We're sure someone out there has already dubbed this the year of the tablet, and it's hard to blame them. Gadget makers all over CES
were showing off slate and tablet
devices of every stripe, some running NVIDIA's
Tegra platform and Android
, and some using Intel hardware to push Windows and Linux. But through the chaos, clear trends were forming, dividing lines being drawn. There were also a couple of truly unique devices and teases from a pair of major players. Click on through for more of what we learned about slates and tablets at CES.
Lenovo U1 Hybrid
The early star of the show was a hybrid slate and laptop, appropriately dubbed the U1 Hybrid
(which we covered in detail before
and is shown above). Lenovo
took an innovative, if complex and costly, route by cramming two computers in one device. When docked, it's an Intel
7 laptop, but when the screen is detached, it switches to a finger-friendly Linux
machine powered by a Snapdragon processor. This standout is expected to hit the market around June for about $1,000.
Intel's Atom and Windows 7
Other manufacturers, like Archos
and Viliv, have opted for a more traditional Windows 7-plus-Atom
, keyboardless design. The Archos (which was announced in July but still hasn't found its way to retail channels) is sexy for sure, and feels quite solid in your hand. Still, the tiny screen makes using the standard Windows controls a bit frustrating, especially when combined with a relatively inaccurate, resistive, non-multi-touch screen. Chinese manufacturer Hanvon also had a Win 7 device on hand (above) that looked a lot like what you might imagine the rumored Apple
tablet would. It sported a capacitive multi-touch screen with rather impressive hand-writing recognition -- even when scribbling out words with your finger. The Hanvon device will be shipping in March, but sadly in China only.
MSI Dual-Screen Tablet
finally seems prepared to deliver what has existed purely as a concept for other companies -- a dual-screen tablet. The currently unnamed device packs two 10-inch multi-touch screens, an Atom
processor, and Windows 7. MSI hopes to bring it to market by the end of the year, but was unwilling to speculate what the price might be when that happens. The design seems pretty cool. (Imagine reading a Kindle book like a real book, with pages side by side, and then rotating the laptop to view landscape mode and tapping out a couple of quick e-mails via the on-screen keyboard.) We're just not sure it's very practical -- especially with the standard Win 7 interface.
NVIDIA-Powered Android Is All the Rage
MSI was among
the hordes of companies showing off devices running Android on NVIDIA's new Tegra 2 chipset. Compal
, Notion Ink
, and ICD
(pictured above) were all demoing units running the Google OS on the next-gen platform. The results are decidedly mixed. The Notion Ink Adam is the clear standout product thanks to its Pixel Qi dual-mode display, which made a previous appearance in the OLPC XO
. The Pixel Qi screen sips power like the e-ink screen on the Kindle, is viewable in direct sunlight, and is still somehow capable of showing full color video.
HP Slate and Dell 'Streak'
The big boys teased us with their own devices, as well. During his keynote
, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
briefly demoed an upcoming slate device from HP
. We know nothing about the new PC other than it's running Windows 7 and will be released later this year, but it's big news that a major manufacturer is embracing the form factor. Dell
also afforded us a glimpse of its own 5-inch Web-browsing device (above), which runs Android on an unspecified hardware platform. All we know is that it may or may not be called Streak and that it will have a multi-touch, capacitive screen.
2010: The Year of the Slate?
So, will 2010 prove to be "The Year of the Slate PC?" Well, that all depends on what you mean, exactly. Is this the year that all the manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon? Obviously, yes. Is this the year that consumers fawn over the devices and start buying them en masse? We sincerely doubt it. All of the tablets we had a chance to briefly put through their paces were somewhat underwhelming. At this point, Windows 7 is simply not finger-friendly enough to warrant ditching the keyboard and mouse completely, and most of the Android devices simply lacked polish. Depending on what happens at the end of the month, though, the Apple tablet could still dominate the year.