Is Dell’s 5-inch Android behemoth too small for you? Do you wish that the iPad had a keyboard? Or Android? Well HP/Compaq may have just the device for you. They’re calling it a “Smartbook”, apparently a portmanteau of “Smartphone” and “Netbook”. The device was shown briefly at CES, but today it was officially announced by HP (in a press release that only Engadget Spanish seems to have gotten their hands on).
Evidently, the device will be launching soon in Europe as part of Telefonica’s mobile broadband family. But it’s been cleared by the FCC with AT&T-friendly 3G bands so expect in the states at some point, whether subsidized by AT&T or not.
With the Airlife 100, HP is leveraging the increasing power of smartphone processing combined with features only found on a netbook to create a very unique device. Instead of the typical Intel Atom found in netbooks, the Airlife uses a 1GHz Snapdragon. Because it uses Android, it has an instant on feature (which really just means that when you close the lid, it goes into standby mode, like your smartphone).
Making a cross between a netbook and a smartphone is nothing new. The ill-fated Palm Foleo sounded pretty similar to this device on paper. However, the Foleo (aside from being full of fail of its own) had the misfortune of being conceived of before netbooks had taken the world by storm, and Android had gained traction.
With the Airlife, however, it appears that HP has gotten many things right. By combining the best elements of two devices, they’ve come up with something that is better in many ways than either device by itself.
The first thing that jumps out at you is battery life. Because of the more power-efficient smartphone internals, the Airlife states a battery life of 12 hours of usage, and a staggering 10 days of standby. That’s something no smartphone or netbook can do.
The Airlife also bests other devices for flexible input. The 10.1″ screen is touch sensitive, allowing you to use Android’s more finger-friendly features intuitively, coupled with a near-full-size keyboard for text input. For a more traditional notebook experience, it also includes a decent sized trackpad with an interesting button layout. A click button is to the left of the trackpad, with the home and back buttons on the right.
Drawing from the netbook side of things, the Airlife will also have a 16GB SSD, an SD card slot, and a VGA webcam, something we’ve yet to see on a smartphone in the US. Combined with 3G, a webcam could make the Airlife the most viable Skype (or Google Talk) video chat device we’ve seen yet.
No word on what version of Android it’s running, though the pictures make it look like a customized version of Android 1.6. All in all, the HP/Compaq Airlife 100 is a unique and very versatile device that may be headed to AT&T sometime this summer, or possibly sooner. More than just promising to be a great device, however, the Airlife could create a whole new segment of devices, and may blur the lines of “Smartbook” and “Netbook.” Android, being free, is a very attractive option compared with Windows 7, and allows for lower prices to the consumer. And Android is getting more fully-featured by the day, it seems.
We already know that Android is capable of running the full desktop version of Firefox. As Android grows, this kind of device could begin to compete, and eventually overtake the netbook market, not to mention providing a robust alternative to another, completely over-hyped device. With a touchscreen, several browser choices, including full Firefox and Opera Mini with the ability to run Flash content, an Android netbook sounds a lot like “the best way to experience the web”. Et tu, iPad?
(Head over to Engadget for more pictures)
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