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

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?
Written by John Morris, Contributor

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.


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