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Splittable laptop-tablets: The U1 Hybrid had it right all along

Credit the vaporish U1 Hybrid from Lenovo for being the concept computer that foreshadowed an actual trend in the making.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
2 min read

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sometimes, even if it's vaporware, it doesn't mean its maker isn't on to something.

Three years ago, the Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid caught my eye -- and many others -- at CES in Las Vegas. The idea -- a laptop that had its own detachable tablet -- seemed revolutionary, and at the time it was an idea ahead of even the iPad, which debuted just months later.

The IdeaPad U1 Hybrid was a great idea, with one problem: it never arrived. After surfacing again in 2011 as a Windows/Android detachable hybrid, it again disappeared from view.

The HP Envy x2, very much real. Sarah Tew/CNET

That was 2010. Now it's 2013, and laptops with detachable-tablet screens are everywhere.

Two recent examples reviewed at CNET are the HP Envy x2 and Acer Iconia W510. They're ultraportables leaning on Windows 8's touch-friendly advantages, creating exactly the product I dreamed about back in 2010.

The IdeaPad U1 Hybrid was, in theory, a Windows 7 laptop running off an Intel Core 2 Duo processor in its base, with a separate Qualcomm Snapdragon processor in its tablet-screen. The U1 would switch over to a custom-made Linux-based "Skylight" OS with its own apps in tablet mode.

The HP Envy x2 and Acer Iconia W510 are far simpler in design: both run off Clover Trail Intel Atom processors and use Windows 8, which has both traditional and "app-style" view modes. They have 2GB of RAM and 64GB solid-state drive (SSD) storage. Both have exceptional battery life in tablet mode, and even more with the battery-boosted keyboard base attached. Lenovo makes one, too, but it's now called the ThinkPad Tablet 2.

These laptop-tablet hybrids are part of an ever-evolving hothouse of Windows 8 devices. The day is young for these ultraportables. More are bound to come soon enough with better processors, slimmer designs, and improved battery life.

Both of these hybrids work as advertised, albeit with the horsepower normally expected of a high-end budget Netbook while having the price tags of more powerful ultrabooks.

With the Microsoft Surface Pro around the corner and its clever detachable keyboard cover, not to mention the ease with which you can outfit an iPad or Android tablet with a keyboard (in the case of the Asus Transformer, with its own included keyboard/touch-pad base), maybe the concept of a laptop-style device with clear, distinct detachable parts is the destiny for all tablets and tiny computers. In that case, maybe tablets and laptops are finally beginning to blur together permanently.