The past couple of months have been interesting, what with the launch of Windows 8 and the ushering in of a new user interface. I’ve had a couple of touchscreen Ultrabooks in for testing, and the experience can be quite different depending on how the laptop is designed. I discussed this in our Ultrabook/Ultraportable Holiday Guide, and the first complete review (Acer’s S7) will be up shortly, but one thing that stands out as an immediate point of differentiation is how the touchscreen aspect is presented to the user. At present, I’m aware of six seven options:

  1. Traditional laptop (e.g. Acer Aspire S7). There’s no major concession made to support the touchscreen—it’s just another feature. Acer does allow you to lay the S7 flat, via the 180 degree hinge, but otherwise this is a laptop with a touchscreen and not really a tablet, no matter how you slice it.
  2. Detachable screen/tablet (e.g. Acer Iconia W700). We haven’t seen this much so far, and I expect Haswell will come out before we see detachable tablets come into their own—no doubt helped by the ~8W TDP processors slated for release—but if the first option is on one extreme, this is the other. You’re really getting a tablet, but you can add a dock (or a keyboard dock) to turn it into a laptop if need be.
  3. Flip screen (e.g. Dell XPS 12). Here’s where we start to see hybrids, and honestly this seems like the best of the three options right now. In the case of the XPS 12, it’s a bit thicker and certainly heavier than a traditional tablet, but you get a fully functional laptop with the ability to flip the screen and use it as a tablet.
  4. Slider (e.g. Sony VAIO Duo 11). We’ve seen a few sliders before, and they never seem to catch on. I think the problem is often a feeling of compromise and cheapness to the builds—if the slider mechanism isn’t smooth and feels like it will break, people won’t be happy. There’s also an issue with the angle of the screen relative to the keyboard, as typically there’s only one or two notches where the screen stops in “laptop mode”.
  5. Foldable (e.g. Lenovo Yoga 13). This is perhaps the most “out there” design so far, with a 360 degree hinge that allows you to fold the keyboard under the display to end up with a tablet. It’s a cool idea in theory, and in the case of the Yoga the keyboard gets turned off once the hinge passes a certain point, but I’m not sure people will really like the idea of an exposed keyboard. I know with tablets I’ve seen some scratching and scuffing of the bottom surface over time, and having that happen to the keyboard and palm rest is a drawback for me.
  6. Twist hinge (e.g. Lenovo ThinkPad Twist). We’ve seen this sort of hinge in hybrid Windows tablets for years, and there are certainly people that like this approach. The ThinkPad Twist at least looks to be thinner than some of the other options. Personally, I’m still a bit leery of the single hinge connection—it can feel a bit flimsy if it’s not done right, or bulky if it’s designed to last.
  7. Dual screen (e.g. ASUS Taichi). This is actually a very cool concept, but if pricing seems rather high on Ultrabooks in general, I imagine Taichi is going to push things even further. The core concept is that you have two screens in the lid, one for laptop use and one for tablet use. You can also use the screens in mirror mode or as independent screens, effectively giving you two computers (provided the users are sitting across from each other and don't mind fighting for resources). (Thanks to reader bpost34 for reminding us of this omission.)

So there you have it: the various options for adding a touchscreen to a Windows 8 laptop/convertible. Personally I think my ideal is number two, the detachable screen. ASUS’ Transformer tablets basically started this approach, but while they were fine as Android tablets I’ve still felt performance and usability were lacking in the docked “laptop” mode. With Windows 8, we can now get a full Windows 8 experience with all of the usual apps and applications (the latter being a term I use for traditional “desktop” programs). I’m not convinced Clover Trail has the performance to keep me happy with such a design, but give me a Core i5 Ivy Bridge or Haswell processor with a detachable screen and I’d give it serious thought—especially if it’s a 1080p IPS display.

I’m curious to hear what you think are the best choices and why. What tablet/hybrid is your favorite right now, which if any of the above have you personally used, and are there problems and/or successes with any particular approach that I neglected to cover? What would you like to see more of, particularly in terms of coverage of these new devices? Let us know in the comments!

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  • bplewis24 - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Not sure if serious.
  • ironargonaut - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Bought a Ultrabook w/touch for the spouse for Christmas. She uses the touch screen more then she uses the keyboard. I even see her sometimes pullup the touchscreen keyboard and use it.

    Frankly, I have found that what I like as a geek and what the consuming masses want are usually quite different. So, IMHO this is not a joke and you will find many who are used to the touch phone interface, (my phone has a keyboard and touch, hers only touch) will want and use the touch more. When using her computer I use the mouse and keyboard mostly, but I have never been "normal". :)

    She loves the computer and the touch interface of Win8. Win8 is driving me nuts, but probably because I have to learn and get used to their interface.

    We may well be surprised at how much people want a traditional laptop with touch.
  • iamezza - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    lol, good one
  • andrewaggb - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    it's a detachable style, with a core i5/i7, extra storage in the dock, a real size (13" is much more usable than 10-11)

    But even 13" might be too small unless it has a docking station for external monitors,keyboard/mouse, etc. I'm not doing serious work on a 13" screen.
  • Death666Angel - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    The tablet has mini-HDMI (not sure what max resolution that can drive in this build) and the dock has mDP.
  • Lonyo - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    I do serious work on a 12" screen and have done for the past 15 months, while at home I have a 24" and 20" screen.
    You can do it and get used to it.
  • Homeles - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    I recieved an ASUS Vivobook S400CA for Christmas, and I'm loving it. It fits in your "traditional laptop" category, as the screen does nothing fancy.

    As a student, the fact that I can switch between educational touch-style apps and traditional software with ease is going to make this semester a piece of cake. Graphing calculator apps are awesome -- goodbye TI-83. I've only begun to scratch the surface of what apps are out there, and I'm sure that I'll only be more happy as the Windows 8 app ecosystem grows.

    I loved Windows 8 on the desktop. The fludity of the UI, shutdown and boot times, and ease of accessing adminstrative functions already made a home run with me. Being able to mount ISOs as a built in function of Windows Explorer is neat, although I don't play around with ISOs much anymore.

    As a computer service technician, it's also much easier/faster to repair corrupt Windows 8 installations. And antivirus software comes built in.

    But now with my ASUS, I have access to full screen applications designed for touch. There's, essentially, a whole new OS to explore. I wanted to wait until Haswell, but I desperately needed a laptop. So while I may be missing out on a lot of graphics horsepower and battery life, I'm still getting the great aesthetics and light weight of an ultrabook.

    The laptop does have its flaws, primarily with battery life and a dim, bland screen. In spite of this, I couldn't be much happier with my gift.
  • Cygni - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Hinges, folds, and slides will break. They just will. So they are all out.

    Detachables drastically compromise performance to stick everything in the screen portion, and we end up with bad tablets that are also bad laptops. Swiss army knife computing devices fail, as will these. So they are out.

    Sticking a touchscreen in a traditional laptop is fine. It gives people who want to paw at their screen like a mind-dead cat the ability to do so, and people who will never ever use it the ability to ignore it completely.
  • Hyper72 - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link

    Why the exclusive or, I can imagine some people launching apps by poking and using the pointer for other stuff.

    Granted, I can't imagine myself straying from the mouse but I can easily imagine many would enjoy hybrid usage.
  • marc1000 - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    My preference is the cheapest one. I like the Asus Vivo Book, but the hardware inside it is too weak. If it used the cheapest of i3 i would buy one.

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