After narrowly escaping death (not really, but a lot of people sure tried to convince us of it), the PC industry is regaining some color in its face and starting to make bold moves forward. Yes, the road ahead will be challenging and nobody’s expecting any kind of magical return to the glory days, but at least we can all now agree there is indeed a road ahead.
Timed perfectly in conjunction with this sense of rebirth are the release of arguably some of the most innovative PC designs we’ve seen in a long time (I’m not even counting the widely expected new version of Apple’s MacBook Air). Yes, I’m going to say it—PCs are starting to look sexy again.
Most of the attention is rightfully focused on notebooks, but before I go there, I do want to give a quick shout out to HP’s Sprout desktop system. Even now, several months after its surprise launch, Sprout stands out as a remarkably innovative reimagining of what a PC can be and what it can do. It’s not the kind of product that will sell in big numbers—and to be fair, the first version has a few limitations I’m sure HP will address in future iterations—but Sprout has broken the mold on traditional PC designs. In so doing, it has given consumers—and the tech industry—a vision of where personal computing could go in the future. I think it deserves a tremendous amount of credit for doing so.
On the notebook side, the innovation has arguably been more of a continuous evolution, but the end result is a set of products that are remarkably cool and undeniably sexy. (When’s the last time you’ve been able to say that about a PC?) Dell’s new XPS13, for example, wraps together a magnificent, nearly bezel-free, ultra-high resolution 5 megapixel screen (on some models) with an ultraslim, light weight 2.8 pound body (2.6 pound on standard HD screen models) into a machine that is the first to really deserve the title “ultrabook”. Leveraging Intel’s new 14 nm Broadwell architecture design, the XPS13 features great performance and a claimed 11+ hours of battery life with the high resolution display. Best of all, it’s a 13” notebook packed into an 11”-size package that looks cool to carry around.
Not to be outdone, Lenovo has put together a wide range of innovative designs, leveraging both their ThinkPad heritage as well as their groundbreaking swivel screen Yoga products. My personal favorite is the 14” ThinkPad Carbon X1—which, like the XPS13, has been through several iterations. The latest version of this 2.9 pound device has been refined not only with performance and battery life boost from the addition of Intel’s fifth-generation Core-based CPUs and Broadwell architecture, but also comes with an improved touchpad. This is a classic design now taken to the nth degree.
For those who prefer the full wrap-around capabilities of their popular Yoga designs, Lenovo’s Yoga Pro 3 features a cool watchband-like hinge in a half-inch thick, 13.3” design that offers a similar resolution 5 megapixel screen to Dell’s XPS13. At 2.8 pounds, the company claims the Yoga Pro 3 is the lightest 2-in-1 available on the market. Having checked it out on several occasions, I can tell you it’s a very light weight, impressive machine.[pullquote]Seeing the kind of innovation now coming out of an industry many had given up for dead, you can’t help but be impressed.[/pullquote]
As light as the Yoga Pro 3 may be, however, it’s not the lightest notebook on the market. That honor now belongs to another Lenovo machine—the LaVie Z, a 13.3” notebook that, in its 180°-swivel design, comes in at an incredible 1.7 pounds. Designed by NEC of Japan (which was purchased by Lenovo in 2011), the LaVie Z is built from a special magnesium-lithium alloy that not only makes it light weight, but keeps the machine rigid.
In addition to these more mainstream designs, there’s also been PC innovations in more specialized areas. Microsoft’s HoloLens is, of course, one impressive example, but even in the field of education I’ve seen some interesting designs that have flown under the radar. One is Panasonic’s 3E, which in addition to offering a ruggedized, more kid-proof design in a 2-in-1 detachable device, adds a clever magnifying lens to the standard webcam, turning it into a mobile microscope for kids to explore the world.
Taken together, these devices, and many others like them, offer a surprisingly robust set of new PC choices that should make even the most jaded individuals take a second look at new PCs. Some might argue these are nothing more than a collection of incremental changes, but it’s this combination of improvements that really do make the difference. Just as people who haven’t seen friends or relatives in several years suddenly notice a big change when they do see them again, people who have been living with old PCs and haven’t really seen what new options are available are bound to be impressed. Most of these new PCs leverage the kind of technologies people have wanted in their notebooks for a long time: fast, reliable SSDs (solid state drives) leveraging flash memory technology, beautiful high resolution displays, and even the often-overlooked but critically important large touchpads. They’re the kind of PCs we dreamt about having several years ago and now they’re actually here.
Yes, it’s easy to get cynical about the PC market and how it often felt like it was looking backward instead of moving forward. But seeing the kind of innovation now coming out of an industry many had given up for dead, you can’t help but be impressed.