Likewise, for those who have been holding out on their purchase of a new notebook, netbook or slate, 2011 will more than likely make you open your wallet and renew your gadget fantasy.
Intel is making some big waves with it's new Sandy Bridge architecture, and the mobile space gets in on the action. Fortunately, Sandy Bridge notebooks were appearing even before CES 2011 opened, with plenty more on show by exhibitors and now appearing in retail channels as well. Incorporating more significant video and graphics capabilities on-die, along with a decent processing performance boost, Intel's new Core i5 and i7 dual and quad-core processors take over from the previous mobile Core i3/i5/i7 derivatives. With the top model Core i7-2920XM now offering 4 cores, HT and a stock 2.5GHz speed all at a TDP of just 55W, it makes my QX9300 almost jealous!
AMD made a notable impact last year with it's Nile platform, and while most units shipped with a 11" form-factor, some did make it into the 10" footprint. AMD continues to smash the Atom (pun intended) in 2011 with Brazos. Numerous manufacturers were demonstrating netbooks based on the new CPU/GPU solution, although technically it's now called an APU. Again, models continue to arrive in the 11" footprint, but I anticipate manufacturers pushing 10" models as well.
Another netbook innovation to watch for in the coming months is Ontario. While not as potent as Zacate, Ontario is the ultra-low TDP verison of Brazos, designed to fit specifically into 10" and smaller netbooks. It will be interesting to see these units perform against Intel's N550, especially on battery life and multimedia capability. Moreover, if manufacturers such as Viliv decide to incorporate Ontario into the smallest Windows 7 devices, such as the S5 and X70 slate, it could result in the emergence of some very interesting hardware indeed!
Slates were grabbing all the attention at CES in Vegas, and a surprising number of them were running Windows 7. Of those on show, I observed at least one already using Intel's newest Oaktrail platform - a much more power-friendly version of Pinetrail that is also promising better mobile multimedia performance. One can only hope that more manufacturers jump on board the slate bandwagon in 2011, as the technology is definitely here to make some great hardware thanks to progress by Intel and AMD. Nailing the form-factor down has also led some iPad owners to already dump the 10" tablet and move down to a more svelte 7-inch - an argument in part explaining the rapid success of the Samsung Galaxy Tab for example.
But while great hardware and form-factor make slates such attractive impulse buys, the underlying software is yet to receive similar attention to detail. As much as smartphones have evolved their own operating systems, and notebooks/netbooks ship with desktop Windows, manufacturers have yet to give birth to an authentic "slate OS". True, Android and WebOS have nailed the touch UI aspects, and Windows provides feature-full web connectivity, but the very nature of slates requires, in my mind, a hybrid solution - fusing the web-surfing capability of a Windows netbook with the fluid touch interface of a smartphone OS. Many experts today will say, however, that Windows 7 is unusable on a slate device, but my experience with a smartphone OS says the same thing, just from the opposite angle. With Windows 8 only scheduled for RTM in 2012, it will be up to the ingenuity of slate manufacturers to develop a good touch UI overlay for Windows 7 hardware in 2011.