Windows 8 Ultrabooks Gallery: The First Wave
With Windows 8 comes a new category of hardware -- touch-capable Ultrabooks. While most models are under wraps until the OS launch, a few vendors including HP, Dell and Acer have made their designs public.
- Check out Part 2 of our Windows 8 Ultrabooks gallery here.
Most of the buzz surrounding Windows 8 involves tablets. The touch-first approach of the OS is widely viewed as a response to the success of the Apple iPad. However, there's another class of device that Windows 8 will enable that so far has gotten less attention than the Microsoft Surface, Dell XPS 10 or ASUS Vivo Tab RT: the touch-capable Ultrabook.
Intel Ultrabooks existed long before Windows 8, which is expected to be generally available at the end of this month. In broad terms, Ultrabooks are the Intel category of thin, light, high-performance PCs that combine a number of baseline features for a consistent experience. of their computing experiences. That's a step further than Apple has gone with its MacBooks, which are still controlled via mouse or touchpad. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously argued in 2010: "Touch surfaces don't want to be vertical."
Some of the Microsoft OEM partners are sharing in Microsoft's touch-everywhere bet, especially with new lines of Ultrabooks. Intel Corp. President and CEO Paul Otellini said in July that more than 40 touch-enabled Windows 8-based Ultrabooks were in the pipeline. Non-touch Ultrabooks still outnumber even touch-enabled, though. Otellini said there were more than 140 Ivy-Bridge-based Ultrabook designs on tap.
What follows are seven of the more interesting touch-enabled Ultrabooks made public so far.
HP Envy SpectreXT TouchSmart Ultrabook
Hewlett-Packard Co. already fielded some all-in-one models with large touchscreens that were Windows 7 generation examples of the types of hardware that would make sense with Windows 8. Now HP has brought its TouchSmart technology to a pair of Ultrabooks. HP Envy SpectreXT TouchSmart Ultrabook has a 15.6-inch screen. HP concentrated on aesthetics for this SpectreXT, with an all-metal exterior, edge-to-edge glass, a glass touchpad and tilted speakers in a 0.7 inch-thick package. The system is expected to be available in December for $1,400.
Toshiba Satellite U925t Ultrabook Convertible
Talking to investors over the summer, Intel's Otellini said about a dozen of the forthcoming Ultrabooks were going to be convertibles, which can be used as laptops or folded into tablets. Two of the early Windows 8 models fit that category.
The Toshiba Satellite U925t has a sliding hinge. According to Toshiba's Aug. 30 announcement, "From tablet mode, users can slide the display back and tilt it up to reveal an LED backlit raised tile keyboard and Synaptics ClickPad with Windows 8 gesture support and use the device like a traditional Ultrabook."
The device is 0.8 inches thick, weighs 3.2 pounds and has a 12.5-inch diagonal HD touchscreen made of Gorilla Glass. Other features include a 3D accelerometer, a three-axis gyroscope, a three-axis magnetometer, GPS and near-field communication.
Sony VAIO Duo 11
The other convertible in the bunch is a bit more radical, and one to make Bill Gates proud. In cheerleading for various tablet form factors for a decade before his retirement, the Microsoft co-founder had an affinity for tablet prototypes with pen interfaces. The Sony VAIO Duo 11 brings a stylus to a three-way mix that reportedly includes the stylus, an 11.6-inch touchscreen and fold-out keyboard, along with a choice of three Intel processors.
Acer Aspire S7
Acer Inc. CEO and Chairman J.T. Wang has publicly questioned
Microsoft's moves into the hardware market with the Microsoft Surface, but that might be because Acer has so much skin in this game. In the touch-enabled Ultrabook area alone, Acer has the Aspire S7 (pictured) and the Acer M3 Touch.
The aluminum unibody Aspire S7 Ultrabook comes in two screen sizes: 13.1 inches and 11.6 inches. Acer includes some sophisticated hardware for the S7, such as a special cooling system, a light-sensing keyboard that adjusts its backlight and Green Instant-on to improve on Intel's resume-from-hibernation time requirement.
In an Aug. 31 blog post about upcoming Windows 8 hardware, Microsoft OEM chief Nick Parker noted, "The S7 in particular is designed with extra tension in the hinges so it can open up to 180 degrees, enabling a new type of collaboration scenario."
HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4
HP's other entry so far is the HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4, with a 14-inch display and a slightly thicker body at 0.9 inches. Like the SpectreXT, the Envy TouchSmart is on the heavy side for an Ultrabook -- both weigh in at 4.77 pounds. HP didn't release pricing on the Envy TouchSmart when the device was announced in August. It's expected to be available in the United States for the holidays.
Samsung Series 5 Ultra Touch
Samsung is taking the straightforward approach to the Windows 8 laptop with the Series 5 Ultra Touch. For the most part Samsung has taken the previous non-touch Series 5 Ultra and upgraded the device with a 10-point capacitive multitouch screen. The real benefit of the approach is the price tag. With U.S. prices for the two versions at $799 (with an Intel Core i3 processor) and $849 (with an Intel Core i5 processor), the Series 5 Ultra Touch is evidence that touch-enabled Ultrabooks can be had for well under $1,000.
ASUS Zenbook Prime UX21a Touch
There's not a lot of detail yet on the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX21a Touch, but reports coming out of the IFA show in Berlin at the end of August highlighted two key features. One is a 178-degree viewing angle to the screen, which will make the device especially good for in-person collaboration and video sharing. The other is a battery with two weeks of standby life.
The jury is out on whether there's a mass market for laptops with screens that you touch. It could turn out that Windows 8 users will be comfortable reaching across to vertical touchscreens and will gladly smudge them a bit in pursuit of higher productivity. If so, high-performance Ultrabook touch systems are ready to go.
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.