Sharp's New Netbook Has a Touch-Screen Trackpad

If you thought the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds laptop was an impressive design win with its secondary, slide-out display, then you ain't seen nothing yet... Today, Sharp has announced the latest addition to its Mebius line of portables--the Mebius PC-NJ70A netbook--which features a trackpad that also happens to function as a 4-inch multi-touch-capable LCD-based display.

We've been hearing rumors about integrating displays into trackpads for a while now; although the prime candidate for such an innovative design had it coming from none other than Apple. If Apple is working on such a design, it looks like Sharp has beaten Apple to the punch. That said, Sharp's implementation differs somewhat from how Apple would likely integrate the design. Apple would in all likelihood use the same multi-touch-capable touch-screen technology it uses in the iPhone and iPod touch. Sharp, on the other hand has placed optical sensors beneath the display surface in order to recognize input from fingers, styluses, or pens:

"The 4-inch optical sensor LCD pad in this notebook PC is more than just a conventional track pad thanks to its new touch-sensing recognition method: in addition to conventional mouse operation, it allows pen-based input of drawings and text, as well as multiple-finger-touch operation (gestures) to enlarge, shrink, or rotate items on the screen. For example, users can sign their name to an on-screen photo before e-mailing it, or they can use two fingers to zoom in and out of Internet Web sites to make them just the right size for viewing. Unlike regular touch panels, Sharp's optical sensor LCD pad requires no touch sensor or protective film, so illustrations and photos are crystal clear. And the large effective operation area allows for more freedom of movement."

Hands-on video from Akihabranews

The 4-inch LCD features a resolution of 854x480, support up to 65K colors, and uses an LED backlight. The PC-NJ70A's primary display is a 10.1-inch LCD with a resolution of 1024x600. The relatively small-sized primary display combined with the unit's 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU are what put the PC-NJ70A in the "netbook" product category. The PC-NJ70A comes with 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM (upgradable to 2GB), a 160GB SATA hard drive, and an Intel 945GSE Express chip set that also supplies the netbook's graphics. The PC-NJ70A also includes a 1.3-megapixel CMOS webcam, 802.11b/g wireless networking, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, and a multi-card memory card reader. Sharp claims that the 10.2x7.5x0.9-1.6 (WDH), 3.2-pound, netbook has about a 3-hour battery life.

The PC-NJ70A will first ship in Japan and will be available in either white or black colors. RegHardware claims that the PC-NJ70A will sell for ¥80,000 (about $816 USD). The Japanese version of the PC-NJ70A has an 86-key JIS keyboard and comes with Windows Vista Home Basic SP1. There is no word yet on when (or even if) the PC-NJ70A will be available in the U.S., or how such a design might differ beyond including a U.S. keyboard and English-language software. It also remains to be seen if people will be willing pay a significant premium for a netbook that has this unique capability, when more typical netbooks can be had for hundreds of dollars less.