Lenovo U1 laptop tablet hybrid to be reborn with Android

We haven’t heard much about Lenovo’s U1 laptop-tablet hybrid since the company demonstrated the product at CES, and for good reason: Lenovo is swapping out its home-grown tablet operating system for Android.

Tablet PC Review relayed the news from TechnologyGuide, reporting that Lenovo had started developing the U1 before Android became popular. With several PC makers now working on their own Android tablets, it makes sense for Lenovo to follow suit and adopt a recognizable operating system for the computer’s tablet portion.

The U1 is one of the most unique products I saw at CES. At first glance, it’s a Windows netbook like any other. However, the monitor is actually a fully-functioning tablet, detachable from the rest of the device with its own processor, storage and lightweight operating system. Meanwhile, the U1’s bottom half still houses Windows PC guts, so you could theoretically plug it into an external display and run both halves at the same time.

For me, it’s an ideal setup, because I usually dock my laptop to an external monitor for work, use my iPad for casual Web browsing and bring both computers when travelling. It’d be nice to have one modular device that performs all those tasks.

My beef with the U1 was the tablet’s operating system, a custom Linux build by Lenovo. It generally lacked polish, and who knows whether Lenovo would support the one-off OS down the line? By going with Android, Lenovo can take advantage of a growing app market and a platform that’s getting more attention from consumers every day.

Now for the bad news: Lenovo won’t give a release date or even a time frame for the U1. Not that it’s considerably behind other Android tablets — none are currently available, and competitors Asus and MSI haven’t announced release dates for their products — but I’m guessing we won’t see the U1 on sale this year. Here’s hoping for an encore at CES 2011.