Your options for excellent laptops are abundant these days. But, there’s a problem: Most follow relatively tried-and-true formulas. Rarely do they deviate.
Then, 2018 happened. This year, we got some of the most bizarre, experimental laptops we’ve seen in years. These concept machines are not always big sellers, and in fact, they don’t tend to aim at a mainstream audience at all. But they’re cool, and they often provide a glimpse of what’s coming a few years down the road. We’re looking at three experimental laptops that offer something truly different and that we’d love to see other manufacturers incorporate in future designs.
HP Spectre Folio: Leather isn’t just for looks
First up is the Spectre Folio, HP’s latest attempt to “redefine the PC.” The name hints at this notebook’s most important feature. It’s made of leather. When closed, an onlooker might confuse it for a high-quality folio that hides a pad of paper rather than a laptop inside. It’s odd to think that the PC redefined looks like such an old-school item, but there you have it.
Its intelligence in merging form and function is what we love most about the Spectre Folio.
And when we say it’s “made of leather,” we mean it. The Spectre Folio isn’t a laptop that ships with a leather cover. Rather, it’s constructed of leather, specifically a high-quality chrome-tanned version of the luxury material that promises to age well without staining or scuffing.
More than just looks, leather is a very different material from the usual metal and plastic in its flexibility. HP has leveraged that quality to create a convertible 2-in-1 that’s truly different from every other option we’ve seen.
Specifically, the Folio’s display simply pops out and pulls forward into movie mode, and then pulls a little further into tablet mode. The keyboard remains covered all the while, and the clamshell mode is just as stable as any traditional laptop.
That unique 2-in-1 mechanism is made possible by three important components: Leather’s flexibility, modern low-power components that can fit into tiny spaces, and some smart use of powerful magnets.
We’re not hoping that everyone starts using leather, mind you, but we would love to see more laptops that experiment with different materials and form factors, especially if they can bring form and function together as well as the Spectre Folio does.
Google Pixel Slate: The first true 2-in-1
Google’s first home-grown tablet, the Pixel Slate, takes a different approach to stand out in our look at genre-bending laptop. Rather than incorporating different materials, the Pixel Slate plays around with our usual notions of the software that runs a laptop. To be precise, Google’s tablet focuses on melding the company’s Chrome OS desktop platform with its full suite of Android mobile apps in a new and useful way. Including new Linux support, that’s three operating systems in one device.
The Pixel Slate hints at how future PCs can our desktop and mobile computing needs all in one device.
The secret sauce is the new tablet functionality that Google is building into Chrome OS to make it work better with touch-only devices. Yes, the Pixel Slate has a detachable keyboard that we liked a lot, and so it can function as a typical laptop. But for maybe the first time, Chrome OS works well enough as a tablet that you can comfortably leave the keyboard behind.
Add in the millions of Android apps that mostly run well enough on a tablet, and suddenly Google’s platform accomplishing something truly different. Contrary to Apple’s assertions, the iPad doesn’t compete with traditional “desktop” machines that can a mouse (and a keyboard) for fine-tuned controls. Windows 10 has desktop functionality covered, but it’s weak in tablet mode, and there’s only a relatively small handful of usable touch-optimized apps.
The Pixel Slate, though, supports a mouse and has the usual desktop functionality. And then it benefits from running millions of Android apps in a suitable form factor. It’s not perfect by any means, but this story isn’t about the best products. It’s about products that we hope are harbingers of the future, and the Pixel Slate hints at how future PCs can handle both our desktop and mobile computing needs all in one device.
Lenovo Yoga Book C930: Dual-screen computing is on its way
Our final stand-out product is by far the strangest. Lenovo’s dual-screen Yoga Book C930. This laptop throws away the template and goes all-in on different. Or at least it looks that way at first glance, literally. The Yoga Book eschews the usual physical keyboard completely and replaces it with a second large display.
We love that Lenovo is putting the dual-display future in our hands today.
For now, we’re not all that certain we’d buy the Yoga Book today. The visual keyboard on the second display works, but we miss the physical feedback that a real keyboard provides. Lenovo needs to build in some effective haptic feedback if the form factor is going to succeed in the market. But we do love how that second screen – actually an e-ink version in this model – can be used for additional functionality like e-book reading and digital note-taking.
Regardless of how well it works today, it certainly feels like the future of laptops. We love that Lenovo put that dual-display future in our hands today. Concepts are great, but real products are even better. It’s efforts like this that will make the most impact on bringing innovative technology into the mainstream. The Yoga Book is only the beginning.
The best is yet to come
There are some other laptops that we considered for this list, including the Surface Go, which is the smallest and least expensive laptop yet that can run the full Windows 10 experience while working as a highly portable media consumption device. Meanwhile, there’s laptops like the Qualcomm-powered Samsung Galaxy Book 2 that bring connectivity and mobility to life in a new way.
But these three best epitomize what we love about the modern laptop market: Companies aren’t just focused on perfecting the traditional laptop form factor anymore. Rather, we’re seeing more and more innovation leaking out from conceptual products as we’ve featured here. And that makes us very excited indeed about the near-future of computing.