LAS VEGAS ( TheStreet) -- Laptop makers ASUS and Lenovo have kicked off CES with a slew of announcements touting unusual casing materials and tablet technology in an attempt to challenge Apple ( AAPL). ASUS was first to the plate, unveiling a raft of new laptops at a press event late Tuesday. Clearly keen to catch the eye of style-obsessed consumers, the Taiwanese technology giant took the wraps off its U53 devices, which use bamboo as casing material. See all our CES 2010 coverage. ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih even played the eco-card during an almost hour-long presentation, explaining that bamboo is the most recyclable plant on the planet. "
Bamboo is strong, fast-growing and easily-cultivated," he said. "Every four years you can cut the bamboo and regrow it." The company's first 'bamboo' notebooks were launched in 2008, although the latest iterations of the technology offer USB version 3.0 and Intel's ( INTC) newest core i5 processors. Looking like a household object from the Bauhaus era, bamboo-covered notebooks reflect the importance of cutting-edge laptop design, something which Shih also highlighted in the company's new NX90 offering. Designed in conjunction with Danish audio equipment specialists Bang & Olufsen, the NX90 offers polished aluminum as part of its casing, and has speakers 10 times the size of a normal notebook, according to Shih. "This audio experience allows the user to take the cinema with them," said the executive, describing the NX90's sound as "stunning" and "cinematic." With a price tag of $2,499, the NX90 won't come cheap, although Asus also unveiled some lower-end laptops at CES, including a couple of Eee "Seashell" devices with a lattice-like casing designed by style guru Karim Rashid. The fifth notebook launched by the Taiwanese firm was the ROG G73jh, which is aimed at the gaming community.
Shih compared the design of the G73jh to that of a stealth bomber during the press event, and explained that the notebook's keyboard is set at a slight five-degree incline to enable long hours of gaming. "Who wouldn't want happier hands and wrists?" he asked, during a presentation that also touched on the company's plans for wearable smartphones that are controlled by muscle movement. ASUS is also working on a form of flexible tablet screen as part of its "Waveface" strategy, although Shih said that this is at least five years away. ASUS is hardly the first computer maker to turn its notebooks into objets d'art. Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), for example, has already teamed up with celebrated fashion designer Vivienne Tam and Dell ( DELL) has used designs by artist Mike Ming on its notebooks. Apple, of course, has a fearsome reputation for edgy design, and the company is expected to launch its eagerly-anticipated tablet device sometime this year. Apple's plans have cast a spotlight on tablet technology, and there have even been rumblings of an imminent Dell offering in this space. Not to be outdone, though, Chinese PC giant Lenovo announced its own take on the tablet Wednesday, launching its IdeaPad U1 hybrid notebook. Described as two PCs in one, the IdeaPad can function as either a clamshell notebook or a touchscreen tablet. Running Microsoft's ( MSFT) Windows 7 operating system, the IdeaPad's screen can detach from the device and become a tablet. "The IdeaPad U1 hybrid notebook is a game-changing technology in the PC industry that lets users switch their PC experience within a single device to match their dynamic lifestyle," said Liu Jun, senior vice president of Lenovo's Idea Product Group, in a statement. "By fusing the functionality of a notebook with the slate tablet's rich multitouch entertainment and mobile Internet experience, U1 provides consumers the freedom to choose the device they prefer for any activity."
Lenovo's hybrid notebook will be available in June with an estimated price of less than $1,000. Other than NX90's $2499 price tag, ASUS didn't reveal pricing or availability for its new notebooks at its CES event. -- Reported by James Rogers in Las Vegas.