Lauren Goode and Bonnie Cha

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Five Trends You’ll See in Windows 8 PCs

Microsoft Windows 8, the new operating system slated to launch Oct. 26, isn’t just bringing in a new, tile-like, touch-friendly interface. It’s also ushering in a slew of new hardware styles and features, as PC makers look to woo consumers and jump-start sales, which, except for Mac, have slowed considerably the past few years.

So companies like HP, Samsung, Lenovo and Toshiba have been showing off their holiday season goods over the past week, and based on what we’ve seen, here are five key trends to look for in the upcoming offerings:

More Ultrabooks

Ultrabooks, so far, have been too pricey to really move the needle for PC makers. Unfortunately, that’s not going to change much when it comes to some new PCs. Some of the Ultrabook models we’ve seen — like the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart — are still hitting $1,000 or more.

It’s not all bad news for cost-conscious consumers, though, says Gartner research director Michael Gartenberg. Given that Ultrabooks can cost anywhere from $500 to over $1,000, “there’s a lot of room for vendors to carve out spaces. Ultrabook is a fairly broad term,” Gartenberg said, “so we expect to see vendors working to capture both the lower end of those devices as well as the high end.”

Samsung Series 5 Ultra

Samsung and Lenovo are two such vendors. Samsung’s newly announced touchscreen Series 5 Ultra models will range in price from $799 to $849, while Lenovo’s new IdeaPad U510 Ultrabook starts at $549.

And some “older” Windows 7 Ultrabooks, like the Sony VAIO T Ultrabooks, the Samsung Series 5. and the Acer Aspire S3 range can be found in the $650 to $750 price range.

Upcoming products: HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Ultrabook, Samsung Series 5 Ultra, Toshiba Satellite U945, Lenovo IdeaPad U510.

Touchscreens

Up till now, touchscreens have largely been a feature of tablets and smartphones. But soon, you’ll see them on more notebooks and all-in-one PCs, as well. Already, HP, Toshiba, Asus and others have announced that they will launch touchscreen PCs this fall.

The reason for the shift is to help users better take advantage of Windows 8. Microsoft’s new operating system features a very touch-focused interface, so, as with mobile devices, you’ll be able to navigate though menus by swiping the screen, launch applications with a simple tap of the display, and view more detail using the pinch-to-zoom feature.

HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4

Some manufacturers, like Samsung, are also incorporating hand-gesture-recognition features that enable you to perform functions without even touching the display.

Of course, if you’re not ready to go all-touch just yet, you can still use your keyboard, mouse or touchpad.

Upcoming products: HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4, Asus Zenbook Prime UX21A Touch, Samsung Series 7 All-in-One PCs.

Convertibles

Call it a midlife crisis for PCs (minus the sporty red vehicle with a V8 engine).

While PC makers have been trying to shape up and slim down, they’ve also been playing with different form factors to appeal to consumers who want the weight and touchscreen capabilities of a tablet, and the productivity features of a laptop. One example is Toshiba’s U925t, which has a slide-out display that can be propped up to create a laptop, and then lay flat on top of the keyboard to offer a tablet viewing experience.

Dell XPS Duo 12

A few things worth noting: The hybrid PC isn’t a new thing — remember the 2010 HP EliteBooks, the Dell Latitude Xt3 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X220t? These are just a few of the Windows convertibles that PC makers have been pushing the past couple years.

Secondly, it’s hard to manage expectations when convertibles can be really thick in tablet mode. The HP Envy x2, for example, with its 11-inch diagonal display, looks like a tablet from afar, but carries some of the weight and bulk of a full laptop. It’s hard to say whether consumers will adopt these newer models.

Lastly, like an actual convertible, there’s no guarantee that these laptops will make you feel young and hip again.

Upcoming products: HP Envy x2, Toshiba U925t, Dell XPS Duo 12, Samsung Series 5, Series 7 Slate PCs.

New all-in-ones

Since the days of the original iMac, all-in-one PCs have become a popular alternative to the traditional desktop PC, as they combine the monitor and base unit into one sleek package.

Lenovo IdeaCentre A520

This design allows you to place the PC in other parts of your home, such as your living room or kitchen. Device manufacturers are also adding features, such as near field communication (NFC, see below) and TV tuners, that make them media and entertainment hubs, in addition to being a personal computer.

That said, there are some drawbacks to all-in-one PCs. Because of their design, customization and upgrade options are more limited than for traditional desktop PCs, and they’re more expensive, as well.

Upcoming products: Toshiba LX835, Samsung Series 5 All-in-One PCs, Lenovo IdeaCentre A520.

NFC

NFC is most often associated with mobile payments. Some Google Android smartphones, for example, have this technology built in so users can pay for things with the Google Wallet app. But NFC has been finding its way into PCs, too.

With laptops and all-in-ones, the idea is that users will be able to tap their NFC-enabled smartphones — or a smartphone sporting an NFC sticker — against the chassis or palm rest of a computer to quickly transfer photos and other media, or share a URL to open it on a browser on a bigger, better display.

Toshiba Satellite U925t

Toshiba Satellite U925t

It’s not totally seamless yet. In some instances, a third-party application is required on both the smartphone and the desktop or laptop in order to, say, efficiently share photos via NFC. And NFC isn’t the “pipe,” so to speak, that’s transferring your data, so you may still need a Wi-Fi connection to share your media that way.

And some PC makers, like Lenovo, are still taking a wait-and-see approach to see how NFC is adopted, before sticking it in new laptops.

Upcoming products: Toshiba Satellite U925t Ultrabook, HP Envy Spectre 14 Ultrabook (already on the market).


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus