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Microsoft Rolling Out Android, Chromebook Challengers This Fall

Hardware partners at last month's 2014 IFA conference shined the spotlight on a raft of lower-cost Windows PCs.

Much was made of Microsoft's acknowledgement at this year's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) that Windows now only holds 14 percent of the overall device OS market -- a far cry from the 90 percent share it once boasted.

With consumer demands shifting to devices that are smaller and more portable than traditional desktop PCs, Windows has steadily lost ground to Google Android, which runs the vast majority of tablets and smartphones worldwide. Google Chromebooks, running Chrome OS, have also been making a run at the PC market, albeit less successfully than Android-based devices. Chromebook adoption among enterprises is still low but growing, and it has seen marked gains among educational users.

The growth in recent years of Android- and (to a lesser extent) Chrome OS-based PCs has exposed a major disadvantage for Windows: price. Low-end Android laptops can cost as little as $200, the same as the starting price for Chromebooks. There are few Windows 8.x PCs in the market that can match or undercut those prices.

At the WPC in July, however, Microsoft promised to shake up the low-end PC market with a raft of affordable devices that will become available starting this fall. To sweeten the deal for its original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), Microsoft already offers them a royalty-free version of Windows 8.1 with Bing that runs on smaller tablet devices. At the WPC, Microsoft said it's working with OEMs to produce Windows devices between $100 and $200 and spanning a wide range of form factors.

Many of those devices were unveiled at September's 2014 IFA technology conference in Berlin. The standouts include the Encore Mini tablet from Toshiba, which runs the aforementioned Windows 8.1 with Bing. The 7-inch tablet costs $120. Although the 1GB of RAM isn't expandable, the 16GB of storage can be expanded by up to 128GB via microSD support. It runs on an Intel Atom Z3735G processor, promises a battery life of up to 7 hours and features a 2-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera.

Toshiba Encore Mini

Also running Windows 8.1 with Bing is the EeeBook X205 laptop from Asus. The EeeBook X205 runs on an Intel Atom quad-core processor and will cost $200 when it becomes generally available in November. Many of its design features are designed for portability and on-the-go computing, including its light weight (under 1kg), larger touchpad and InstantGo feature that promises to have the device quickly up and running from sleep mode.

Asus EeeBook

Acer Inc. launched a number of Windows 8.1 devices at IFA, including new convertible PCs ranging from $330 and $400. It also unveiled the 8-inch, $150 Iconia Tab 8 W tablet, which runs Windows 8.1 with Bing and will become available in the United States in November. It comes with 32GB of storage, 1GB of RAM, microSD support and a 1280x800 HD display, and runs on an Intel AtomTM Z3735G quad-core processor.

Lenovo ThinkCentre Tiny-in-One

Lenovo unveiled an innovative all-in-one desktop called the ThinkCentre Tiny-in-One. The 23-inch system starts at $279 and works with Lenovo's detachable "Tiny PC" desktops. Users can essentially custom-build their PCs by detaching the Tiny PC from the back of the main console and attaching another.

HP Pavilion X2

Hewlett-Packard Co. was also on hand at the conference with updates to its ENVY line of convertible PCs, as well as the debut of the Pavilion X2, a 10-inch tablet-PC hybrid. The $330 device will launch by the end of the month and comes with a detachable cover that doubles as a stand and keyboard. It runs on an Intel Atom processor and promises a maximum 11.75 hours of battery life.

Surprisingly, for the low prices, several of the models also include a free, year-long subscription to Office 365, which also means they have access to 1TB of cloud storage in Microsoft OneDrive.

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for RCPmag.com and senior editor of AWSInsider.net.