'New' Windows 8 PCs: We've seen 'em before

Old laptop and tablet designs get trotted out as new designs specially optimized for Windows 8 at launch events in Germany and Taiwan

On the surface, it's pretty surprising: The industry has cooked up a raft of new PCs, including various laptop-tablet hybrids, supposedly just for Windows 8. That's a lot of engineering to support the new features of a Windows release that has been panned so badly the word "Vista" comes to mind.

Look closer, however, and you'll see that nobody -- with the possible exception of Microsoft -- has dreamed up a truly "new" hardware home for Windows 8. We're looking at completely different Microsoft software being mashed up with hardware that, if you've been paying attention, has a decidedly deja vu feeling to it.

Let me step you through the Windows 8 hardware announcements I've seen. Most of these announcements were made at the Computex trade show in Taiwan in June or at last week's IFA trade show in Berlin.

Note in particular that I'm talking about Windows 8 hardware, not Windows RT.

  • Last June, Acer announced its new Windows 8 Iconia W510 -- a 10.1-inch, 1,280 x 800 tablet (thus not able to support Win8's 1,366-pixel width) with a detachable battery-toting keyboard that can be rotated up to 290 degrees. The W510 bears more than a striking resemblance to the older Windows 7 Iconia W500, which is a 10.1-inch, 1,280 x 800 tablet with a detachable 290-degree keyboard. Acer also announced the Iconia W700, a plain 11.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 tablet with a bulky, cumbersome docking/charging cradle that helps you prop it up in portrait or landscape mode. Want a keyboard? That'll take Bluetooth. The dock almost completely covers the Windows button.
  • Also last June, Asus announced the Taichi, which is almost indistinguishable from an Asus Zen Ultrabook, except it has a two-sided screen. Pop open the lid, and you get two screens, Janus style, facing in two different directions. Close the lid, and you see just the slate side of the Taichi personality. The two screens can be operated separately or synchronously, a cute gimmick until you realize that both operators would view the screen at a nearly illegible 90-degree viewing angle. Only the "outside" screen is touch sensitive. Asus is also expected to ship the Transformer All-in-One, a big, boxy design with a detachable, luggable 18.4-inch display. Prototype demos show a button that can be pushed to switch the display between Windows 8 and Android. Take the display off the All-In-One base, and it reverts to Android with an available app that lets you use the Windows 8 base. All we know for sure about the internal workings is that the demo at Computex didn't work.
  • Last week, Asus demoed its new Vivo Tab, 11.6 inches at 1,366 x 768, with an available transformer-style detachable keyboard dock/battery.  It's not immediately clear to me how the Vivo Tab compares to the previously announced (but not shipped) Asus Tablet 810, but they both look a lot like netbooks, slightly warmed over.
  • Then there's Dell and its hinged XPS Duo 12 -- the one with the flip-over 12.5-inch monitor on a swinging chicken-roasting rack, just like the Dell Inspiron Duo. (I call it the "Rube Goldberg design.") Don't remember the Inspiron Duo? Not to worry, you'll see it again, this time running Windows 8. Dell hasn't been very forthcoming with details about the Duo 12, although we're promised Core i7 and "Full HD."
  • Fujitsu is on the hook to release two Windows 8 machines -- the Stylus Q702 (11.6 inches, 1,366 x 768, transformer-style detachable keyboard/battery dock) and the 4.1-pound luggable LifeBook T902 (13 inches, 1,600 x 900, tilt and swivel) which is nearly identical to the Windows 7-based T901. Engadget bumped into working prototypes last week at the Hong Kong Computer & Communications Festival.
  • Hewlett-Packard weighs in with the Me-2, uh, the Envy X2, an 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 hybrid with a transformer-style detachable keyboard/battery dock. HP also promises a 15.6-inch Ultrabook called the SpectreXT TouchSmart and a 14-inch TouchSmart Ultrabook 4, both of which appear to be nearly identical to their Windows 7 counterparts, although the Win8 versions have multitouch screens.
  • Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet 2 (10.1 inches, 1366 x 768, Atom, optional keyboard) doesn't bring anything revolutionary to the table. Pre-production models that were on display at IFA looked like run-of-the-mill Win8 tablets with a trough-docked optional keyboard. Few details, including pricing, are available at this point.
  • Samsung has updated its Slate 5 (11.6 inches, 1,366 x 768, Atom, optional keyboard) and Slate 7 (11.6 inches, 1,920 x 1,080, Core i5, detachable keyboard) tablets for Windows 8, with branding likely to be switched to "ATIV Smart PC" and "ATIV Smart PC Pro," respectively. Announced at IFA last week, both have Asus transformer-style hinges that use a mechanical lock -- and no other identifiable innovative improvements. Samsung originally announced that its new Slates, er, ATIVs would ship with a Samsung-built replacement for the Windows 8 desktop Start menu. That announcement has since been scuttled and roundly denied by Samsung reps. It would've been interesting to be a fly on Steve Sinofsky's wall when news about the Start menu replacement broke in Redmond. I'd guess it took all of about 10 seconds to get Sinofsky patched through to Lee Kun-hee in Seoul.
  • Details about Sony's Vaio Duo 11 have just started to emerge. The Duo 11 (11.6 inches, 1,920 x 1,080, Core i3-5-7, stylus) reprises the old slide-out keyboard shtick with a design that looks like it came straight from last year's Asus Eee Pad Slider. When you slide out the keyboard, the screen's stuck in one fixed location; you can't adjust the viewing angle. With a wide array of extras -- including 2 x USB 3.0, NFC, TPM chip, HDMI, and VGA (!) out -- of all the new Win8 boxes, this one appears to be the most likely competitor for Microsoft's Surface. This week. No pricing has been announced.
  • The Toshiba Satellite U925t (12.5 inches, "HD", Core i5, stylus) and its European look-alike the U920t, sports a sliding keyboard that doesn't work anything at all like the Vaio/Eee Pad Slider. Revealing the keyboard on the U925t involves sliding the screen way back on a pair of rails, then tilting the screen up, in a method quite similar to last year's Samsung Slider 7. The railed approach accommodates a significantly larger keyboard than the Vaio's, but the action isn't as smooth or the feel as stable as the Eee Pad Slider.
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