It’s no secret that chip maker Qualcomm has been working on low power processors for mini-laptops for a while now. The company, which is best known for developing cellphone processors, has been demonstrating netbook prototypes at trade shows since late 2008. Today Qualcomm upped its game by introducing a whole new term: Smartbook. The idea is that Smartbooks look a lot like netbooks, but pack many of the features we’ve come to expect from handheld smartphones.

Smartbooks use the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset which is based on an ARM-based CPU with integrated WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and 3G mobile broadband capabilities. It also has 3D graphics  capabilities and the ability to play HD video. So what’s the catch? Windows doesn’t run on the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset. Windows XP, Vista, and 7 won’t run on it. And neither will OS X. That means that Smartbooks are going to run custom versions of Linux or other operating systems like Windows CE.

And that’s OK if you think of a Smartbook as a mobile companion. You can use it to get online, check your email, watch web video, surf the web, and so on. It’ll do everything that a Smartphone does, but it will have the larger screen and keyboard of a netbook. Because the Snapdragon chipset also uses less power than Intel’s Atom chipset, Smartbooks could also get better battery life than comparably sized netbooks. Qualcomm is banking on the idea that users don’t care about the operating system or the ability to run the desktop apps they’re familiar with from Windows or OS X. They just want to be able to use the internet on a mobile device.

But I’ve  long contended that the reason netbooks are popular isn’t just because they’re cheap, small, and light… but because they’re cheap, small, light, and they run the operating systems users expect.  I still get questions all the time from people asking how they can install iTunes on netbooks running Linux. While users may be willing to deal with an unusual, but user-friendly interface on their cellphones, give people a device that looks like a computer and I think they’re going to expect it to act like a computer.

On the other hand, this Smartbook idea could seriously catch on with netbook enthusiasts that are already fans of Linux. Smartbooks could feature 1GHz Snapdragon processors, a variety of wireless connectivity options, GPS, HD Video, and 10 to 12 inch screen resolutions up to 1280 x 768 pixels.

Here are a few links with more information about the Smartbook platform:

via Engadget and GigaOM

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22 replies on “Qualcomm coins the term Smartbook for netbook/smartphone mashup”

  1. “That means that Smartbooks are going to run custom versions of Linux or other operating systems like Windows CE.”
    They can also run regular GNU/Linux distributions, which is what I’ll do.

  2. Just realised apart from Book digital selling an ARM based netbook called the Smartbook there is a German Laptop company called smartbook. IIRC

    so they could see a challenge from 2 camps 🙂

  3. 10 to 12 inches? They better make that 8-10 inches if they want to gain any traction. The 10 to 12 inch segment is bound to be dominated by Atom or other x86 processors.

  4. The magic here is a cortex a8 base with 1GB ram, 8/16GB SSD, 720p screen. Also a non craptastic keyboard (good feel and proper right shift!).

    All for under $250. I wonder if this will be possible. It will have to be I think. The linux distros are just about there.

  5. I’ve been waiting for these for what seems like forever now. =D Actually, what I really want is one of these shoved into a 10″ touch tablet with a pixelQi screen. That would make me very happy.

    That said, I’ll snap up the first of these that doesn’t suck regardless of form factor!

  6. Actually,

    Gotta wonder…

    I own a device that was called a Smartbook G138 and was made by Book Digital. It is basically slightly smaller than a Netbook, has an ARM CPU, Has a keyboard, 7″ touchscreen and a GPRS connection.

    If anyone still ownes the trademark I can see a courtcase looming. Surely if you are going to use a name for a product family you would type it into google and see what comes up first.


  7. Ok so full OS apps may be import….

    But if you are looking at 3hrs vs 10 or 12 hours from similar sized battery then it is not such a no brainer….

