Building the Google smartbook dream machine

InfoWorld's 10 essentials for the smartbook revolution to succeed

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, such as on a BlackBerry Bold, 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 (sorry, Tom and Ray) is not welcome. We've sent men to the moon; we can send quiet keyboards to the library.

4. Solid-state drive There's nothing worse than waking up from a good dream, but that's what happens when your netbook battery dies. SSDs (solid-state drives) can double battery life, as well as spiff performance by a factor of two or three. And that all-important startup time will always be much shorter when booting from a solid-state device. (That's why Google's specs for its Chrome OS-based Net appliances allow SSDs but not hard drives.) Fortunately, solid-state technology is improving apace, making SSDs affordable standard equipment for smartbooks.

Security is a natural concern with any portable computer, so the SSD should be combined with whole-drive encryption technology to give users peace of mind about sensitive data that could fall into the hands of criminals or the TSA. Even though Google envisions storing user data in the cloud, information is necessarily cached on a smartbook's internal storage -- that's what it's there for. Bonus points accrue for built-in two-factor authentication using biometrics or plug-in tokens.

5. Ubiquitous networking The "net" in netbook stands for networking, and no self-respecting dream machine can claim the title unless it has the ability to latch onto any modern network. This means 10/100 Ethernet (GigE is a bonus), Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), 3G, 4G (WiMax or the forthcoming LTE), and Bluetooth.

Each of these networking technologies has its place: Ethernet for the desk, Wi-Fi for meetings, 3G and 4G for the road, and Bluetooth for tethering devices like phones, headsets, and mice. A Google smartbook maker gets extra points for upgradeable networking via plug-in modules, which helps future-proof your investment.

6. Variable-speed graphics Sometimes you want long battery life, sometimes you want to not get killed in Robo Defense. Apple solved this problem nicely by building dual graphics processors into select MacBook Pro notebooks: a reasonably fast processor for utilitarian tasks, and a 2.5X processor for turbocharged performance. You can switch between the processors, trading speed for battery life as needed. Unless Apple has patented this idea, it seems a great feature for a dream-standard smartbook, especially given Google's penchant for graphic-intensive applications like Google Earth and Street View.

A standard VGA graphics-out port is a given, since you'll want to use your smartbook as a presentation tool (although that may require running Windows -- horrors! -- in place of Android).

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Tags mobile computingGoogle ChromeGoogle Androidlaptopsnetbooks

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Mel Beckman

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