BERLIN – Apple may be leading tech headlines this week ahead of its Sept. 12 event that should feature a new round of iPhones, but the interesting news in laptops has all been on the Windows side lately.
Microsoft’s support of touchscreen interfaces in Windows 10 has freed manufacturers to embrace two-in-one designs that fold up for use as a tablet. And now that those configurations have become standard (and Microsoft has increased the competitive pressure by shipping such portable computers as the Surface Book and the new Surface Go), vendors have needed to find other ways to distinguish their hardware.
A survey of the new laptops on display at the IFA tech trade show here revealed trends shoppers should mostly welcome – and one that deserves a quick and conclusive rejection by the market.
• PC vendors are following the example of smartphone firms by shaving away at the bezels surrounding their screens to allow bigger screens without bulking up the computer around them. Expect to see two new stats in laptop ads: bezel width and screen-to-body ratio. Acer’s new, ultra-thin Swift 7, for instance, touts a bezel just 4.27 mm (.17 inch) wide, with Dell’s latest XPS 13 2-in-1 just behind at 5 mm (.18 inch); meanwhile the Asus ZenBook 13 claims a 95 percent screen-to-body ratio.
• A different sort of screen one-upmanship, display resolution, is less helpful. Getting a 4K display on a laptop is certainly impressive on a technical level, but on smaller models your eyes won’t be able to discern those extra pixels – while the reduction in battery life imposed by that overpowered display will be impossible to miss.
• Among laptops with merely high-definition screens, some amazing battery life is possible. Lenovo’s upcoming, $850 Yoga C630 uses a power-efficient Qualcomm chipset instead of the usual Intel processor to last an estimated 25 hours on a charge.
• Microsoft’s Windows Hello biometric security, which lets you log in by having the computer recognize your face or fingerprint, has become not just standard but cheap – even Acer’s $329 VivoBook Flip 14 includes a Windows Hello fingerprint sensor. That’s an enormous contrast to Apple, which reserves Touch ID fingerprint laptop unlocking for the $1,799-and-up Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro.
• The bad news: headphone-jack anxiety may become a problem for laptop shoppers too. Lenovo’s Yoga Book C930, which features a 10.8-in. electronic-ink display in the keyboard’s place to allow stylus input, doesn’t include the standard audio-out port next to its USB-C ports. Removing that is obnoxious enough on phones – for instance, Sony’s Xperia ZX3 and ZTE’s Axon Pro 9 each debuted at IFA without headphone jacks – but on a laptop, it reeks of the most obnoxious sort of forced obsolescence.
Disclosure: IFA’s organizers are covering most of my travel expenses and those of a group of U.S. journalists and analysts.
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