It's been over a year since Microsoft first previewed the next generation of its Windows operating system, the touch-optimized Windows 8. As we draw closer to release, it's now the turn of hardware manufacturers to reveal exactly what they imagine we'll be using to make the most of the rather impressive new operating environment. IFA 2012 provided the perfect platform and we managed to spend a little time getting to know the latest tablet, ultrabook, AIO and hybrid tablet/notebook offerings from Samsung, Toshiba, Lenovo and Acer. We've saved the biggest PC manufacturer until last and managed to jostle our way through the crowds of media and public to get up close to HP's first wave of Windows 8 machines.
Two new ENVY additions and a Spectre XT update have been chosen to represent the brave new world of touch-centric computing, including another dip into tablet territory (although HP did seem a little reluctant to use the "T" word, no doubt still feeling the pain of the TouchPad disaster).
The HP ENVY x2 is a hybrid tablet/notebook or, if you prefer, a tablet that includes its own physical keyboard dock. The tablet features an optimized Windows 8 touch interface on an 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 pixel resolution IPS multi-touch display panel with a reported brightness of 400-nit. There's also an optional stylus available for improved onscreen accuracy and to help keep grubby fingerprints on the glossy screen to a minimum.
The x2 has a mobile phone-like press-and-hold power button to the back – rather than the side – of the tablet part and a volume rocker over on the right, plus there's a Beats Audio logo in the bezel which signals the inclusion of Dr. Dre's and Jimmy Iovine's vision of how audio should be delivered, along with an HD webcam to the front and an 8-megapixel snapper round the back. On its own, the x2 tablet weighs a not-too-unpleasant 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg), which increases to 3.1 pounds (1.4 kg) when docked.
Docking and undocking from the keyboard is really smooth and easy. A small connector interface in the keyboard base plugs into the tablet part of the device and two additional magnetic struts secure it in place. It's released from the vice-like grip of the base via a magnetic toggle positioned above the comfortable chiclet-style keyboard. The base also includes its own battery for extended use, and benefits from an SD card slot, an HDMI output and two USB ports.
HP told us that although the company is still in the process of finalizing benchmarks for battery performance, users can expect a full working day in tablet mode or 1.5 days in notebook (docked) mode. The unit will come with 64 GB of SSD storage and includes a new HP Connected Photo app that syncs images across multiple devices, while also offering basic editing and social network sharing capabilities. Near Field Communication technology also features for content sharing between devices with a quick tap.
Up close, the aluminum finish lends the ENVY x2 a well constructed, stylish look and feel. The display is bright, crisp and responsive and the physical keyboard not too cramped. Both our intrepid product tester and the HP rep at IFA did seem to be having issues bringing up the Windows Charms menu bar by dragging a digit from the right of the screen, but this may have been a technique rather than a hardware problem.
The only information we were given about the processor in the tablet part of the hybrid notebook is that it's of the Intel X86 variety. It is also worth noting that the version of Windows 8 running on the x2 is the full version and not RT.
In the looks department, the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Ultrabook may have MacBook Pro users crying foul at the general similarities but given HP's attention to detail and obvious build quality, perhaps that's not such a bad thing. This model sports a 15.6-inch multitouch Radiance Full HD IPS display with edge-to-edge glass. There's a Windows 8-optimized glass touchpad, backlit chiclet-style keyboard (that we found very comfortable to use) and tilted speakers with Beats Audio.
The new 17.9-mm (0.7-inch) thin, 4.77-pound (2.16-kg) Spectre XT is HP's first notebook to sport Intel's Thunderbolt I/O technology, and also includes two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI out and Gigabit LAN. It will be powered by the latest generation Intel Core processor with integrated HD4000 graphics, come with solid state storage, and will include full versions of Photoshop Elements 10 and Premiere Elements 10 to help satisfy any photo and video editing needs you might have. It will also be capable of charging USB-connected devices even when the notebook is powered off.
The last of the three new Windows 8 products unveiled at IFA is the ENVY TouchSmart Ultrabook 4. HP has taken all of the best bits from the ENVY Ultrabooks launched earlier this year and added some multitouch magic. This 23-mm (0.9-inch) thin model features a 14-inch multitouch HD display, a backlit keyboard, up to eight hours battery life and a built-in subwoofer to make the most of the Beats Audio experience.
The latest Intel Core processors will run the show and system configurations will include solid state storage options, plus there will also be the option to include an AMD GPU with 2 GB of built-in video memory.
Only the SpectreXT has been given a firm release window of December 2012 with a starting price of US$1,399. The other two models can be expected in time for the holiday shopping season.
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