The modern phone has become a ravenous technology black hole, absorbing digital music players, point-and-shoot cameras and even many tablets along the way. Screens got bigger, camera lenses got better, and work and entertainment apps improved. Aside from the iPad and a handful of budget tablets likeseries, the standalone tablet has largely been subsumed by big-screen phones.
Many thought the PC, especially the classic clamshell laptop, was next — especially afterin many areas of the PC industry. But the laptop is far from dead, and it’s still one of the biggest categories every year at CES.
This year’s crop of CES laptops — which we’ll define broadly to include Windows-based two-in-one hybrids and slates — even show signs of a sudden evolutionary leap. The long-predicted PC-phone convergence is happening, but rather than phones becoming more like computers, computers are becoming more like phones.
The laptop that thinks like a phone
The most obvious way this is happening is the new breed of laptops that ditch the traditional Intel (and sometimes AMD) processors for new Snapdragon processors from Qualcomm. So far, we’ve seen three of these Snapdragon systems announced: the, the Asus NoveGo and the .
Laptops with lower-end processors have been tried before, with limited success. Why is now potentially the right time? Because these systems aren’t being pitched as bargain basement throwaways — and in fact, they’ll cost $600 and up, the same as many mainstream laptops in the US. Instead, they promise some very high-end features, including always-on LTE connectivity (like a phone) and 20-plus hours of battery life with weeks of standby time, which also sounds more like a phone than a PC.
The tradeoff is that these Snapdragon laptops run, a limited version of Windows 10, which only allows apps from the official Microsoft app store. That’s also similar to the walled garden of mobile OS apps many phones embrace.
The good news is that you can actually upgrade to full Windows 10 Pro with a few mouse clicks, usually for free, although we’re not sure yet how the Snapdragon processor will work with more intensive applications like Photoshop or PC games. The tradeoff becomes power and flexibility in return for battery life and connectivity.
Or, put another way: Is a laptop with the brain of a phone going to be powerful enough to feel like a “real” computer?
The phone that thinks like a laptop
There’s another take on phone-laptop convergence happening here at CES. Razer, the PC and accessory maker, always brings one or two inventive prototypes to CES, such as last year’s.
The concept piece for CES 2018 is, a 13-inch laptop shell, with a large cutout where the touchpad would normally be. You drop a Razer Phone in that slot, press a button, and the two pieces connect, with the laptop body acting as a high-end dock for the phone. The phone acts as a touchpad and also a second screen, and it works with the growing number of Android apps that have been specially formatted for larger laptop screens or computer monitors.
Yes, we’ve been here before: the never-launched, the and the more recent were all based on a similar “add a laptop shell to your phone” idea. But viewed through the prism of the Snapdragon laptops from Lenovo, HP and Asus, the end result is surprisingly similar, and something we may see much more of in the near future — a laptop-like experience, but powered by a phone brain.
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