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MWC 2010: MSI Demos Dual Screen Netbook

Gordon Kelly


MWC 2010: MSI Demos Dual Screen Netbook

Haven't we seen this somewhere before...?

Catching our eye in a quiet part of Mobile World Congress this week was MSI which had this stunning beastie hidden away on its stand. A prototype, similar to the canned OLPC XO-2, it drops a physical keyboard in favour of dual screens with a virtual keyboard popping up as and when required.

"We think it has potential" said an MSI spokesperson, "but obviously dual screens make a product more expensive than having just one and so we can't yet produce it for a price we think would make it attractive to customers."

Having tested out the prototype it is also clear that there are some rough edges to smooth out. Fuelled by an Atom processor, it didn't perform any faster than your average netbook while the use of resistive screens meant touches needed to be more deliberate than is ideal for touch typing. That said, MSI was right: the potential is there for all to see and the doubled display real estate was hugely welcome when performing common tasks on a portable device.

Will it come into production? At this stage no, but it does seem a long term inevitability as touchscreen technology and - vitally - haptic feedback improves. Thanks MSI for a tiny glimpse of the future...


February 19, 2010, 7:59 pm

It's going to add weight, cost and battery drain over a normal keyboard. I can see why you might want it in a bigger laptop but in a netbook? No thanks.


February 19, 2010, 8:23 pm

@Xiphias - to the contrary, a screen is one of the slimmest and lightest parts of a laptop so machines can be thinner. They also won't suffer as much from spill damage, will be more hygienic and the extra space saved from omitting the physical keyboard can allow for a larger battery. Lastly, netbooks are where you need more desktop real estate most of all because of their small screen sizes and low resolutions.


February 19, 2010, 8:23 pm

What size are the screens? I think this is a good idea but NOT (Repeat) NOT with windows 7! Instead they should beg microsoft to let them use their Courier Operating System which, from the videos that have been released so far,widdles all over the iPad :-)


Peter 20

February 19, 2010, 8:28 pm

Fancy! but completely impractical.


February 19, 2010, 8:30 pm

@Stelph - they were custom panels, but approximately 12in.


February 19, 2010, 9:32 pm


True, I just replaced the screen in my XPS M1210 and thought I'd been sent an empty box when I received it!!


February 19, 2010, 9:34 pm

As Gordon says, making the screens waterproof enables a significant amount of "disasterproofing", especially as it essentially results in an omni-directional device, so it doesn't matter which way up it is because accelerometers could automatically adjust the screens. In combination with this, splitting the battery into two very slim slices and putting half under each screen could make the battery last a long time...


February 19, 2010, 10:45 pm

Does that netbook in the background of the bottom pic have a keyboard covering 100% of it's bottom half?


February 20, 2010, 2:25 pm

I think this type of display-keyboard has potential. It can be made greatly customizable. Can display multiple languages. Keys can be assigned interchangeably. e.g. Phone type numeric pad can be converted to Calculator type.


February 21, 2010, 3:24 am

@Gordon that is a midly ridiculous counter argument to @Xiphias original point. Screens are definitely heavier and thicker than the keyboard - certainly in the case of netbooks. Screens and wireless chips are the two most power hungry components of a laptop. Adding a second screen will definitely drain more battery and require more processing power from both CPU and GPU. I also think screen is the most fragile part of netbook - much more worried about accidently crack or killing pixels than spilling liquid on the keyboard.


February 21, 2010, 3:38 am

@DEB, it actually isn't. Have you seen the latest LED screens? They are low power, ultra thin (look at any modern laptop from the side with the screen open) and don't obviously require the depth of travel needed for key movement.

They are an extra power drain, but the fact they DO require less space leaves more room for a battery and when even the latest generation of netbooks can playback 720p HD video there will be no issue powering two screens. Furthermore, laptop screens are extremely rugged and I've broken more keyboards in my time and had more keys come loose than encountered cracked displays - furthermore, it virtually eliminates the risk from spills and is more hygienic.

That said, until UIs, virtual keyboards and haptics are improved enough to make this practical they will remain at a concept level.


February 21, 2010, 5:37 am

I have seen LED screens and yes they are thinner, about 3/4 thickness of an LCD panel once removed from supporting bezel. For reference I'm taking the Dell Inspiron 11z vs the original Acer Aspire One(naked panel). The keyboard was still not thicker - key travel is still negligible. So I fail to see where this extra battery space appears from? The motherboard will reside under one of the screens. Include touch sensor layer, haptics etc not the same as stock laptop LED screen. Also I am not saying the CPU/GPU isn't capable of running two screens just that this will STILL be at the expense of battery live vs a single screen. If we were discussing some theoretical device using OLED displays then you would have a point. Judging by the pics in the article this just doesn't hold water neither does a waterproof keyboard.

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