still horribly underpowered and simply don’t deliver a great user experience. Manufacturers still haven’t realized that consumers want more than just the same weak hardware inside a new netbook shell.



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