Snapdragon-powered Smartbooks: in case your smartphone / netbook ain't cutting it

Remember that Wistron PurseBook we peeked back in early April? Yeah, that's not just some one-off creation to wow folks on a show floor. We just sat down with Qualcomm to hear all about the newest small form factor machine that it has a hand in, and while we're still unsure if the market can handle it, smartbooks are coming. The machines are currently in development by a handful of Qualcomm partners, and while exact specifications have yet to be disclosed, here's what we do know. These devices will be marketed as companions to smartphones and bona fide laptops, and honestly, they kind of look like a stripped down version of Sony's VAIO P. Within the Snapdragon-based rigs, you'll find a 1GHz CPU, a battery good for eight to ten hours of use, WWAN, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, built-in GPS, HD video encoding capabilities and screen resolutions as high as WXGA (1,280 x 768). As with NVIDIA's Tegra, this chip also promises pretty awesome 3D graphics considering the low power draw. Click on for more.

As for software, we're only told that these units will ship with some flavor of Linux on there, and we get the impression that the user interface will look a lot like some of the Linux-based Instant-On operating systems that we've already seen on other machines. In essence, these are designed to provide instant access to email, the internet and other basic Office-type tasks, so we'd expect a pretty dumbed-down GUI. Unlike MIDs and UMPCs -- which, let's be real, have largely flopped -- these machines will typically have displays ranging from 10- to 12-inches (diagonally), and they'll also boast rather sizable QWERTY keyboards. While we're always down for new device categories, we can't say we're exceptionally stoked about trying to put a "smartphone experience on a larger form factor" (Qualcomm's initiative, not ours). We know Celio's REDFLY and Palm's defunct Foleo didn't aim to achieve that exact same thing, but the goal here seems dangerously close to missions that have already demonstrated epic levels of failure.

So, we know what you're thinking: "Can I seriously sidetalk on one of these things?" In short, yeah, you probably could. The Snapdragon obviously handles voice just fine, but we don't get the idea that any of its channel partners will be selling these primarily as voice devices. Though, we were told directly that Qualcomm (and in turn, it's partners who will be building these things) will be tapping into the same sales channels that smartphone vendors already use to move 'em. Before you rip these guys for their short-sightedness, we should remind you that loads of netbooks are already being sold directly by cellphone carriers, and with the recent surge in WWAN demand, it's not all that far-fetched to think that these wouldn't sell in the same places that handsets are offered. That said, it was confirmed that certain smartbooks will be sold only by certain carriers, and thus locked to their data network.

If you're curious about ship dates and the like, we're fully expecting smartbooks from the likes of Acer, Compal, Samsung, ASUS, LG, Toshiba and / or Wistron, though Qualcomm won't definitively say which partners are buying in. Still, the first smartbook should be ready for mass consumption by the "end of this year," and while questions surrounding price were skillfully dodged, we're guessing they'll be slotted somewhere between a smartphone and a netbook. Call it a hunch.