IDF 2012: Has the convertible PC's time finally come?

IDF 2012: Has the convertible PC's time finally come?

Summary: One of the major themes at Intel’s annual developer conference, which takes place this week, is expected to be convertibles that function as laptops and tablets. These aren't new, but Microsoft's "reimagining" of Windows has prompted PC makers--including HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Acer, Samsung, Toshiba and Sony--to once again experiment with hybrids. Will convertibles finally catch on?

TOPICS: Laptops, Tablets

One of the major themes at Intel’s annual developer conference, which takes place this week in San Francisco, is expected to be convertible PCs that function as laptops and tablets. Until recently Intel was focused largely on thinner and lighter laptops, known as Ultrabooks, but Microsoft’s “reimagining” of Windows has shaken things up.

Windows 8, which officially arrives on October 26, is designed to work on both PCs and tablets. There will be plenty of conventional laptops—with and without touchscreens—as well as slates. But the hybrids that attempt to bridge both worlds are the most intriguing.

The first Windows 8 hybrids surfaced at Computex in June. Many of these were early prototypes with few details. More recently, at a large tradeshow in Germany, many computer makers officially announced a slew of Windows 8 convertibles. This week at the Intel Developer Forum we should get a better look at some of these Widows 8 convertibles.

Here are some of the more interesting systems to watch for this fall:

HP Envy X2

HP has announced several new laptops including the Envy X2, which has a detachable 11.6-inch touch display secured with a magnetic latch. Despite its solid-looking aluminum case, the system weighs only 3.1 pounds, and the tablet alone weighs 1.5 pounds—about the same as the iPad. The Envy X2 won’t be available until the holidays, and HP hasn’t provided all the details, but we do know it will have an Intel processor and solid-state storage. CNET’s Eric Franklin has a first look at the Envy X2 here.

HP also announced two Windows 8 laptops with traditional clamshell designs, but with multitouch displays and other notable features. The Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4 has a 14-inch display, Intel processor and optional AMD Radeon discrete graphics. The SpectreXT TouchSmart Ultrabook has a 15.6-inch display, Intel processor and solid-state drive. It will also be HP’s first laptop with Intel’s Thunderbolt fast I/O technology. The SpectreXT will start at $1,400; HP hasn’t announced the price of the Envy TouchSmart 4.


Dell’s XPS Duo 12 is the most original convertible design. Rather than a swiveling or detachable display, its 12.5-inch touchscreen rotates within its bezel and folds flat to switch between laptop and tablet modes. It isn’t the first time Dell has tried this—the Inspiron Duo netbook was first in 2010—but it should work better with Windows 8. The XPS Duo 12 is also a higher-quality laptop with magnesium, aluminum and carbon fiber parts. Beyond that Dell isn’t revealing many details except that it will have Intel processors up to the Core i7. CNET's Dan Ackerman has a detailed look at the XPS Duo 12. The XPS 10, which has a smaller display that detaches from the keyboard and uses one of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 processors, is a Windows RT tablet. The tablet is only 0.4 inches thick and Dell claims it will have up to 20 hours of battery life. Both Dell convertibles will be available around the time Windows 8 ships.

Lenovo has announced eight new laptops—along with a bunch of all-in-ones—but none of these are convertibles or offer touchscreens. That’s partly because the company had already announced a Windows 8 tablet, the ThinkPad Tablet 2, in early August (it is the second because already offers and Android-powered ThinkPad Tablet). The Tablet 2 has a 10.1-inch display, an Atom processor and Windows 8 Pro. It also has an optional digitizer and stylus for pen input and can be equipped with either 3G of AT&T’s 4G LTE wireless. The Tablet 2 is 0.4 inches thick and weighs 1.3 pounds. While it is more of a slate than a convertible, the Tablet 2 does have a slot at the bottom for connecting an optional keyboard or docking station. Lenovo says it will be available when Windows 8 ships.

