The wonderful, wacky, and touch enabled Ultrabooks of tomorrow
Intel is making big plans for its Ultrabooks, or maybe we should say for its partners' Ultrabooks. Not only is the company planning on integrating every sensor imaginable - be it light, sound, temperature, motion or just about anything else you can think up - but the next big thing, if we’re to believe Intel, will be touch-enabled Ultrabooks, but not quite in the way you’d think.
Today, an Ultrabook is just a very slim, usually quite nicely designed notebook with a very low-power CPU. However, as we’ve already seen demonstrated by Acer and Asus, things are changing and we’re getting devices that support touch input and it turns out this is a lot more by design than we first thought.
Intel is actively pushing its partners towards making touch-enabled devices, no wonder considering the company announced that it’s investing heavily in touch screen technology for devices with 13.3-inch and larger displays.
At Computex a wide range of potential future Ultrabooks were on display, including a few that will be arriving shortly.
Let’s start with one that isn’t touch enabled, NEC’s LaVie Z which is a 999g Ultrabook scheduled to go on sale in Japan this summer. We’ve already seen Gigabyte’s X11, which on the scale is 26 grams lighter, but the LaVie Z somehow felt lighter, although this might have something to do with the materials used.
It’s actually a fairly disappointing product in some ways, as it has very limited connectivity with only a single USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port, a headphone jack and an SD card reader, but we would love to have one of these instead of lugging around a 1.8kg notebook around the show.
In the very near future, Samsung should be launching the Series 5 Ultra Convertible and, as with most of its recent notebooks, this one feels incredibly well built. It’s using a 360-degree hinge mechanism that allows you to use it as a regular notebook, as a tablet, or as sort of a desktop monitor with the keyboard acting as a stand. It’s pretty much identical to Lenovo’s Yoga, except it felt much more robust in terms of the hinge design. It took a bit of force – not excessively so though – to rotate the screen around, which hopefully is a sign of the longevity of the hinge mechanism.
In notebook mode, the Series 5 Ultra Convertible looks just like any other Ultrabook. Samsung has added a fair bit of connectivity options as well with two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port, a mini VGA port, a headset jack, a memory card reader and even an Ethernet port. There’s also a screen rotation lock button and a pair of volume controls along its sides. As far as we know, the Series 5 Ultra Convertible should launch later this year.
Inventec’s amusingly named Roti 11CV sports a traditional convertible notebook design with a central pivoting hinge. Inventec is a large manufacturer of products for other companies, much in the same way as Foxconn is and this Ultrabook design is clearly targeting the more conservative business market as it looks and feels much more traditional.
Foxconn’s F210 meanwhile is easily the wackiest model on show. At first glance it looks rather a rather ugly notebook with a very odd screen design. The screen is actually mounted in a U- shaped arm that allows it to rotate 180 degrees. As such, it can be used in tablet mode, or it can be placed standing on top of the keyboard, or used as a more traditional notebook. This in itself isn’t a unique concept, as Dell has offered something similar - although with a much larger frame around the display and without the ability to tilt the screen forward, but the concept is similar enough.
The F210 also sports a rather odd keyboard with glossy keys. The keys are nigh on flat with the surface of the notebook, yet they’re producing a reasonably tactile feedback. We’re not going to say that this is the best keyboard we’ve ever typed on, but considering its “wipe clean” design, it was surprisingly much better to use than we expected.
Then there is the unnamed Toshiba sliding screen model and the MSI Slider S20 models. Both allow the user to use the laptop in tablet mode as well as in notebook mode. The screen hinge is somewhat forward from the rear edge of the device because of the design.
For the Toshiba most of the ports seem to be at the rear of the device, although it didn’t appear to feature much in terms of connectivity options compared to some of the other products shown off at Computex in Taipei.
Toshiba also has the Toshiba Satellite U840W, an Ultrabook with a cinemascope display. That's right, this laptop has a 21:9 display, making it something of an oddball. The 14.4-inch display gives you a 1792 x 768 pixel resolution which, yes, means it has a height similar to the fallen-from-favour netbooks of yesteryear.
Asus and Acer are in on the game too, with new models to baffle and confuse the traditionalists. The new Asus TaiChi will come in two different sizes - 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch models - and features something we've never seen before on a laptop: two screens. The idea is that one screen faces you, while the other faces your colleagues or random people on the train.
"With a touchscreen on the outside of the lid, the Asus Taichi opens up a whole host of new mobile possibilities as it plays the role of both notebook and tablet," says Asus on the crazy idea.
Asus also has a more traditional Zenbook Prime with touchscreen so you can use Windows 8 with your keyboard, your trackpad and your fingers.
Acer is following suit with a touchscreen-enabled Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook. Not content with letting you tap on the keyboard, you’ll be able to tap on your screen as well.
Which laptops make it beyond the trade show and actually into your homes is yet to be decided, but one thing is for sure: the idea that laptops can be boring is no longer something that you can ever say again.