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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  • Padders1980 - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link

    I picked up the HP envy X2 and it's really nice if a little expensive. I'd certainly put that one up there as the best tablet hybrid I#ve played with as it really feels like a notebook style laptop when it's docked.

    As for windows 8, took a few days but I love it now, it feels much more useable than either android or iOS.
  • kedesh83 - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link

    I used to have a Transformer prime but too many flaws motivated me to sell it. Now i am in the market for a touchscreen laptop or an x86 tablet with better performance then the new atoms.

    I really like the Asus X202e. it seems almost perfect for what i want it for. mobility, school, quick browsing, some gaming. preferably something that might play WoW with decent frames for checking AH's and maybe some PvP. the current models have the i3 low powered chip with intel HD 4000. what i would REALLY like to see is an AMD equivalent in the same chassis with a radeon card such as what is in the HP sleekbook's. my budget is only around 600 dollars because i just don't need that much power when i have a superb gaming machine at home.

    I was thinking of waiting it out untill maybe summer or a hardware refresh. because i know once i buy it, it will either drop, or an i5 model will come out.

    I was also thinking about acers tablets like the w700 with a dock but, i played with one at Microcenter and it just felt so cheep for the price. And i doubt it would play WoW, or Diablo 3 very well. maybe if it was below $600 but for that price you get the atom model and it's very under powered for what i do. i doubt it would do Autocad in the field.
  • Acerus - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link

    What about Microsoft Surface? It doesn't really fit into "2", but has a detachable keyboard.
  • m2inor - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link

    Typing this on a Twist in tablet mode.

    I still have a Toshiba Windows tablet purchased years ago that has the same center pivot twist and it never gave me a problem. Still works well today.

    The Lenovo Twist construction seems a lot more robust, so I'm not expecting any problems.

    Also have the Acer M514"Aspire with touch screen. This is the more conventional laptop form factor. I'm preferring the Lenovo.

    Major challenge: finding suitable Windows 8 apps for things like Gmail and Google Reader that truly implement the Touch interface well.

    The Lenovo Yogi and Sony slider seemed kludgy to me. Never had a chance to see the Dell XPS for myself.

    Will have to see what CES reveals next week. Seems like the year has passed quickly.
  • account - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link

    Obviously not a current option but whats to stop transparent OLED tech from becoming a single display on both sides? Open the lid you have the same display you use when you close it to become a tablet on the other side.

    Here is a link to one of Samsung's prototypes shown at CES. No it doesn't allow for both sides but honestly whats so hard about inverting the image shown on the other side when you close the lid.
  • account - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link
  • Bobsmon - Sunday, January 6, 2013 - link

    My company has been selling the Lenovo line of convertible laptops for over 6 years. In that time I have never seen a hinge failure. While almost everyone who first sees it worries over the hinge, it is not a problem. I have just replaced my ancient x60 (with a still working hinge) with the Twist and am very happy with it.
  • Johnmcl7 - Sunday, January 6, 2013 - link

    After weighing up the different options I decided to go for the Vaio Duo 11 for a few reasons and it's worked out better in practice than I expected. My reason for choosing the machine was I didn't really see the point in a 7-10in tablet as I have a Galaxy Note and the tablets seem to be too big for the functionality they offer. So I was looking for an ultralight laptop that would function as a tablet which I think the Vaio Duo 11 offers a pretty good balance with.

    The Surface Pro looks very clever but it only seems suitable for use on a solid surface and when folded out with the keyboard it has a large footprint. The Dell XPS 12 and Lenovo Yoga I think are really too big and heavy for use as a tablet.

    The Vaio sits in between them, it's definitely pushing the limits for use as a tablet but it's better in that area than the Dell or the Lenovo. The screen is fixed but it does offer a few advantages, the footprint it takes up is very small so it makes it easy to use in small spaces and because the screen's base is just at the top of the keyboard (there's no gap as there normally is on a laptop) it makes it convenient to use the touchscreen.

    Whenever such a design is discussed it's always claimed the moving mechanism will prematurely fail and never last but I don't find that in practice as I've seen various devices which were claimed would not last and seen them endure just fine. The hinges on the Vaio Duo 11 feel solid and while there are two cables exposed they're not anywhere near where anything will catch.

    The trackpoint isn't as good as touchpad but I have no issues using it as I have a Lenovo X200 as a laptop so used to it. The keyboard is a weak point although I don't think it's a design issue as I've used other keyboards this small and have found I could type at a good speed on them, the feel and travel on the Vaio Duo 11 keys is a bit odd and doesn't work as well as it could.

  • oolzie - Sunday, February 3, 2013 - link

    So far I have owned or have used a Surface, a vivotab RT, an acer W700, a Samsung 500, Dell xps and latitude 10's and touchscreen ultrabooks from (I think) Acer and Asus.

    First off, IMO, a touchscreen is mandatory on portable computers now. I find going from screen to touchpad to keyboard to be seamless and almost unbearable to not have after using these devices for a while. There are a large number of things, even in desktop apps, that just flow better by touching the screen. Tapping ok buttons, moving windows, flipping to scroll up and down pages, I could go on and on. It just feels natural to me.

    anyway, on to my favorite. So far it's the surface with touchcover. It's the only one that really feels like a true evolution of a tablet into a usable computer. The perfect blend of portability and usability. As listed above, I've tried several systems with the attachable keyboard docks and they're nice, nothing wrong with them at all, they just feel like netbooks to me and netbooks didn't click with me the first time. With that said, the surface does require some compromise, RT aside. I do find times where using the surface doesn't work and I will grab the Dell XPS 10 or Samsung with keyboard dock. Kicking back on the sofa, the surface works, it will stay upright on your lap with the touchcover out, but it's not stable enough for typing out anything of length. It's better than a tablet w/ on-screen only, but still short of something with a hard-hinged keyboard for overall ultra-casual use. For overall work usability, for me, the surface is about perfect. I do most of my work in email, browser or RDP/Citrix and being able to go all day and then some with a 1.5lb device that does all my laptop did is about as good as it can get. Being able to fold back the touchcover and have a normal tablet-y experience, hand it to my kid to play games, just adds to it.

    My second would be the Acer W700 (i3 model). It's a nice little system that only really suffers because it doesn't have an attachable keyboard option. It makes it something hard to take out away from the house. As an in the house type system or desktop replacement for non-gamers, I think it's pretty solid, but the first time you need to be on the go and potentially typing, it slips. I do use it a good bit though. I'm looking forward to their 2nd generation offering.

    I'm also in for a surface pro at launch and I think it will be the "the one". IMO, the only thing it's lacking is a desktop dock and dual monitor capability. Give me the ability to dock it and make a desktop out of it easily, charge it, etc and then grab the touchcover on my way out an I think I'll have everything most would need for anything short of high-end gaming use.

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