Also inside: Whither the iPad Mini?
I'm writing this week's This Week in Tablets on Lenovo's Windows 8-based Ideapad Yoga. It's a remarkable portable PC that literally couldn't have existed prior to Windows 8.
Before getting into the product itself, I have to confess that this whole Windows 8 experience is bringing me back to my earliest memories of using Windows.
I first encountered Windows in the Win 3.0 era in the early 1990s. Back then, you had to type "Win" at a DOS command prompt to launch the OS.
Having used a Mac for 4 years in college prior to that, I have a distinct recollection of thinking that that Windows was less of an OS and more of an overlay. At the time, it was true, and the the term shell was commonly used in describing the Windows environment.
Twenty years later, I'm having a hard time shaking the feeling that, in both the full-fledged and the RT trim, Windows 8 has become a shell again. Elegant-looking, but a shell nonetheless. Enough so that at times, it feels like you're running two separate operating systems at the same time.
For now, at least.
I'm not sure how Microsoft will unify the numerous duplicities here, both real and perceived. But at some point, the dual browser iterations have to go. The absence of Dropbox in the Windows store, but the ability to download it via the desktop have to be reconciled.
Here's another example: I keep my notes for this column in Evernote. To access those notes without installing it twice, I have to go back into the Metro Interface by pressing the Windows Key and then find Evernote.
(By the way, the Windows key + D shortcut will quickly become your best friend - it takes you back to the desktop from Metro.)
Until this transormation occurs, the promise of Windows 8 will feel inconsistent and a little hollow.
What about Yoga?
Regardless of all the above, devices like the IdeaPad Yoga will stretch our notions of what Windows-based mobile computing can be. And, even if Windows 8 isn't fully mature as a touch environment, the Yoga in many ways vets the themes, the interface, and the mentality behind both.
Technically, the Yoga is an ultrabook. It features a bright, high-quality, high resolution 1600 x 900 13-inch screen, an attractive and surprisinglya slim build, and a peppy 1.70GHz Core i5 3317U for a processor.
In classic Lenovo style, the system's keyboard is highly responsive and a joy to type on. The real hook, however, is a specially designed hinge that allows you to transform the Yoga from a standard laptop mode into several different orientations.
You can flip the keyboard all the way behind the screen for a tablet-style experience. You can also split the keyboard and the screen in a way that you can stand it upright. And finally, you can position the keyboard in such a way that the display is essentially resting on top of it.
I will say that holding onto a tablet with a keyboard on the bottom surface takes some getting used to. But at this size and shape, you're not holding the tablet so much as resting it on your lap.
The Yoga was released under Lenovo's consumer-oriented IdeaPad label, but after spending a considerable amount of time with it, I've begun to realize that the hybrid solution--particularly in this form-factor--is a surprisingly sensible one for corporate environments for one primary reason.
Most of us bring our work laptops home every night. If employees are able to convert their laptops into tablets while watching TV in their living rooms, and quickly access their keyboards when they need to, productivity (and creativity) will only go up.
The best part about the Yoga is that it's starting price is $1,000.00. That's remarkable.
More to come on this front, but for now chalk one up for the hybrids. Incidentally, Lenovo also makes a dual-hinged version of this device under their more corpoate-oriented ThinkPad line - it's called the ThinkPad Twist.
This week's loser: Apple
Am I missing something here, or was Apple's launch of the iPad Mini decidedly understated?
Media coverage of the tablet ranged from mildly enthusiastic to decidedly meh. And even though, there were a few lines at stores, the release lacked the fervor of pretty much every other Apple release of the last three or four years.
Even the big billboard ad for the 7-inch tablet on the 101 Freeway right after you come across the Bay Bridge in San Francisco feels uninspired.
Not surprisingly, the praise revolves around the size and light weight of the iPad Mini. The criticisms tend to focus on the screen's lower-than-retina resolution.
It's too early to call, but it feels like Apple might have its first clunker in a long time.
This week's winner: Samsung
I'm a fan of the NBA, and I found myself fascinated with Samsung's latest ad for its stylus-friendly Galaxy Note II, which features LeBron James.
The commercial is simultaneously an image rehab for one of the NBA's more reviled stars (now that he's a champion, he's human and happy again!) and a coming out party for the phone/tablet form-factor.
It's a perfectly suited match. Skeptics were (and still are) dubious about the Galaxy Note until consumers started snapping it up, much like naysayers nitpicked James' abilities and emotional composition until he won his first title.
More importantly, it's becoming clearer that Samsung has succesfully done what very few tablet manufacturers have been able to do: get out of the very crowded and very saturated standard tablet and smartphone categories, and create a unique space for itself.