In-Depth

CES 2021 Gallery: Windows OEMs Drive Connectivity and Productivity Home

A virtual event this year, CES 2021 provided a snapshot of how PC makers are meeting the most pressing demands of remote users.

PC makers have been riding an unfamiliar high. After the pandemic drove office workers across the world into hastily cobbled remote-work environments, PC sales were stronger than they've been in a decade. Employees have spent the better part of last year upgrading their home laptops to more powerful machines that can handle bandwidth-chewing video meetings on top of their regular office workloads, all while reckoning with new connectivity demands.

Enter the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which wrapped up on Thursday. A virtual event this year, CES provided a snapshot view of how PC original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are meeting the most pressing demands of remote users. Here are the highlights.

Surface Pro 7+ for Business

Microsoft's latest addition to the Surface for Business family is designed specifically for remote workers and educators. To address the bandwidth needs of employees working from home, Microsoft had added an optional LTE Advanced configuration, in addition to regular Wi-Fi. This "helps keep people connected at home if Wi-Fi bandwidth is limited or if they are in a remote location," according to Microsoft. For users with a variety of peripherals, including external monitors, the Surface Pro 7+ comes with USB-A and USB-C ports. Security perks include a removable SSD, Microsoft BitLocker protection and Windows Enhanced Hardware Security features turned on by default. It also promises to be highly portable at 1.7 pounds, with a 12.3-inch display and up to 15 hours of battery life. Microsoft has also made its packaging 23 percent lighter to help organizations that have to ship devices to their employees, with Windows Autopilot handling the onboarding process.

  • Base Price: $899 for Wi-Fi model, $1,149 for LTE Advanced
  • Availability: January 2021
  • More Information: Microsoft

HP Elite Folio

For the hyper-mobile, HP has unveiled the Elite Folio, a hybrid laptop that promises to combine the computing power of a PC with the portability of a tablet and smartphone. Its standout design feature is a 13.5-inch screen that pivots from flat to upright to any angle in between -- the first "pull forward" design in HP's business lineup. Connectivity features include Wi-Fi 6 support, Bluetooth and optional 5G. HP included several features to optimize video and sound quality in meetings, including high-definition speakers, a noise-filtering microphone, and a 76-degree field-of-view webcam that also has a shutter.

  • Base Price: TBA
  • Availability: February 2021
  • More Information: HP

Dell Latitude 9420

The new Latitude from Dell comes with multiple features aimed at improving video conference quality, including background blurring, a built-in speaker phone and "automatic light correction," and supports connectivity via Wi-Fi 6E or 5G LTE. Dell also touts the Latitude 9420 as "the world's first PC with Intel Visual Sensing Technology to offer a more reliable auto wake and lock." Users can log on via the Windows Hello biometric authentication technology. Another "first" is a security feature called SafeShutter, a webcam shutter that integrates with conferencing applications to automatically open when a meeting starts and close when a meeting ends.

  • Base Price: $1,049
  • Availability: Spring 2021
  • More Information: Dell

HP Elite Dragonfly G2 & Dragonfly Max

Two new HP devices, the Elite Dragonfly G2 and the more feature-rich Elite Dragonfly Max, are meant to provide "next-level collaboration," according to HP. Both support 5G or gigabit-class 4G LTE, with "AI-enabled" sound systems for both media and video meetings. They're lightweight, at under 2 pounds, and come with built-in tracking technology via Tile, so users moving from location to location have a layer of security against theft or misplacement. HP's proprietary "tamper-lock" technology also protects against unauthorized use. The Elite Dragonfly Max has a few more collaboration features than the Elite Dragonfly 2, such as a more powerful 5-megapixel camera, four wide-range microphones and a display that's designed to reduce eye-strain.

  • Base Price: TBA
  • Availability: January 2021
  • More Information: HP

ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED & ZenBook Duo 14

The splashy ASUS ZenBook Duo line, which is notable for having a secondary full-width touchscreen (or "screenpad") above the keyboard, has a new feature: a tilting screenpad. The change should be a welcome one for mobile creatives. The new screenpad tilts upward by 9.5 degrees in the upcoming ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED and by 7 degrees in the smaller ZenBook Duo 14, improving readability and usability, and cutting down on glare. Both models come with a new Control Panel feature designed specifically for the screenpad. Control Panel works with photo-, video- and image-editing applications, extending their workspace to add more controls for editing tools (for example, to adjust brush sizes). A stylus is included.

  • Base Price: TBA for ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED, $999.99 for ZenBook Duo 14
  • Availability: April 2021 for ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED, TBA for ZenBook Duo 14
  • More Information: ASUS

Lenovo ThinkBook 14p Gen 2 & ThinkBook 16p Gen 2

Lenovo has expanded its venerable ThinkBook line with a few devices geared specifically toward small and midsized businesses (SMBs) with mobile workforces. The new ThinkBook 14p and 16p are described as "video conferencing-optimized laptops" that feature high-quality displays and fast connectivity. Their keyboards come with meeting-access keys built-in, while the high-definition webcam has a shutter that users can slide closed for added security. Users who attend multiple daily meetings over their PCs will appreciate the audio system, which has three conference modes: "Private" for personal conferences, "Shared" for group conferences and "Environmental" for cases when "a user wishes to share sounds from other devices." An AI-powered noise-canceling feature is the cherry on top.

  • Base Price: $849 for ThinkBook 14p, $1,299 for ThinkBook 16p
  • Availability: Q1 of 2021
  • More Information: Lenovo

Dell Curved Video Conferencing Monitor

These new displays from Dell are, as their name suggests, designed for users who find themselves spending most of their days staring at their screens in video meetings. The Dell Video Conferencing Monitor comes in three models: 24-inch, 27-inch and 34-inch (the "world's first" conferencing monitor in that size, according to Dell). They support sign-in via facial scanning and voice-activated commands, and cut down on blue-light exposure through Dell's ComfortView Plus technology. They're also all certified for Microsoft Teams.

  • Base Price: $519.99 for 24-inch model, $719.99 for 27-inch, $1,149.99 for 34-inch
  • Availability: Feb. 16
  • More Information: Dell

Acer Aspire 7

Though fairly nondescript, the updated Aspire 7 is a "powerful productivity machine," according to Acer. It runs on the AMD Ryzen 5000 Series Mobile processor and has capacity for 32GB of DDR4 memory and 1TB PCIe SSD. To prevent overheating and reduce fan noise, Acer included multiple cooling nodes in the Aspire 7, as well as the ability to quickly change fan speeds with a few keystrokes. Though Acer describes the Aspire 7 as ideal for "power users on the go," the device is fairly sizable, with a 15.6-inch display and weighing just shy of 5 pounds.

  • Base Price: $749.99
  • Availability: March 2021
  • More Information: Acer

Lenovo ThinkReality A3

Mixed reality headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens have been mostly marketed toward factory and industrial settings, but Lenovo's ThinkReality A3 smart glasses make a solid argument for office-bound use cases, too. The ThinkReality A3 connects to a user's PC or laptop via a USB-C cable and allows them to interact with up to five "virtual" monitors, in addition to their existing physical display. Besides the obvious productivity boost that additional displays can provide, the fact that they're virtual improves privacy (since they can only be accessed by the wearer) and frees up space -- a plus for remote and mobile workers who don't have access to their traditional offices because of the pandemic. For industrial, retail or laboratory workers, there is also an Industrial Edition of the glasses that connects to Motorola phones.

  • Base Price: TBA
  • Availability: Mid-2021
  • More Information: Lenovo

About the Author

Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editor of Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and AWSInsider.net, and the editorial director of Converge360.

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