Asus unveiled a wide range of Windows 8 machines and UK prices at a press event in London last night (Tuesday). The range includes touch-screen laptops, "transformers" where a tablet docks with a keyboard, the twin-screen Taichi, and a new set of all-in-one desktops.
Although models have been shown previously at shows such as Computex in Taiwan and IFA in Berlin, it was impressive to see so many interesting devices launched at once. Also, the majority will ship in the next few weeks, though some will not appear until the first quarter of next year.
The VivoBook is a touch-screen notebook range aimed at mainstream users, and comes in two screen sizes: the S200 is 11.6 inches while the S400 measures 14 inches. Weights are 1.4kg and 1.8kg respectively, with the S400 having both a bigger screen and a bigger battery.
The S200 offers a choice of ultra low voltage Intel Pentium 987 and Core i3 processors at £399 and £449 respectively. The S400 costs £499 with an Intel Core i3, £599 with a Core i5, and £699 with a Core i7. US prices start at $499 for the S200 and $599 for the S400.
These are attractive prices for decent ultraportables with multi-touch screens, 500GB hard drives, USB 3.0, SD card slot, and 2-second "instant on" times. In particular, the £399.99 Pentium-based S200E looks like a bargain for users who need a Windows 8 portable for email, word processing and web browsing. In my brief hands-on experience at the event, the S200E felt solid and it worked well, though I'd want to test the "up to 5 hours" battery life.
The VivoTab RT is an improved version of Asus's familiar Transformer range of Android machines, and runs a Tegra 3 quad-core processor with 2GB of memory and 64GB of storage. Asus says that, at 8.3mm thick and a weight of 525g, the VivoTab RT is "one of the thinnest and lightest 10.1-inch tablets available". The tablet slots into a hinged dock that includes a good keyboard and converts it into a clamshell-style netbook. The dock also includes an extra battery that takes battery life up to about 16 hours.
The VivoTab comes with Windows RT and Office Home & Student 2013. This can be used for business purposes if users already have an appropriate Office licence, such as a desktop or cloud version.
VivoTab RT prices will start at £549.
Asus says it will also offer a range of Intel-based versions of the VivoTab to deliver what it calls "the full Windows 8 experience": in other words, systems that include full Windows desktop capabilities beyond TIFKAM (The Interface Formerly Known As Metro).
The entry-level VivoTab has an 11.6-inch multi-touch 1366 x 768 resolution Super IPS+ screen and 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z2760 processor. Unusually, it also supports a Wacom digitizer stylus so users will be able to write with some precision on the screen. Prices will start at £699.
Asus was the first company to launch "Intel inspired" Ultrabooks, and the Zenbook range is now well known. In this case, Asus is expanding it with two touch-screen models for the UK: the Zenbook UX31A and U500VZ.
The UX31A has a 13.3-inch multi-touch screen, an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, up to 8GB of memory, and 256GB of SSD solid state storage. It weighs 1.3kg.
The U500VZ has a 15.6-inch multi-touch screen, a quad-core i7 with 8GB of memory, Nvidia GT650M graphics with 2GB of DDR5 memory, and dual 256GB SSDs with RAID 0 support. It weighs 2kg. It will be available "early in 2013," says Asus UK.
In a hands-on session, I found the Zenbook keyboard and mousepad had been greatly improved compared with the launch version. Since I type for a living, this had put me off buying one.
The Asus Taichi is an innovative dual-screen Ultrabook that can be used either as a laptop or a tablet. First, it works as a normal Ultrabook. Second, after you close it up, the top surface touch-screen works as a tablet.
You can also have both screens on at once. The "tablet" screen can either work in mirror mode, so someone sitting opposite can see exactly what you see, or in a sharing mode, as a second screen. For example, an insurance salesman could see notes and a script on the laptop screen while the customer sees a PowerPoint presentation on the tablet screen, "removing the need for a bulky projector or clumsy external display", says Asus. (This would obviously work better with the Taichi on a riser, because the screen will need to be roughly vertical.)
In a hands-on session, I found it tricky to work out how to switch between screens, and change the displays, though presumably this becomes easier with training or practice, or both.
The Taichi has an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor with 4GB of memory and 256GB of SSD storage. An 11.6-inch version with a Core i7 will be available this year for £1,499.99 and a 13.3-inch version will follow early next year.
Asus says demand far exceeds supply, and this is clearly a "hero product" that shows what the company can do. In the long run, however, I don't expect it to shift anything like the same sort of numbers as VivoBooks and Zenbooks.
Asus also showed an All-in-One ET2300 PC on a double-hinged stand, so it folds down into a flat tablet. Although all-in-one designs like the Apple iMac are typically sold for home use or as office terminals, Asus reckons the ET2300 will also appeal to graphics professionals. High-end options include up to 8GB of memory, up to 2TB hard disk, a slot-loading DVD drive and Thunderbolt connectivity.
Finally, there was the Padfone 2, which does not run Windows 8. This is another innovative device that can provide three-in-one computing. The system starts with an Android mobile phone (4.7-inch screen). This slots into the back of a tablet (10.1-inch screen), so you can re-use the phone's processing power, storage and software. Attaching the tablet screen to a docking keyboard would add smartbook capabilities.
The Padfone 2 has a much improved new system for slotting the phone into the back of the tablet screen. No, it doesn't fall out.
The Padfone 2 phone has a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 quad-core processor with 2GB of memory and a bright 4.7-inch Super IPS+ screen with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. It's a powerful phone, but when you add that to the cost of a multi-touch tablet screen, it isn't a cheap system.
Some systems are already listed online, and can be pre-ordered for sale after Windows 8 is launched on Thursday.
All photos courtesy of Asus. Prices may be updated later.