Desktops

The Most Intriguing Computers at CES 2017

Computers can be boiled down to three categories: desktops, laptops, and tablets. But from what we're seeing at the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the lines that once separated those devices are increasingly blurred.

Laptops and desktops now come with built-in touch screens, and manufacturers are increasingly including keyboards with tablets. The market is flooded with two-in-one models inspired by the success of the Microsoft Surface and Lenovo Miix lines.

Sachin Pathak, a product marketing representative from Lenovo, says convertible laptop/tablet devices are especially attractive to people who don't want to choose between a portable tablet and a full-sized PC. Accessories such as styluses, pens, and ThinkPad's productivity module, which provides extra battery life and extra ports, are becoming the norm, he added.

The demand for top-of-the-line specs and security features is spawning business features such as fingerprint sensors on mainstream products. Here are some of the most intriguing machines we've seen in Las Vegas.

The Thoroughbred

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon appears to have everything you’d really want in an Ultrabook. It’s superlight and powerful, and Lenovo claims its battery life is up to 15 hours.

It's also thinner and has shaved off a lot of weight for the new year, without sacrificing performance, according to the specs. (Too bad the rest of us can't say the same.) With the option of a solid-state drive as large as 1TB and built-in 4G LTE, road warriors may want to turn to this 2.5 pound, 14-inch machine.

On the 2017 model, users can log in using Windows Hello or the fingerprint reader next to the keyboard for added security. The computer lacks a payment authorization function like the ones found in cellphones and tablets. 

ThinkPad X1 Carbon starts at $1,349 and will be available beginning in February.

The Convertible

Dell’s XPS line of laptops is known for two things: excellent performance and an edge-to-edge display. In fact, one XPS 13 has been named a Consumer Reports Best Buy. Just like the laptops before it, the new Dell XPS two-in-one features a beautiful display with a very thin border.  

One noticeable quirk, however, is the placement of the webcam just above the keyboard, which will invariably result in some unflattering images. It remains to be seen whether the new two-in-one's performance will rival that of its laptop predecessors. Dell plans to start shipping the convertible later this month starting at $999. 

The Chrome-Clad Futurist

The Samsung Chromebook Pro and the Chromebook Plus represent the latest evolution of Google's other operating system. When the first Chromebook began shipping in 2011, it was touted as forward-looking, but with only a few apps to offer, it left many users feeling restricted. So the Chrome OS is often overlooked in favor of its more widely used sibling, Android. But since the launch of the Play Store on Chromebooks last year, an upgrade was inevitable.

These new machines come with a high-res touch screen, 360-degree hinge, built-in pen, and, completely new to Chromebooks, an accelerometer and gyro sensor that will appeal to gamers. Though identical in almost every way, the Pro and the Plus have notable differences in the processor and graphics chips.

The Chromebook Plus will be available in February starting at $449. It remains to be seen how it stacks up to competitively priced Windows machines. The Chromebook Pro will be available in the spring. The price has yet to be announced.

The Scene-Stealing Accessory

Dell’s Canvas 27 hopes to outshine the Microsoft Surface Studio in the designer and illustrator market. It's a QHD (Quad High Definition) multitouch surface add-on that could replace the traditional mouse and keyboard setup that most of us use.

The 27-inch surface solves a problem that often plagues those who use computers with touch displays: arm strain. Unlike the conventional upright screen, this accessory lies flat on a desk or table, so users don't have to lift their arms up, a configuration a lot like that of the high-end Cintiq tablets from Wacom.

Promising a user interface that “encourages touch interaction,” the Canvas 27 is aimed squarely at creative professionals and touch-screen enthusiasts. It’ll come bundled with a pen and “totems” that can act as a button or dial, highly reminiscent of the Surface Dial (the accessory packaged with the Surface Studio) announced last year. 

The Bleeding Edge Concept

Razer spotlighted its "Project Valerie" multi-monitor laptop, whose marquee feature is a trio of 17.3-inch 4K displays. Equipped with an automatic deployment mechanism, the laptop allows the screens to slide out of the side of the main screen and adjust into place seamlessly.

While multi-screen setups are common in desktops and NASA terminals, this may be the first of its kind for a "portable" device. This nearly 12-pound behemoth features a 99-watt-hour battery to support its screens and processor.

Kevin Scarpati, a PR representative at Razer, said this "incredibly badass" laptop's specs are still up in the air, and the company does not yet have a release date, let alone a price, on Project Valerie. And while it's unlikely to ever hit store shelves, like futuristic cars with flight capabilities, it's fun to imagine "What if?"

Copyright © 2005-2017 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.