Android, netbook advances dazzle at Computex computer show

Netbooks, smartbooks, CULV laptops, and other gadgets captured widespread attention this week

The Computex Taipei 2009 electronics show ended Saturday after a week-long display of new gadgets, including netbooks, ultrathin laptops made with new Intel chips, and several surprises surrounding Google's Android smartphone operating system.

The show's final numbers were down nearly across the board from last year, but not by much considering the global recession and fears surrounding the H1N1 swine flu.

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Android debuts as a netbook OS
Computex served as a coming-out party for Google's Android mobile operating system in devices outside the smartphones for which it was designed.

Mobile phone chipmaker Qualcomm showed off a previously unannounced version of Asustek Computer's Eee PC based on its Snapdragon processor and running the Android OS. Asustek pioneered netbooks and has used other Linux OSes in its netbooks in the past, but prior to Computex it had almost completely changed over to Microsoft Windows XP, which is the most popular OS for netbooks.

The new Eee PC also lacked the Intel Atom microprocessors that have become ubiquitous in netbooks. Instead the device, which is thinner and lighter than current members of Asustek's Eee PC netbook lineup, uses a Snapdragon chip with a 1GHz ARM processing core. The chips use less electricity and give off less heat than Atoms, so the mini-laptops they're in do not require cooling systems such as heat sinks or fans.

Qualcomm, Freescale Semiconductor and Texas Instruments call the devices smartbooks. The smartbooks on display at Computex looked a lot like netbooks, with 10-inch screens and full keyboards, but they can run for eight hours on a three-cell battery, compared to two or three hours for a netbook with a three-cell battery. One potential benefit of the devices aside from their long battery life is easy connectivity to mobile phone networks for wireless Internet surfing. But one downside is that since they use ARM microprocessors instead of x86 processors such as Atom, they will miss out on the huge library of software made for x86 chips, though software can always be revamped to run on the ARM processors.

Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) also showed off a smartbook running Android, on chips from Texas Instruments.

Acer may become the first company to put out a netbook with Android in the third quarter of this year if it can beat some rivals, such as China's Guangzhou Skytone Transmission Technologies, which has said its Android netbook is undergoing final testing.

What's unique about Acer's new Aspire One netbook with Android is that the processor inside is an Intel Atom, not an ARM-based chip. Acer worked with a Taiwanese Linux distributor to port Android over to x86 processors, a first for the OS.

Not to be left out, MIPS Technologies worked with software developer Embedded Alley to port Android to the MIPS chip architecture, which the companies also showed on devices at Computex.

Several other companies displayed their first-ever Android-based gadgets, including Inventec Appliances, which showed a smartphone and handheld computer and Kinpo, which displayed a handheld computer. Other vendors such as BenQ, Micro-Star International (MSI) and Garmin-Asus vowed to catch up with Android-based products of their own.

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