Top picks: The best Windows 8 tablet laptops, convertibles, and Ultrabooks

HP and Dell lead Samsung, Lenovo, and Acer in InfoWorld's reviews of both classic clamshell notebooks and innovative touch-driven hybrids

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Top Ultrabook convertible: Dell XPS 12

This is one of the cleverest Ultrabooks on the market right now, bar none. This laptop-cum-tablet is sleek, sturdy, highly usable -- and on the pricey side.

Most convertibles detach the keyboard from the display. Instead, the Dell XPS 12's display flips around inside a metal frame to covert the machine from tablet mode to notebook mode, with magnetic clasps to guide the display into place. On the downside, this mechanism means you can't leave the keyboard behind and shed a little weight if you want to, and you need to be careful to not pinch your fingers when you switch the display around.

The swipe gestures on the touchpad had a bit of a hair trigger, and as with many other Ultrabooks on the market, there's no drive-activity light. But the keyboard's comfortable, there's little bloatware shoveled into the system, and an optional dock provides a whole slew of expansion and connectivity.

InfoWorld score: 8.2 (Very Good); read the full review.

Runner-up: Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T
Samsung's Ultrabooks have garnered a reputation for being polished, stylish, and powerful. The Ativ Smart PC Pro is powerful and has some very smart design touches, but a few bits of its construction hint at how Samsung needs to work on delivering a more budget-priced system.

This rare dockable Ultrabook has horsepower enough for most business-class users, and the unit itself is well-built. But the plastic keyboard dock feels flimsy and cobbled together, and the power connector for both dock and keyboard is so tiny and fragile it's easy to imagine breaking it if you tug the wrong way. Additionally, the keyboard isn't backlit, there's no auxiliary battery in the dock, and the finicky spacebar may be annoying to type on.

But the unit has some smart design touches, like having the heat vent at the top (no more baked laps), and the battery with the unit delivered more than five hours of runtime in our tests. Existing Samsung fans will appreciate the presence of a stylus as well as the S-branded line of software also found in their Samsung Galaxy line of Android phones.

InfoWorld score: 8.0 (Very Good); read the full review.

Other Ultrabook convertibles worth a look: HP EliteBook Revolve (InfoWorld score: 8.0, Very Good; read full review) and Lenovo ThinkPad Twist (InfoWorld score: 7.7, Good; read full review).

Top Ultrabook clamshell: HP EliteBook Folio 9470M

Packing an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of SDRAM, and an 180GB SSD, the HP EliteBook Folio 9470M is a sleek, solid, smartly designed business-class machine. There's nothing rickety about its brushed-aluminum case or the cover hinge, the backlit and recessed keyboard is comfortable, and as mentioned above, the touchpad serves as a usable substitute for a touchscreen. A smart card slot, TPM, and fingerprint reader are all standard.

InfoWorld scorecard: 8.9 (Very Good); read the full review.

Runner-up: Dell Latitude 6430u
Like HP's Folio 9470M, the Dell Latitude 6430u is at the high end of the size and weight class for an Ultrabook, but lighter and svelter than many other business-class notebooks. It also gets excellent battery life -- nearly five hours in our Netflix rundown test. Nice touches include a spacious, full-motion, and spill-resistant keyboard and a gesture-supporting touchpad that's not too eager to trigger Windows 8 actions you don't intend. A self-encrypting SSD and TPM are standard. It's not the flashiest Ultrabook on the market, but a great choice for anyone whose first priority is productivity.

InfoWorld score: 8.6 (Very Good); read the full review.

Other Ultrabook clamshells worth a look: Lenovo X1 Carbon (InfoWorld score: 8.4, Very Good; read the full review), Samsung Ativ Book 9 (InfoWorld score: 8.3, Very Good; read the full review), HP EliteBook 2170p (InfoWorld score: 8.2, Very Good; read the full review).

Finally, it won’t be long before Ultrabooks based on Intel’s new Haswell chipset will be widely available. Set to consume 50 percent less power than its predecessor, Ivy Bridge, Haswell promises all-day-and-then-some battery life without the performance sacrifice presented by Atom. The result should be super-slender and lightweight Windows notebooks with the speed of real PCs and the power consumption profiles of tablets. Stay tuned.

This article, "Top picks: The best Windows 8 tablet laptops, convertibles, and Ultrabooks," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in computer hardware and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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