Freescale Semiconductor has thrown its hat into the pre-CES hype ring by revealing a Smartbook Tablet reference design that "combines (the) best attributes of smartphones and notebook PCs for the ideal blend of performance, portability and battery life" (from the press release). Unlike other smartbook concepts we have seen previously, which tend to be small ultra-thin clamshells, Freescale's design is innovative in that it is fundamentally a standalone tablet for easy portability, but with a full QWERTY keyboard docking station to plug into when stationary and for easier text input.
Before I go any further, I have to point out that currently this is only a reference design/concept that is not slated for production, but meant to serve as a reference/inspiration for OEMs and ODMs.
The Freescale tablet is also a showcase of the company's technology including a 7-inch WSVGA touch screen and its 1GHz i.MX515 processor based on the ARM Cortex A8 architecture. The processor also includes hardware graphics acceleration in the form of OpenVG and OpenGL/ES graphics cores and HD video decoding in hardware. Other specifications are 512MB of DDR2 RAM, between 4 to 64GB of internal storage, support for microSD cards, optional 3G connectivity, b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS, support for USB 2.0 and USB mini, audio in/out, a 3MP camera, 3-axis accelerometer, ambient light sensor, speakers, and microphone. The device also features a 1900mAh battery, combined with the energy efficient CPU to create a true all-day device. A battery life of around 12 hours, with WiFi on and at 80% screen brightness, has been quoted by Freescale. All this comes at a pleasantly portable 13.26 ounces.
With the ARM-based core, the operating system is likely to be Linux-based, but no further details are mentioned, although options such as Android or perhaps even the upcoming Chrome OS could be possibilities. Freescale has stated that it envisions the tablet to include software such as a full featured, Adobe Flash capable web browser, an RSS reader, a media center, PDF and image viewers, an office suite, mail client, handwriting utilities, and widgets for services such as Twitter, Flickr, Weather, Facebook, SMS, and others.
If the design and specifications are not enough to convince you, the company has also stated that it's aiming for a price of around $200, which would only be possible if the product and smartbook category as a whole took off, lowering production costs. The current materials cost of a product like the smartbook tablet is thought to be in the region of $130 to $200 already. Freescale expects the reference design to be available for evaluation by third-party manufacturers in February and believe an actual product based on the design could launch by the middle of the year.
I think this is a really great concept – a very capable tablet with a well thought-out design and great hardware, paired with a dock-able keyboard for home use. If it really were available for close to $200 it would be an absolute steal! But realistically, if an actual product does emerge, I think it will certainly be sold for a higher, albeit still reasonable price. Although overall I quite like the styling, I'm a bit unsure about the current choice of colors and the material looks a bit cheap, even if it's only just a reference design. I'm really hoping we will see a company adopt this and bring an actual product to market.
What do you all think? Are you also hoping to see a smartbook tablet on shelves later this year?