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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  • bpost34 - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Really the only potentially redeeming form factor of the crop was left out of the discussion here - the ASUS Taichi. With that, you get the best of both worlds (whether in laptop, or tablet mode) and the added benefit of a secondary screen while in laptop mode for presentation.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Updated -- thanks for the reminder! :-)
  • TrackSmart - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Worth mentioning?: The internal screen on the Taichi is not a touchscreen, so in regular "laptop mode" you miss out on Windows 8's touch features. I'm okay with that compromise, but for some people that may be a deal breaker.

    The real deal breaker on the Taichi, for me, is the short battery life (reported as ~3 hrs in normal use). That's just unacceptable in an ultraportable laptop and even more unacceptable by tablet standards.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Is that with both screens active in mirror mode? I'd estimate most LCDs use around 1.5-2.5W (depending on brightness and resolution), so having two active displays will definitely kill the battery life.
  • fabarati - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Notebookcheck reviewed the Taichi. Battery life was quite bad.

    It's still the coolest computer to come out in years. Many years.
  • new-paradigm - Saturday, January 26, 2013 - link

    I have a problem with the Taichi. It is a cool concept, but the lack of touchscreen on the laptop side is, for me, a deal breaker. Windows 8 was built with touchscreen navigation in mind. Having played with a few win 8 laptops in stores I can honestly say those with touchscreens were much more pleasant to use as navigating the win 8 UI feels MUCH easier via touchscreen than trackpad. To have a touchscreen on a multi use device, yet not be able to actually use it to navigate in laptop mode is a bit of a buzz kill.

    This inequality between screens also kills some of the potential for using the dual screens for interactive applications between two people.

    I'm sure for some people this isn't an issue, but it's one that bugs me too much to let me buy the Taichi.
  • AmdInside - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Detachable screen is my preference also. I played with the Yoga and holding the in tablet mode feels uncomfortable. The Dell flip screen models have always had a cheap toy look to them. I own an Asus VIVO RT with keyboard and love it. Just wish it had better mouse touchpad built into the keyboard.
  • This Guy - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    Touch screens on traditional laptops make a huge difference. Far easier than a mouse with a good UI.
  • Beenthere - Friday, January 4, 2013 - link

    You must be kidding.
  • This Guy - Saturday, January 5, 2013 - link

    Which is eaiser on a laptop:
    a) Touch what you want; or
    b) Make a few circles to find pointer, move pointer to element then click.

    I was skeptical too. The only reason I had the device is because I won it. But after a few weeks I found it far eaiser than using a mouse for every thing other than closing tabs in Chrome and selecting files in Explorer in detailed mode (And both are still a pain close to two years on).

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