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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  • FairGlow - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    I like the idea with a transparent screen, which can be used from both sides, but I don't know if it is practical. The screen needs to be both sturdy and thin, which may be difficult to achieve.
    It also must have the possibility to shut out light from the "wrong" side to be usable, at least for movies and pictures and such, unless the oled can handle black, as well. I don't know, can it be black?
  • Houdani - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    A Surface Pro with great battery life would just about hit the spot. Maybe the Haswell version will make a good choice sometime in the future.

    But the Type Cover really needs to be included at the price point they've announced. If they want to upsell me on a cover, then how about a cover that extends the battery life?
  • Lonyo - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    "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."

    It's already out, and has been for a while?
    I got my Samsung 700T about a month and a half ago, i5 3317u, 1080p IPS, 11.6", Digitiser, optional keyboard dock.

    Surprising that AT haven't managed to get any hardware in house to do many Win 8 device tests.
  • JNo - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Was keen on the Acer W510 (although a bit underpowered) till I realised they use eMMC memory and not replaceable/upgradable SSDs.

    The Samsung Ativ PC Pro seems awesome - i5, SSD, high res *and* wacom stylus - but it's not cheap (is their a wacom premium or something?)
    Also for something with mediocre-at-best battery life, seems like Sammy missed a trick not having more battery in the dock/keyboard (so top heavy too?).

    Asus transformer book is last hope but not out yet. Will it have a wacom stylus though like Ativ Pro? Does it have a battery in the keyboard or not? However, putting a 500GB storage HDD in the dock whilst maintaining a 128GB SSD in the tablet part was genius. I don't expect it to be cheap either though...
  • JNo - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    *there* not their duh
  • Voldenuit - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    To me, a touch notebook is not complete without pen input.

    Got my wife a Thinkpad X230T for school this xmas, and she's loving it.

    The X230T, hp convertible, Thinkpad Tablet 2, Sony Vaio Duo 11 and Surface Pro seem to be the only serious ocntenders in this space (Fujitsu has a Brazos-powered slate+pen, but at $1,000+ it's severely overpriced).
  • nrn - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    I owned the Asus Vivotab (tf810c) briefly - was forced to return it as it came with a blown left speaker. But in my limited couple of days usage, I am convinced this is the form factor that will thrive, but not with the current Atom SoC. It absolutely needs Haswell. Another critical factor, in my view / experience, is the digitizer. On a detachable screen (ideally 11.6"), the ability to take notes is incredible. I used the Vivotab for one meeting and i realized how ideal it will be for me to have everything in OneNote, automatically synced to my Skydrive account and read them from any of my other devices. To sum it up, I think Windows 8 is ready, but the hardware it needs to make the overall product successful, is simply not available at this moment.
  • davidwess - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    I would not buy a notebook without a touchscreen. In fact, I find the only reason for upgrading to Windows 8 is the touch screen. I have played with Win8 touchscreen notebooks and really like the user experience.

    Problem is, there are very few touch screen notebooks around. I went into my local Staples this evening and found none available, which the salesperson confirmed. In my local Best Buy, there are at best 3-4 out of a total of about 20 notebooks.

    Another good use for the touchscreen is an all-in-one, but I know only one person who owns one, and she has it in her kitchen.

    Where are all the touch screen notebooks? Am I the only person who sees the value in this item?
  • twin - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    It just got fcc approval. 12" tablet/dock with 1080p screen, up to i7 Ivy ulv, and 256GB msata ssd. There's a digitizer w/silo, wan support and supposedly up to 10hours battery life w/ dock. The tablet can be inserted facing either way in to the dock as well.

    There's quite a few pictures floating around of it and a video from back in October. I'm sure more info is coming at CES, and it'd be nice to get a review ;)
  • NetSoerfer - Monday, February 25, 2013 - link

    I agree. If the connection (tablet <-> keyboard) is stable enough, it would appear to fix everything that's wrong with the current touch screen convertibles at the moment.

    One thing that I wish it had is the new Lenovo One Link Connector that Lenovo demonstrated at CES, but it seems like it doesn't. It's a shame - that way it would've gone all the way from tablet to desktop replacement.

    Thoughts on this, and eventually a review, would be greatly appreciated!

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