Of all the CES 2010 tablets that turned to vapor, Lenovo’s IdeaPad U1 Hybrid was my favorite. So I was delighted to see the dual-processor, dual-OS tablet-laptop back at CES 2011 on Tuesday, in the same pre-show event at which it debuted last year.
Lenovo likes to say that the U1 has “two brains.” Underneath the keyboard, there’s an Intel ultra-low voltage processor powering Windows 7. The screen is actually a removable 10-inch tablet (known as the “LePad” on its own) with an ARM-based Snapdragon processor that switches to a customized version of Android when removed from the base. While the tablet is removed, you can still use Windows by plugging the base into an external monitor.
The switch to Android from a custom operating system is the biggest change since last year and the main reason the tablet was delayed, and it’s a sensible thing to do given Android’s massive app marketplace. Still, this U1 maintains the old one’s vibe, with a home screen divided into panels for common apps, photos, music and books. I liked how you could scroll through each panel individually, for instance to browse photos without leaving the home screen.
Lenovo also messed with the typical Android layout of home, back, menu and search buttons. Instead, there’s just one physical home button, but it’s touch sensitive, so the user can swipe downwards to go back, or swipe upwards to access the menu. Presumably, this allows Lenovo to cut down on the tablet’s bezel. I also noticed that the tablet is thinner than last year, coming closer in shape to Apple’s iPad.
Lenovo plans to launch the IdeaPad U1 in China in March or April, with the United States to follow, but while China’s U1 will only get Android 2.2, there’s hope for Honeycomb stateside. Product Specialist Matthew Kohat said the IdeaPad U1 is “likely” to use the tablet-friendly version of Google’s OS in the United States. At the very least, he said, Lenovo will wait until Honeycomb launches before bringing over the hybrid.