I got a chance to spend some time with the Lenovo Skylight today. It’s one of the first smartbooks based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform. Thanks the ARM-based processor, the Skylight is ultrathin, fanless, and designed to get more than 10 hours of battery life. It also has an HD display and can play 720p video locally. But I found that it struggles a bit with some high quality Flash video.

One of the first things I checked was how the Skylight handles Hulu video. In windowed mode, playback is pretty good. There might be a few dropped frames, but you won’t really notice. If you blow the picture up to full screen mode, on the other hand, the video becomes quite choppy and their are audio/video sync issues. Lenovo, Qualcomm, and Adobe are working on this, and it’s possible the issue could be resolved by the time the Skylight hits the streets in April.

The overall user interface is quite interesting. While the smartbook is running Linux, you’ll never see a command line or any of the usual desktop apps. Instead, there’s a dock at the bottom of the device that lets you access all the available applications. Right now there’s just over two dozen, but there could be more or fewer by the time the Skylight is available to the public.

When you launch an app from the dock, it doesn’t open in full screen mode the way you might expect. Rather, it adds a widget to the home screen. You can see information from up to 6 widgets at a time, with apps for Twitter, Facebook, weather, RSS readers, or Firefox. If you want to use an app like Firefox, just click on the widget to open the 3-pane view, which brings that application to the forefront, while still letting you see live updates from two other widgets in a sidebar.

If you’d prefer to make an app full-screen, you can do that too, and make the sidebar go away altogether.

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with how well the UI works. Lenovo has succeeded in making a device where you don’t think about the underlying operating system any more than most people think about the OS running on their mobile phones. But it still provides much of the functionality you would expect from a web-centric notebook, particularly through the Firefox web browser. The demo unit I saw was running Firefox 3.6 beta 5 with the Flash plugin. While the Skylight had a bit of trouble keeping up with Hulu, it handled Javascript-heavy web sites such as Google Maps beautifully.

The only thing I worry about is the fact that right now the Skylight OS is a closed system. If you want to update to the latest version of Firefox, for instance, you’ll need to wait for Lenovo to push the update. And while the idea is to open the platform up to third party developers, it’s certainly possible that those 20-some apps and widgets that are available today are the only ones you’ll ever get to play with.

You can check out my hands-on video after the break.

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15 replies on “First look at the Lenovo Skylight user interface – Video”

  1. I love this product, but the closed ecosystem mindset is a big mistake. And will the browser work with Firefox extensions, like Weave, Adblock, etc. If not it is a HUGE mistake by Lenovo, even bigger than not allowing 3d party apps to be installed at will. With mobile web access coming into the forefront, Weave is going to be Firefox killer feature.

    BTW, nothing is stopping Lenovo from having an official repository and recommend people to use it, while simultaneously allowing opt-in 3d party repos as well. Let’s hope they come to their senses.

  2. Looking forward to a review of this when it comes out.

    Seems like a lot of potential here. I wonder if it has the same media player app as the Lenovo U1 (see the ~0:30 in the Engadet video: http://www.viddler.com/explore/engadget/videos/874/ ), as that was really slick.

    Others things I’d be concerned about would be the battery life under real-world conditions and if the included Firefox browser can use add-ons (I’m married to Adblock Plus and Tree Style Tabs).

    Guess we’ll find this out when the production model hits (unless you want to ask some quick follow-ups and post an update).

    Thanks for the great coverage so far.

  3. i am sure some enterprising geek will find a way to get a terminal going and root the system, allowing random stuff to be installed soon after it hits the market. Snapdragon looks like a winner in terms of cpu power vs battery life and heat build up, judging by the size of the products so far 😀

  4. They should include an office suite if they want it to do what a netbook can and has already been doing (a productivity device).

    1. If its running Linux, one can download OpenOffice. Its the perfect Office Suit and fully compatible with MS Office.

      I have halted all my plans of buying a crappy heavy N450 netbook and waiting for this.

      1. I figure that will be it’s best option but this ‘closed system’ seems like Lenovo might not allow an office suite in the first place (I mean why wouldn’t it come pre-installed if they did). It may need to be rooted like turn_self_off suggests.

        1. If Lenovo does not allow an office suite then fine, other manufacturers would. There would be Linux and Android versions soon. Soon, Asus, HP will come out with theirs.

          Lenovo better buck up and have an open system, if not, the consumer can always go elsewhere.

          Anyway, looking fwd to the Asus version. I hear its half the price.

      2. Yeah, it might be possible to hack the Skylight to allow 3rd party apps to
        run. But out of the box you won’t be able to install anything except for the
        apps that are available from Lenovo. And that means no offline office apps.

        1. Then I am sure many would jump elsewhere. There is always Asus, Acer, Dell and HP.

          By time the Lenovo goes on sale, the other big boys would have launched their Smartbooks.

    2. The overall user interface is quite interesting. While the smartbook is running Linux, you’ll never see a command line or any of the usual desktop apps. Instead, there’s a dock at the bottom of the device that lets you access all the available applications. Right now there’s just over two dozen, but there could be more or fewer by the time the Skylight is available to the public. details: http://bit.ly/lenovo-skylight-leak-details

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