Lenovo LePad and U1 Hybrid early hands-on

Believe it or not, it's been almost a year since we caught a look at Lenovo's IdeaPad U1 Hybrid, and while we've heard numerous times that the device and a new tablet part -- the LePad -- were still kicking, we've got some rock solid evidence this time around. Okay, we got some of the best evidence out there -- pictures and early impressions of the China-bound 10.1-inch LePad tablet and its U1 dock / shell. Now, we don't want to get your hopes up too much -- we didn't get to spend all that much time with either of the units and they were in very early form, but that didn't stop us from playing around with both of them and taking some notes. Interested? We thought so. Hit the break for a short rundown and don't forget to peruse the gallery below on your way. %Gallery-111893%

LePad - Forget whatever you remember about the U1 tablet that we saw at last year -- the 10.1-inch LePad is a totally different beast. And we mean that in a very good way. The version that we saw, which is the one slated for release in China sometime this month or next, had a very responsive capacitive display with much (much!) better viewing angles than the former 11.6-inch model. To boot, Lenovo has wisely ditched that Skylight OS for Android. Navigating the Android 2.2 interface (we're still assuming Lenovo's waiting for Honeycomb in the US) was pretty smooth, and as you can see in the pictures, the company's drastically retooled the stock experience by bringing over quite a bit from its LePhone skin. The colorful UI is a bit too playful and in-your-face for us, but it stretches across three panels -- one has circular app shortcuts, another is divided into four media panes (music, photos, etc.), and a final one stores widgets. That middle media pane was actually pretty slick -- similar to the UI on the Skylight version, you can adjust the size of the different music, photo, video and e-book boxes by dragging the circular toggle in the middle. Other than that though, it doesn't seem like Lenovo is doing much to take advantage of the extra screen space within apps.

Overall, the performance seemed to be pretty good for pre-production unit. We couldn't test out the browser or scrolling speed, but when we fired up what looked to be an HD trailer of Nacho Libre, there were no issues watching Jack Black prance around. We'd venture to guess Lenovo's using Tegra 2 inside, but then again, we've heard that they may be using fresh Snapdragon guts. The unit also had a mini-HDMI port, mini-USB and headphone jack along with a front- and rear-facing cameras. As for the actual look and feel of the hardware, we'd say it was comparable in weight to the iPad, though the back of the device seemed to be made of both metal and plastic.

U1 Hybrid dock - Unfortunately, the U1 dock we saw was a non-working model, so we couldn't actually attach the LePad and boot up Windows. That said, the chassis is rather thick, but the hardware seems to be much improved -- the 10-inch form factor makes it closer in size now to a netbook and the styling is akin to some of Lenovo's most recent ultraportables. It has a very similar chiclet keyboard to that on the IdeaPad U160 and the touchpad has two mouse buttons. Since the unit wasn't working we have no idea what sort of internals it packs, but we do know that it has a USB port and HDMI socket. Our biggest concern here is endurance -- the battery seems to be integrated into the chassis and our recent experience with the Dell Inspiron Duo left us wanting more runtime in netbook mode.

That's all we can really tell you from our short time with the early products. We've got our fingers crossed that Lenovo will be showing closer to final versions at CES or that we'll be able to catch a glance at a production LePad on the streets of Hong Kong soon, but until then we seem to be left with quite a few questions. But, hey, at least we know that after a year, this duo still exists!