HP’s first smartbook is almost upon us

Compaq AirLife 100 detailed on HP’s support site

IT’S BEEN NEARLY a year since Asus quickly refuted that it was going to launch a smartbook after it had shown off a product carrying the Eee PC brand at Computex last year, but it seems like HP will be the first company out of the gate with its Compaq AirLife 100 smartbook. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, so no; this isn’t the first Tegra based smartbook either.

The company that’s been making the most noise about smartbooks so far has been Nvidia, which promised devices would be hitting retail with carrier subsidies by last year’s holiday season. Alas, as we all know, this didn’t happen. That’s not to say that Qualcomm hasn’t been talking up its Snapdragon processor as a much better solution than Nvidia’s Tegra and, as these things unfold, Qualcomm ended up the winner when it came to actually bringing a product to market with one of its partners.

The website myHPmini was the one digging out this information from the depths of HP’s support site, as the Compaq AirLife 100 has yet to hit retail. HP showed off the Compaq AirLife 100 at the Mobile World Congress in February, but didn’t reveal many details back then, apart from the fact that it was using a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. In addition to the CPU, we now know that it comes with 512MB of RAM, 512MB of Flash memory and an additional 16GB of Flash memory for storage.

It also sports 802.11b/g WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR, an SD card slot, a micro-USB port, a headphone jack and a 0.3Megapixel webcam. There’s no word on other kinds of data connectivity options, but one of the support pages mentions HSDPA support, although this might vary depending on how the device is sold. The screen is a typical 10.1-inch netbook affair with 1,024×600 resolution, although it has the added bonus of also being a resistive touch panel.

The Li-Polymer battery is rated at a mere 28Wh, but this should still account for a fairly decent battery life, considering that the AirLife 100 has an ARM processor at its core rather than a power hungry x86 alternative. It has a standard QWERTY keyboard and a touchpad for navigation when you don’t feel like pecking around on the screen, although a few customized keys surround the touchpad, due to the choice of OS.

Speaking of the OS, the AirLife 100 is running Android, although it’s not clear which version comes pre-installed. HP has added its own custom UI to Android which is apparently known as the Compaq touch experience. Standard applications include pretty much what you get with any Android phone, although as this is an HP device a few extras are thrown in such as support for wireless printing, though this is limited to photos only. HP has also added support for Flash Lite and the AirLife 100 also comes pre-installed with NDrive navigation software with GPS support which is suggesting that HP has fitted a GPS receiver, although there’s no mention of this in the hardware specifications.

So is the smartbook going to replace the netbook? Well, maybe not yet. Despite the lower weight and hopefully at least competitive, if not better battery life, these types of devices are fairly limited in what you can do with them. That is going to be the case for the time being, until Google spends some time on tuning Android to work better with large screen devices and the developer community starts conjuring up apps that allow ARM powered smartbooks to offer the same functionality as you’d find on an x86 powered netbook.

Then there’s of course that little matter of cost, although we’d expect something like the Compaq AirLife 100 to be quite affordable, at least if you’re willing to sign away the next two years of your life to get it on a discounted cellular contract deal. Last year yours truly was told that Tegra powered smartbooks would cost sub-$300 with subsidies. We would expect the AirLife 100 to end up costing something similar with a data contract, or possibly even less. We’ll just have to wait and see when HP decides to launch the AirLife 100 and who it’ll partner with.S|A

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