Asus Vivo Tab

Asus was one of the first to demonstrate its Windows 8 devices back at Computex in June, but they now have new names and more details. Now known as the Vivo line, the tablets have IPS multi-touch displays and detachable keyboards with a secondary battery. There are two models. The Vivo Tab (formerly the Tablet 810) has an 11.6-inch display, an Intel Atom processor, 2GB of main memory and 64GB of storage, and Windows 8. The multi-touch display also works with an included stylus. It measures a little more than 0.3 inches thick and weighs 1.5 pounds without the keyboard dock. The Vivo Tab RT (formerly the Tablet 600) is the Windows RT version. It has a 10.1-inch display, Nvidia’s Tegra 3 processor, 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage. It is even thinner than its big brother and weighs only 1.1 pounds with the keyboard. Both will be available when Windows 8 arrives in late October. Asus also plans to offer a touchscreen version of its ZenBook Prime UX21, an 11.6-inch (1920x1080) Ultrabook.

Acer has announced two Windows 8 convertibles. The Iconia W5 has a 10.1-inch display that you can either swivel and fold flat, covering the keyboard, or detach from keyboard altogether. It is based on an Atom processor and comes with 4GB of memory and either 32- or 64GB of storage. The Iconia W7 is more like a large slate, with an 11.6-inch display, but it also slides into a large dock/port replicator that props it up like a small all-in-one. The W7 has full Core processors, as well as 4GB of memory and up to 64GB of storage. Acer also announced several clamshell laptops with touchscreens including multitouch versions of its 15.6-inch Aspire M3 Ultrabook; the Aspire V5 notebook, which comes with either a 14- or 15.6-inch display; and the new Aspire S7, which comes in 11.6- or 13.3-inch versions. The S7 is less than 0.5 inches thick and the 11.6-inch versions weighs only 2.2 pounds.

Samsung announced two 11.6-inch hybrids that look nearly identical on the outside—with keyboard docks with mechanical connections--but have very different specs. The Series 5 Slate (also known as the Ativ Smart PC outside the U.S.) has a 1366x768 display, Intel Atom processor, 2GB of memory and 64GB of storage. It will be available with our without the keyboard dock for $649 or $749, respectively. The Series 7 Slate (Active Smart PC Pro in other parts) has a 1920x1080 display, Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB of storage and costs $1,199 with the keyboard dock. Both have the same footprint, but the Series 7 Slate is a bit thicker and heavier. Both also include the Samsung S Pen stylus and digitizer used in the Galaxy Note 10.1 and Galaxy Note II. Samsung also announced a touchscreen version of its Series 5 13-inch Ultrabook. The Series 5 Ultra has a 1366x768 display, Core i3 and i5 processors, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive with a 24GB flash cache for improved performance. It will range from $799 to $849 depending on the configuration.

Toshiba Satellite U925t

Toshiba took a different approach to its convertible Ultrabook. The Satellite U925t has a 12.5-inch IPS touchscreen display that slides backward and tilts up to reveal a keyboard and touchpad. It is bit bulkier than designs with detachable keyboards, at 0.8 inches thick and weighing 3.2 pounds, but it has a third-generation Core i5 processor and a 128GB SSD. Toshiba’s other Windows 8 system is a touchscreen version of its Satellite P845 14-inch laptop with third-generation Core processors, 6GB of memory, a 750GB hard drive and a flash memory cache for better performance. Both the Satellite U925t and Satellite P845t will be available starting October 26, but Toshiba hasn’t announced pricing.

Like the Satellite U925t, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is a slider Ultrabook. But it has a smaller touchscreen, measuring 11.6 inches diagonally with a full HD resolution (1920x1080). It is thinner than the U925t and weighs slightly less than 3 pounds, but the design doesn’t leave room for a touchpad. Instead it has a pointing stick, but it also includes a digitizer and pen stylus. It will be available starting at the end of October with Intel third-generation Core processors, 4GB or 8GB of memory, and either a 128GB or 256GB SSD.

The convertible isn’t a new idea. I’ve been using convertibles--including Lenovo’s ThinkPad X series and HP’s EliteBook, for years--but they’ve never really caught on. Windows 8 should make them more compelling. Whether they’ll be good enough—and priced competitively enough—to convince many users to give up their laptops and iPads remains to be seen. But it’s good to see the PC industry try something new.


