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What to look for at CES 2010

Lenovo offers alternative with smartbook, while IBM has a plan to monitor your health while watching TV

The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show will kick off officially on the 7th of this month, but CDN Now has a few tidbits to get your started.

Executives from manufacturers, retailers, content providers and creators, broadband developers, wireless carriers, cable and satellite TV providers, installers, engineers, corporate buyers, government leaders, financial analysts and the media from more than 140 countries are planning on attending CES this year. What they’ll see depends on the amount of time they have to negociate the many packed halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

But CDN Now has learned that these few gadgets bring about a lot of buzz coming out of the show.

First up is the Lenovo Skylight. Lenovo is trying to launch a brand new computing category with this product. It’s the first hybrid smartbook/mini-laptop. The company says Skylight combines the best features of netbooks and smartphones, albeit without telephone functions.

The lightweight device weighs 1.95 pounds (0.88 kilograms) and resembles a netbook, with a 10.6-inch screen and compact keyboard.

The low-cost device is designed for customers who want Internet on the go without PC functionality, said Ninis Samuel, marketing director at Lenovo.

Powered by Qualcomm’s Arm-based Snapdragon processor, the device offers 10 hours of battery life and includes integrated 3G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Lenovo is one of the early PC makers to offer Arm-based mini-laptops, which have been called “smartbooks” by some chip makers. Smartbooks could fill a big void for consumers who need the simplicity of smartphone usage in a PC-like device, Samuel said.

IBM, meanwhile, is pushing for intelligent homes as Internet-connected household devices get access to more online content and services.

Entertainment devices like TVs are connecting to online services to watch movies, but services can be expanded to cut electricity bills, monitor health and keep homes safe, said Scott Burnett, director of IBM’s digital convergence group.

IBM will display gadgets that enable automation and monitoring features at the CES show starting Jan. 7. The company will show off smart meters, health devices, security monitors and TVs that use IBM’s software platform to access and monitor data.

For example, IBM researchers will demonstrate a virtual smarter home prototype with advanced security features. Through a virtual three-dimensional replica of the house, visitors will be able to observe and control the security elements, with the ability to remotely control shutters, doors and surveillance cameras.

MSI plans to show off a netbook with dual 10-inch touchscreen displays, one meant for computing and the other for reading e-books at CES.

Users type on the concept device via a virtual keyboard on one of the touchscreens, MSI said. The device uses an Intel Atom microprocessor (Menlow) and Microsoft Windows 7, as well as a SSD (solid state drive) for storage.

Netbook vendor Asustek Computer showed off a similar design at the CEBIT electronics show in Germany last March. The two touchscreen prototype was created to show how screens could be used in portable devices. Asustek said a dual e-reader, notebook was one possibility, and that the two screens could also be used together for widescreen movies or other shows.

MSI will also display a 3D laptop with a 15.6-inch 3D high-definition screen that runs on Nvidia 3D Vision chips and technology. Nvidia 3D glasses are required for the visual effect. A company representative declined to provide further details.

The Taiwanese gadget maker has also readied a wireless laptop battery charger for CES. Set the laptop on a wireless battery charging pad and it will automatically recharge the battery, MSI said.

The Hearst publishing company’s e-reader strategy will take a big step forward at this week’s CES show, when the unique Skiff Reader makes its debut. Skiff, a Hearst-backed startup previously known as FirstPaper, will demonstrate a flexible, large screen e-reader optimized for newspapers and magazines. The Skiff Store will deliver the digital content via a 3G wireless network (currently not available in Canada).

The Skiff effort is intriguing for a number of reasons. First, it’s a cornerstone of Hearst’s ambitious plan to lure back paying subscribers, many of whom have abandoned printed publications for free Web content. Second, Skiff represents a new challenger to existing (and future) e-readers, including the Amazon Kindle and Kindle DX, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, and a mysterious tablet that Apple may or may not announce later this month.

This is not your average e-reader device.

The Skiff Reader offers something the other e-readers don’t. This device is quite flexible.

How does it pull off this contortionist’s trick? The Skiff’s 11.5-inch touchscreen, unusually large for an e-reader, utilizes a thin, bendable sheet of stainless-steel foil rather than glass-based displays favoured by other e-readers. Designed by LG Display, the Skiff screen is built to take the wear and tear that portable tablets would likely endure–in the car or classroom, on the train or bus, at an airport terminal, and just about anywhere else you’d take a newspaper or magazine, including the john.

There are some drawback such as there’s no colour, so the Skiff Reader won’t double as a media player. The display does offer an impressive resolution of 1200 x 1600 pixels, however. The device is very portable too, weighing just over a pound and lasting about a week between charges, the company says.

With files from: Jeff Bertolucci, Agam Shah, and Dan Nystedt.