What it Takes to Build the Ideal Android Smartbook

Google could pioneer a new approach to computing by combining these 10 technologies into a netbook.

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The 10 essential components for a smartbook

Laptops are too complex and bulky. Netbooks are too dumbed-down. What the world needs is a smartbook, which combines the best attributes of a laptop, netbook, and smartphone. Here are the 10 key attributes an Android smartbook should have.

Get the details on the 10 essentials for building the Google smartbook dream machine.

Learn the truth about the Chrome OS and the questions around the Android OS.

Discover what makes the perfect laptop in InfoWorld's animated concept.

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1. Multitouch screen

As users of Acer's Aspire Android netbook have reported, a multitouch trackpad is not an adequate substitute. You need a touchscreen that supports gestures, as the iPhone has amply demonstrated. A gesture-capable trackpad is fine as an addition for that touchscreen, but not as a replacement.

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2. Android buttons

Android smartphones use four dedicated hardware buttons — Home, Menu, Back, and Search — as integral components of the user interface. They may look a bit different from one device to another (as you can see in the Motorola Droid and HTC Droid Eris here), but they perform the same actions. An Android smartbook needs to have them too.

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3. Full-sized keyboard

Some netbooks take little to inappropriate lengths, as it were, with keyboards that are just slightly smaller than full size: generally about 90 percent as large. Small keyboards are workable when you can operate them with two thumbs, such as on a BlackBerry Bold, but on a laptop-style device, the 10 percent size difference is not worth the pain it induces in users. Any ideal smartbook will have a full-sized keyboard — just as ideal netbooks such as the Samsung N120 already do.

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4. Solid-state drive

SSDs can double battery life, as well as spiff performance by a factor of two or three. And that all-important startup time will always be much shorter when booting from a solid-state device. As their prices come down, SSDs simply make sense as the de facto smartbook drive.

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5. Ubiquitous networking

A smartbook has to be able to connect to any modern network — and ideally be upgradable to new ones as they come along. This means 10/100 Ethernet (GigE is a bonus), Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), 3G, 4G (WiMax or the forthcoming LTE), and Bluetooth.

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6. Variable-speed graphics

Sometimes you want long battery life, sometimes you want to not get killed in Robo Defense. Apple solved this problem nicely by building dual graphics processors into select MacBook Pro notebooks: a reasonably fast processor for utilitarian tasks, and a 2.5X processor for turbocharged performance. All smartbooks should do the same.

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7. Integrated microphone, camera, and audio I/O

Cell phone multimedia recording has made its mark on society, bringing eyes and ears to all kinds of public, and less than public, venues. Google, being the home of YouTube, could not in good conscience support a smartbook without the ability to record video and audio, as well as upload it to the Web in real time.

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8. Built-in accelerometer, GPS, and compass

As any iPhone user can tell you, this trio of technologies has ushered in a new wave of genius applications for smartphones: turn-by-turn navigation, augmented virtual reality, and geo-tagged data collection, to name just a few. Google's wealth of geographic databases make it a natural adjunct for the virtual surveying capabilities you get by combining these three position-measuring features, and a smartbook's large screen and keyboard add up to much more convenience for serious geographic information processing compared to a smartphone.

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9. Dual-boot capability

Even casual users occasionally need access to capabilities only Windows can provide, though it does so slowly. Dual-boot is an emergency escape hatch from the necessarily constrained world of pure Google apps, and an essential feature for most people. (Look how Apple's support of dual Mac OS X/Windows boot revitalized the Mac market a few years back.)

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10. Thin, thin, thin

Given that smartphones already have most of the capabilities of a smartbook — sans screen and keyboard — how hard can it be to make a smartbook as thin as a smartphone? Surely the 0.36-inch thinness of Amazon's Kindle 2 can be achieved in a netbook.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.