Topics: Laptops, Tablets

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  • Price is going to be the deciding factor for me

    I love the idea of having a convertible Windows 8 tablet but these devices look like they are going to be too expensive to lure me in. If they can't get the price under $600 for a convertible including the keyboard dock, I will probably stick with my beastly Toshiba m400 slate and Nexus 7 or maybe switch over to a high end Android convertible.
  • There are some things you can tell are not a good idea,,,

    ...just by looking at them. One of them is the Osprey aircraft (a helicopter/plane combo) used by the U.S. military. Another is the Microsoft Surface (a tablet/laptop combo)--especially the RT version. And I'd add the items described in this piece to the list. There are few things a "Swiss Army" design can do better than individual tools designed to do a specific job. It sound like a good idea to only have one item instead of two. But when you combine functions, it's pretty difficult to not compromise one or the other--or both.
    • so you like carrying a lot of stuf?

      shut up until you get a Surface in your hands and actually use one for more than a day... you sound like Tim Cook "you need an iphone, ipad and mac book to be whole person..."
      Marlon Smith
      • MS OEMs have been making this crap for over a decade

        Guess what? Nobody wants a hybrid tablet/laptop. They are not the best of both worlds. They suck at being either. Microsoft is still trying to peddle the idea that a tablet is just another form factor of PC. This shows they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

        This terrible idea oozes out of Windows 8. The whole OS is built on a shaky foundation of bad compromises. It stinks as a tablet OS. It stinks as a desktop OS.

        The Surface is the physical embodiment of this dumb "just another form factor" idea. MS knows it's a terrible tablet. That's why the "beauty shots" of the Surface in all MS marketing materials show it configured as a terrible laptop with a rubber keyboard.
        • The older convertibles

          were also large, expensive, generally only used styluses (although a few had pretty bad touchscreens), and used an OS that wasn't designed for touch or stylus. I see windows 8 as changing all of that. These hybrid/convertible devices will now be useful in both modes thanks to touch/metro in windows 8. If these devices are prices competitively I will definitely but one myself.
          Sam Wagner
    • Really?

      Hope that means you like to carry around a digital camera, phone, dedicated GPS device, daily planner, etc. Smart devices are convergence devices by nature. Hope you try one out before making sucha conclusion...
    • The problem is the physical configuration.

      Sure, smartphones are great for having a bunch of functions combined in them. But the negative aspect of trying to combine a tablet and a laptop is that the ergonomics stink. A touchscreen on a laptop (or desktop) just isn't as usable as on a tablet or phone. And I don't need to use one to know that!
      • I see your point, but...

        You are missing the way the device is really designed to be used. A touch interface is not required to work with Windows 8. I've used it with a mouse and keyboard just fine with no touch interface whatsoever. As a blog I read today so eloquently put it, it's not entirely intuitive, but it is immensely discoverable and learnable without touch. And that's not to mention using it on a multitouch keypad or touch mouse, which I hear works very well (haven't tried it myself). So, when a convertible is in the dock (or sitting on the kickstand, in the case of the Surface), the touch screen won't be used that often. However, with a close screen (still within arm's length), I imagine that you might touch the screen sometimes (when scrolling, etc.). It depends on your preference at the time. That's the point of Windows 8. Convergence without (significant/problematic) compromise.

        The larger physical issue is screen size, which is a significant issue for some, but given how well netbooks took off in the pre-tablet world, I think that many will trade off size for portability.
    • Translation -

      since Apple has nothing like it it's a bad idea. Once they make the exact same thing, the idea will suddenly become "revolutionary".

      Was I close?
      William Farrel
      • It won't happen

        Apple won't make a touchscreen Mac or a device that runs iOS and OSX. Not because it's a compromise. It's because they are a hardware vendor and a single touch computing device would truly cannibalize their product sets.

        While today they can sell a Mac, iPad and iPhone, each with 30%+ profit margin, they would reduce that down to two devices and lose money with just a hybrid device and an iPhone.

        It's another reason why the iPhone won't grow beyond a 4" screen. If they made 4.7" or bigger screened iPhone, no-one would buy an iPad or the "fabled" iPad mini (now that really sounds like a sanitary product.)
    • Your missing the intergration

      Windows 8 will bring. The idea being the hybrid will replace several items while on the road or out and about, but with the integration and Syncing abilities the hybrid tablets will work with your home PC. Work and pleasure can be so much easier with this type of blending, wheres you imagination? Getting to old to except new innovating ways of doing things?

