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Is MSI dual-screen mini-laptop the way to go for future ultraportables?

MSI's concept device removes a physical keyboard and offers extra screen real estate. Could it be an excellent idea for small devices?

Could this be the future, or a laptop pipe dream?

LAS VEGAS--Amid the tablet, smartbook, and smartphone wars, a new conceptual spin on the old screen-and-keyboard-connected-by-a-hinge way of doing things has us wondering if the idea is so crazy, it just might work.

MSI showed off a concept 7-inch mini-laptop/e-reader at CES, and its most notable feature was the swapping out of the keyboard with a second screen. The device could generate a virtual keyboard in the lower space, or another sort of interface--and, of course, the device could be turned on its side like a book, allowing two-page reading in a more book-like format than single-screen e-readers. It's an idea the Nintendo DS has been on to for years. We've also seen it before from companies such as Asus, and had it on our future dream list. Now, however, with Windows 7 supporting touch devices more intuitively, the idea could be better than before.

What's most appealing here is the versatility: smartbooks and Netbooks have keyboards to enhance productivity, but the hardware adds necessary bulk, and even, sometimes, necessitates a larger screen to ensure both halves are symmetrical. Tablets/slates are less bulky, but have to share some of their screen real estate with virtual keys when necessary, and can be difficult to type on in larger forms. If the keyboard were virtual, it could be scaled or purposed to different sizes, meaning it could get away with being smaller, like a smartphone virtual keyboard, and thus theoretically help make the whole unit tinier than equivalent Netbooks. Haptic feedback for the keys would be a necessity, but it had better be good haptic.

Would a dual-screen device be for you, provided the battery life wasn't horrible? This isn't the first time we've seen a build of a device such as this, and we have a feeling it won't be the last.

Also check out other ultra-small computing devices we saw this year on the CES show floor.