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Is it a laptop? A tablet? Whatever, PC makers just hope you'll buy it

James Niccolai and Michael Kan | June 8, 2012
One thing apparent at Computex this week is that computer makers really aren't sure what consumers want in a PC, and they're throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.

Acer also has a new all-in-one PC, shown by Microsoft's Steve Guggenheimer in his keynote Wednesday, with a large monitor that can swivel on its side into portrait mode. He also showed an Acer laptop whose ports are hidden at the back to make it as thin as possible, but which drop down when needed at the push of a button in a half-centimeter panel.

Yet another Acer laptop, the aptly named Yoga, has a screen that folds out flat through 180 degrees, and then keeps folding all the way back on itself, so the device becomes a tablet with a keyboard on the back. Why? Maybe just because it can.

Not everything at the show is gimmicky. There are standard laptops in all sizes, made thinner and lighter thanks to the upcoming "Ivy Bridge" variant of Intel's Atom processor, which can get by with smaller, lighter batteries. Gigabyte Technologies showed a laptop with a carbon fiber casing that weighs just 975 grams, lighter than Apple's MacBook Air. The X11 will go on sale in the U.S. and Europe later this year from $999.

At the other end of the spectrum is Dell's Alienware M18X, a hulking machine the size of a small briefcase with a "starting weight" of almost 5.5 kilograms. Billed as the "world's most powerful laptop for gamers," it's priced from $1,999 on Dell's website.

Toshiba, meanwhile, announced an ultrabook with an unusual, 21:9 aspect ratio, for watching movies in wide-screen format without black bars eating up screen space at the top and bottom. The Satellite U845W (called the U840W in Europe) is due later this year, priced from $999 in the U.S.

There's also variety in the smartphones, with each trying to find the sweet spot for screen size, and most larger than the 3.5-inch iPhone. Samsung's Galaxy Note, one of the biggest at 5.3-inches, has been disparagingly called a "phablet," as it's midway between a phone and a tablet. Its Galaxy S III, due later this year, will be 4.8 inches, while HTC's One S is 4.3 inches.

Asus wins for the most out-there smartphone idea. The PadFone, which was announced in February and just went on sale in Taiwan, looks and operates like a normal Android phone but also snaps into the back of a tablet, in a concealed dock. The tablet is useless without the phone, but with the phone inside, the tablet uses its OS and processor and effectively gives the phone a larger screen.

The tablet has its own battery and can recharge the phone while it's in the dock, and the whole set-up can snap into a keyboard, turning it into a laptop. There's still no ship date outside Taiwan.


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