    I am looking forward to their arrival 🙂

  8. Smartbook? That would only cover the Qualcomm Snapdragon. ARMbook covers all the ARM based netbooks. I truly hope this next wave of ARMbooks is “fully baked” unlike the first group of ARMbooks. If we get another group that works as poorly as the Razorbook the ARMbooks are doomed. Hardware/software integration must be perfect and adding software must be a breeze (like Synaptic). It they pull it off, few will care that they don’t run Windows. If they don’t, they are dead.

    1. The razorbook and all other chinese based machines had a samsung ARM9 SOC designed for satnav etc.

      Most were 266-400Mhz and the SOC only had a framebuffer with no grfx acceleration at all. They were trying to drive a larger screen than most pda/sat navs would be asked to produce. No wonder it wasn’t up to scratch.

      There is just no comparision in terms of hardware. Software implementation will have to be slick though.


      1. ARM Cortex which launches in those new Smartbooks is 5-10 times faster than previous ARM processors, it handles processing in a superscalar way which means it is much better at running a browser and other useful applications compared to those first wave of satnav originating ARM processors in the Razorbook, Hivision, Menq and other early ARM laptops that were advertised at trade shows and which I filmed a bunch of at

  9. If I can browse the web (Firefox), handle word processing and spreadsheets (OpenOffice), play videos (VLC), and so on – why should I care about which “operating system” the computer runs on?

    People don’t need an OS, they need *applications*. If this platform has enough power to run the usual stuff – web, office, video, music – even with the same programs people already know from Windows, then the technical details don’t matter.

    Most people also don’t care which OS runs on their phone – they care about the whole experience.

    If these ARM-netbooks can deliver a good enough experience, for maybe 200$ with all-day-battery-life, customers will buy them.

    1. Half the time i suspect itunes is not so much about ipod, as it is about having that itunes interface on ones screen when friends drop by…

      Its akin to having the right kind of logo on products that have only indirect connection to the products that logo usually represent.

      Basically, its about showing that one is “in touch with the current fashions”…

  10. I seriously doubt the lack of Windows will be the problem ya think it will be. The ASUS 701 sold well enough to create the whole netbook scene, which is what drove Microsoft to bring back XP and offer it up at fire sale prices.

    And these units promise to be selling cheaper and in a worse economy. Meanwhile other ‘netbooks’ have jumped to over $400 on average. And while these new ARM machines won’t run Windows they will be able to offer a full Linux experience, Firefox with Flash and depending on the specs they can get OO.o going as well. If they really can get HD video playing back that should cover most of the basics.

    1. >depending on the specs they can get OO.o going as well.

      OO.o 3.1 is quite fast and should be OK, I think.

      If not, KOffice 2.0.0 is just out:

      KOffice is lighter and faster than OO.o, and also KDE4 is faster than GNOME, without scrificing much functionality. Overall this would be very useable on an ARM netbook.

      (1) Kexi (MS Access equivalent) is out in KOffice 2.0.0, it won’t be available until the next version, KOffice 2.1.
      (2) One area that KOffice doesn’t bother much with is compatibility with legacy MS Office formats (one of the reasons why it is lighter and faster). Interoperability is achieved instead via ODF format.
      (3) Apparently, KWord doesn’t do tables in this version. One would have to wait for version 2.1 for that to be re-implemented.
      (4) KOffice 2.0.0 is very much a “.0 version”, so beware.

      1. Better to wait with general consumption of KOffice 2 until 2.1 or 2.2; it’s similar to the story with KDE4 (which byw should have by now quite a bit more features than Gnome…) – x.0 release wasn’t really for typical end-users.

    2. While i would love to agree with you, i recall seeing more then one question back then about how to install windows on 701’s.

      Still, in hindsight the xandros distro was a mess of epic proportions. And acer’s linpus offer (tho apparently easier to “hack” so that one could install fedora software) was not much better.

      Now, if they had come with proper ubuntu or fedora out of the box, rather then the 2 gen+ old offshots of debian and fedora that one got, it may have turned out different, or it may not.

      In any case, as long as its x86 based, microsoft will want it to run windows in some form, as the home computer market is a foot in the door to the corporate desktop market, and also a nice “training ground” for users…

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