One More Try at the Tabletop PC

Tabletop PCs are back, or rather they have been a reality ever since the original Microsoft Surface Concept. Both the Sony VAIO Tap 20 and Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon Tablet PC take advantage of Windows 8's multi-touch features and attempt to become the do everything tabletop PC in your living room. Let's check out the VAIO Tap 20 and Horizon and chat about whether tabletop PCs can actually create a new market segment (like the iPad did for tablets), or if they need to just lay down and go away.
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Like the Surface before it (before Microsoft hijacked its own product name with the old Surface now becoming PixelSense — make sense?), both the VAIO Tap 20 and Horizon lay flat on the table and let multiple people interact and do… what, exactly? Lenovo's video shows users interacting with a futuristic interface, playing games, shuffling photos around, and kids painting together (seems Microsoft's Windows 8 commercials are all about painting). There's not much else by way of taking advantage of the unique form factor. The mom in the video even picks the PC up and carries it around like a tablet, all 27 inches and however many pounds it ends up being. The Sony, coming in at 20 inches and having a sub 3 hour battery, might be more portable, but where exactly are you going to take a desktop PC anyway?
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So are these PCs really useful in a tabletop surface computing format? The answer lies in the software. If all that's going to be really useful and tailored to the surface is multiplayer painting, poker, air hockey and the like, the Tap, the Horizon and other future attempts will be dead in the water. The iPhone thrived as a new format because of its apps. Someone has to come up with a truly innovative and useful way to take advantage of a computer laying on its back, not just a gimmicky new interface that doesn't improve upon alternative methods. The tabletop computer now is an answer waiting for a question to be asked, but what's that question?

The original Microsoft Surface rang in at something outrageous, near $10,000. The Sony and Lenovo offerings start at under $1,000 and reach up to $1,700. More importantly, they aren't vaporware and are available now. The Sony's price-point may be more palatable, but it's too big to be portable and too small to be really productively useful as a computer. The Horizon competes with the likes of the Apple iMac in terms of pricepoint and looks. The convertible nature of these tabletop computers is likely their saving grace, keeping them from becoming just a novelty by adding the option to bring them upright into a traditional computer format. Will tabletop usage catch on? Probably in just a niche capacity, but given the ability to sit and stand, we like these computers for the fun factor.

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Sony VAIO Tap 20 Mobile Desktop $879.00 and up Sony's tabletop PC entry starts at a more modest 20"; coming in at $900, this is the cheaper of the two. With only 1600x900 resolution on a relatively small screen, the 10-point multi-touch screen might get a little crowded with two people peering over it. There is a battery which makes it slightly portable, although at just under 3 hours it's not truly portable. A built-in webcam is standard as is Windows 8, which is what makes the multi-touch magic useful. CPUs ranging from an i3 to i7 make for what should be a speedy machine.
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Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon $1,700 The Horizon similarly packs up to an i7 processor and Windows 8 but comes with a massive 27" monitor and 1920x1080 resolution to back up its higher price. With only a 2 hour battery life you have to start wondering what the point is other than to let you bring it from one spot to another in your house without having to shut down. The big screen alone makes the Horizon stand out, as the 27 inches actually might accommodate two users with their hands on the screen.

(Images: Lenovo, Sony)

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