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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  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    They are all just so damn unbelievably expensive that it is highly irrelevent to debate their merits. Even the ones that pack an atom are so far beyond the price of an ipad, which is in itself an overpriced item. That tegra 3 piece of trash should be selling for $299, tops, with $250 being a good sale price target. They are jsut way way whacked out of their minds to think anyone is going to plunk down 5-10 bones for this crap.
  • jjj - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    The real problem is price and if you want, the trend is similar to what happen with desktop vs notebook. Most of the world doesn't like to waste money on what they don't need so price (and convenience) wins.
    Just a couple of days ago someone noticed that the 250$ A15 base Chromebook is the best selling laptop on Amazon , nothing new here it's been there before and it doesn't mean much. But, if you dig a little bit you'll notice that on Google Trends "Chromebook" is doing better that "Microsoft Surface" in the US and reading comments on Amazon helps in understanding why the device is doing surprisingly well.
    Next year maybe Ubuntu manages to give us desktop mode on phones, could be quite interesting with quad A15 on 20nm SoCs.
    So, it's about time to just not give a damn about Win 8 touch laptops :P
    For option 2 , the one that you prefer , the problem is the center of gravity ,Asus went one way, M$ another but there is no perfect option.
  • ironargonaut - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    bought $699 WIN8 touch with Corei5. Ipad two is about the same price. Can use office etc efficently on the ultrabook can't do that on an ipad. She get her apps for touch Angry birds etc. and can write her book on it also.

    Not sure why if people are buying 9in screen Ipad2s, why a laptop w/touch for the same price is unreasonable.
  • kmmatney - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    You can get an 4th gen iPad at Microcenter for $459, and a 3rd generation (with Retina display) for $399.
  • lmcd - Monday, January 7, 2013 - link

    Yeah, I know right? What are some of these people on? And the Nexus 10 is also $399.

    I mean, with that guy's #s maybe W8 had a chance!
  • trane - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    I think the Iconia W700 is not really a convertible laptop but more of a mini all-in-one. Its dock is unlike the transformer-style keyboard/touchpad but rather a dock which expands connectivity and holds it up by a kickstand. The keyboard is a wireless one. So it is never really going to be a laptop. But it's a very attractive prospect - a tablet which you can hook up to your big monitor and other peripherals to give a nifty dual screen desktop for maximum productivity. When you are moving out of house, simply detach it from the dock and carry your system.

    As for the number 2, I would say Samsung Ativ Smart PC (and Pro) fits the description better, the dock converts it into a laptop, Transformer style.

    The Surface Pro is somewhere in the middle, but closer to the Transformer style.

    Something worth remembering is that these devices have primary and secondary uses. For example, Ideapad Yoga is first and foremost a laptop. Secondly, a mini all-in-one (in tent mode) like the W700. And thirdly, a tablet. Yes, the keyboard of the flip side can be iffy, but let's take it as a bonus, shall we? We aren't forced to use it that way (anyone wanting a tablet primarly should look at something else) and for the occasional use, it's just fine. Similarly, I am sure many are going to look at Surface Pro and point out how it is poor value compared to iPad for what they use the iPad for, but let's remember the primary usage scenario of this.

    Exciting times, for sure. Each of these devices have their unique offerings and permutations and ultimately it's going to come down to personal usage scenarios. It's a true challenge for reviewers, and I do think what is missing in the reviews for Windows 8 devices so far is a broad consideration of all kinds of usage scenarios.
  • jeffkibuule - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Pre-Haswell, I'd go with option #1 and strongly recommend everyone check out the ASUS UX31A Touch at Best Buy, probably the best Windows 8 Ultrabook there is (far less slippery than the Acer Aspire S7) v

    Post-Haswell, I could see option #2 taking off assuming battery life, performance and gear characteristics are favorable for a thin, light chassis. It depends a lot more on design chops of the OEM as something like the ATIV Smart PC Pro from Samsung fails because its way to top heavy.

    The other options may gain some traction but I don't see them being the majority of laptops. And I think every laptop will have a touchscreen in a year or two. Building a Windows 8 laptop without it makes no sense.
  • guidryp - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Convertibles are always a compromise.

    I prefer a regular laptop and separate 7"-8" tablet.

    Both perfected for their respective roles, instead of compromised crammed together solution.
  • KPOM - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    For now, I tend to agree with this assessment, and that is certainly the bet Apple is making (resisting the touchscreen notebook concept entirely even though most of the rest of their product line is touchscreen driven).

    I used to think we would gravitate to some sort of "docking" solution once the technology progressed, such as an iPad Mini-like device that slots into a notebook/desktop shell for a bigger screen and added power. However, Motorola tried that concept and it didn't catch on. The current detachables suffer from the compromise of being too big for a tablet.

    However, with the cloud becoming more and more important, I think we'll just go back to having separate devices. I can see Option 1 becoming prevalent, if for nothing else but to ensure UI consistency. But the more our data is converged the less our devices need to be.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    I think the problem with the Motorola device was that it was too soon. Right now, tablets and Smartphones are improving performance by 2x or more year-to-year, and yet they're still about 1/5 the speed of Ultrabook processors at best. In a few years when we have 14nm process nodes, I think we'll see performance of even basic smartphones reach the level where dockable becomes feasible.

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