      Better leave this new tech to us 50 year young people. ;-) lol
    • The trolls are restless

      With the explosion of laptops , convertibles, hybrids and tablet/slates appearing for Windows 8 and the undeniable attraction of MS's Surface line, cognitive dissonance is increasing for the ABMers.

      These are real computers and their only competition is Android and Apple toys. No touch computer from Apple, just it's consumption device, which the Kindle is probably going to trounce with lower price and more features.

      I was interested in Paul Thurrot's opinion of the RT tablets as he has previously expressed some disquiet abut the desktop versus the modern ui, but after using one for a few days in NZ, his response was, it's Windows 8. People can still use Office, have email and browser clients as well as the Picture and People hubs, have access to a store for apps and applications and Mary Jo even gets Notepad.

      It's starting to be a depressing time for the ABMers.
  • Shutup and take my money

    Honestly, I'm completely sold on this idea, I've been holding a laptop purchase for months now and it seems like its going to pay off. I've been using Windows 8 both, on a desktop and a tablet, the experience has been good on the desktop and magnificent on a tablet, web browsing on IE10 is particularly gratifying and unlike anything that's out there, the gestures have been designed in such a way that you really feel like the web is on your hands.

    My wife is a teacher and she is seen a lot of value for her too, she wants a tablet to present in front of the classroom, but she also needs a laptop to make planning's, scorecards, etc, a hybrid is just the perfect device for her.
    • juggling too many devices

      I've also been putting off getting a new laptop, I really need a power machine with a core i5 min. I love a nice tablet as well and I have a perfectly good Android 10 incher - but I'm pretty tired of juggling the laptop, tablet, smart phone. . . And I also have a massive desktop for video editing and serious graphics.

      The prospect is this: one of these very powerful convertibles with i5, 1080p screen of ideally 12 inches, 256gb ssd. Also a Wacom stylus turns the thing into a dream of an artist's sketchbook, which for me at least is an incredible prospect. When I'm at my desk I plug into the massive 24" monitor.

      So it's just my smartphone and that. I'll keep the old massive desktop around as a file server and backup and media center on the tv.

      Frankly I don't see the compromise. It's thinner and lighter than any laptop I've ever owned, and significantly quicker than my desktops. The screen is the same res. as any of my big monitors. Plus stylus, cameras, gps, touch. . . It's very much like how the smartphone converged phone, internet, camera, gps, and became much more than the sum of those parts. I really think its comparable to that level of revolutionary convergence.

      I mean come on. Tell me that isn't a compelling prospect.
  • Microsoft Will Prove Tim Cook is WRONG

    "You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those aren't going to be pleasing to the user." Tim Cook, April 2012.

    That comment is about to look as stupid as this one:
    [Laughing out load on camera] "$500, fully subsidized, with a plan, is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard...," Steve Ballmer, Sept. 2007

    The convertible tablet hardware and software (Windows 8) has finally caught up with Bill Gates' 2002 vision of a mobile computing environment. If anything, the convertible is the mating of a stove top and oven - ALL of your cooking needs in one device. Mr. Cook will be eating his words just as Mr. Ballmer has had to do with the iPhone.
    • HP Touchsmart

      Windows 8 was the best thing to ever happen to my HP Touchsmart tm2 convertible laptop. I liked it with Win7 but mostly used it as a laptop and now with Win8 I use it as a tablet. It is still heavy and I get 9 hours on the battery and with 8G of Ram and a 650G HDD it is a powerful machine but I would trade it for one of these lighter convertibles in a heartbeat
    • I'll take that bet.

      I think the company that changed the phone market, and created the tablet market is a better bet than a company that has lost 70% of its market value in the past ten years. Also, I've used Windows 8. Cook is 100% right in this one.
      • Go back to your gollum cave Bilbo

        And be one with your "precious" iphone, because you will be eating those words in the next several months.
      • He's actually 100% wrong, and here's why

        did you notice he choose 2 obvious items that do totally different things (one toasts with heat, the other cools things for storage) as his example for combining.

        Yet right now Apple has keypads designed to work with a tablet.

        Isn't that what a convertible is, a tablet and keyboard combo?

        So it's his lame attempt to discredit something Apple doesn't have at the moment, and most people saw right through it for what it was.
        William Farrel
        • You mean like a touch-centric device

          and a WIMP centric device? Cook is right in his analysis. Bookmark this page and come back to it in six months.