The tablet business is hard for companies that aren’t Apple, Amazon, Samsung or Google. Smaller competitors can’t afford to spend big bucks on marketing, so they need to get creative to get noticed. While I’ll admit that the results at CES 2014 are sometimes gimmicky, I enjoyed checking out these eight noteworthy tablets and two-in-one PCs during the big Vegas trade show:
There’s no getting around the fact that Acer’s A1830 looks suspiciously similar to Apple’s iPad Mini, right down to the aluminum rear panel, slim side bezels and 1024-by-768 resolution display. But at $149, the A1 is roughly half the price of Apple’s cheapest iPad. Of course, by going with Android you get an inferior selection of tablet apps, and Acer’s design isn’t airtight, with an unsightly gap around the edges that trapped a bit of dirt during CES demo time. Still, it’s nice to see an iPad alternative with a 4:3 aspect ratio, and you can’t beat that price. The A1 is shipping later this quarter.
Asus Transformer Book Duet
Two-in-one devices have been around for a while in both Windows and Android flavors, but now Asus has smooshed both operating systems together into a dual-booting 13-inch tablet. It takes about four seconds to switch between Windows 8.1 and Android 4.2, though the initial boot for each OS takes much longer. The included laptop dock has its own hard drive, starting at 320 GB. Base specs include an Intel Core i3 processor, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of solid state storage. The Asus Transformer Book Duet will launch outside the United States in March or April for $599 and up, though the U.S. version will likely be pricier with better specs when it arrives later in the second quarter.
Asus VivoTab Note 8
It’s hard enough to find a small Windows 8 tablet with a pressure-sensitive stylus, let alone one with an included holster. The Asus VivoTab Note 8 is the rare exception, even if it isn’t the prettiest small tablet around. Specs include an 8-inch 1280-by-800 resolution display, Intel Bay Trail processor and 2 GB of RAM. The tablet ships in late March or early April for $299 with 32 GB of storage, or $349 with 64 GB.
Asus PadFone X
Asus has never managed to get its wacky PadFone onto a U.S. carrier until now. Like its predecessors, the PadFone X is a smartphone that docks into a tablet shell, so you have the same apps and data across both screen sizes. Best of all, AT&T is going to let the Padfone X work without a tablet data plan, so it’s a montly money-saver. Unfortunately the Padfone X was behind glass at CES, so I couldn’t get my hands on it. Look for it on AT&T at some unspecified point in the future..
Lenovo ThinkPad 8
Lenovo’s targeting business users with this 8-inch Windows tablet, particularly with the mini-HDMI slot for connecting to an external monitor. Normal folks might still like the 1920-by-1200 resolution display and 2.4 GHz Intel Bay Trail processor, which is faster than usual for a tablet of this size. And if you pick up the optional QuickShot cover stand, it has a pretty cool trick for exposing the rear-facing camera. The ThinkPad 8 launches later this month for $400 and up, with an LTE version available.
Lenovo Miix 2 10 and 11
Lenovo’s latest attempt at the detachable two-in-one PC gives up multiple viewing angles in favor of a magnetic dock, which lets users easily pull the tablet from its keyboard base. Two models will be available, both with 1920-by-1200 resolution displays. The Miix 2 10 weighs 2.27 pounds total (1.3 pounds for the tablet alone) and has a 10.1-inch screen, uses an Intel Bay Trail processor and maxes out at 2 GB of RAM. The Miix 2 11 has an 11.6-inch display, Intel Core processor and up to 8 GB of RAM, but it’s a lot heavier at 1.76 pounds for the tablet and 2.97 pounds with the keyboard dock. The Miix 2 10 arrives in March for $499 and up, and the Miix 2 11 is coming a month later for $699 and up.
Samsung Galaxy NotePro
We’ve seen some huge Android tablets before, but Samsung’s Galaxy NotePro is the first one that seems to have purpose. Users can run up to four apps at the same time on the NotePro’s 12.2-inch, 2560-by-1600 resolution display, and the new “Magazine” interface could act like a command center for road warriors. The beastly tech specs–including an octa-core Exynos 5 processor on Wi-Fi models–and built-in stylus can’t hurt either. The NotePro is coming later this quarter for an undisclosed price.
Sony Vaio Fit 11A
Like its 13-inch predecessor, the Vaio Fit 11A is more laptop than tablet, but it’s a little more portable with its 11-inch 1080p display. The back side of the screen has a hinge running down the center, allowing you to lay the screen down flat for tablet use, or flip it around into laptop mode. There’s an Intel Pentium processor inside, so it’s not the most powerful convertible around, but the whole package weighs a reasonable 2.82 pounds and there’s a pressure-sensitive stylus included. The Flip 11A starts at $799 and is shipping in February.