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10 must-have features in a dream smartbook

These specs will ensure smartbooks succeed

Netbooks may have managed to set the mobile computing market alight, but can smartbooks follow in their footsteps? We look at the 10 must-have features smartbooks need to succeed.

1. Multitouch screen

Smartphones such as the iPhone and Palm Pre rely on a multitouch screen interface for almost all of their operations.

Although not fully implemented in the Motorola Milestone, the Android OS has the same capabilities.

The key is that the screen itself be touch-sensitive: as users of Acer's Aspire Android netbook have reported, a multitouch trackpad is not an adequate substitute.

There are just too many times when you have to locate your fingers directly on objects on the screen, and moving a pointer first is just plain ugly.

Imagine Tom Cruise trying to operate the 'Minority Report' screens with a mouse. A multitouch screen can still be used with a trackpad, so users can keep their hands on the keyboard when they like.

Thinking outside the box, there is no reason a dream smartbook has to follow the clamshell bandwagon.

Consider a twist-around touchscreen that lets you turn your smartbook into a netpad, like the Acer Aspire 1420p laptop does. Dreamalicious! Even a detachable, stowable keyboard is no fantasy feature.

2. Android buttons

Android smartphones use four dedicated hardware buttons - Home, Menu, Back and Search - as integral components of the user interface.

Android overloads these buttons with multiple functions, depending on whether the button is pressed once quickly, pressed and held (the ‘long press'), or double-clicked.

For example, holding the Home button brings up a list of running applications, similar to typing Alt-Tab on a Windows laptop.

Android phone users become intimately familiar with these functions, making them part of their gesture muscle memory.

Regardless of whether that's good or bad, users transitioning between devices had better find Android's special buttons on any Android smartbook they use - or else they'll quickly become frustrated.

Do the buttons have to be actual hardware? Not really: Virtual buttons on the trackpad, or even the touch screen itself, could be acceptable substitutes.

As a corollary, the device should have hardware audio volume and mute controls, rather than double-duty keyboard buttons, to give users fast access to sound levels.

Why? Because phones do, and many Android smartbook users will have Android smartphones.

3. Full-sized keyboard

Some netbooks take little to inappropriate lengths, as it were, with keyboards that are just slightly smaller than full size: generally about 90 percent as large.

Small keyboards are workable when you can operate them with two thumbs but when they're too large for that, anyone without small hands will likely find themselves typoing rather than typing.

The 10 percent size difference is not worth the pain it induces in users. Because Google is about nothing if not usability, any truly dreamy smartbook will have a full-sized keyboard.

While on the subject of keyboards, netbook and smartbook builders of all stripes should consider keyboard noise.

Any Google smartbook is going to find itself in quiet settings where continuous click and clack is not welcome. We've sent men to the moon; we can send quiet keyboards to the library.

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NEXT PAGE: SSDs, networking and graphics

  1. These features will ensure smartbooks succeed
  2. Multiouch and Android buttons
  3. SSDs, networking and graphics
  4. Built-in accelerometer, GPS and compass
  5. What dreams may come

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