2014 isn’t turning out to be an earth-shattering year for tablets or notebook laptop computers. However, a number of interesting (and sometimes, terrific) new models have been introduced so far this year – and more are on the horizon. Here’s a look at some of them, categorized by manufacturer.
The Chromebook 2 was released this spring, and in many ways it puts a new spin on machines running the Chrome OS. It’s large for a Chromebook, with a 13.3 inch screen – there are a few bigger ones on the market, but not with the impressive 1920×1080 resolution of the Samsung. It comes in at just over three pounds, a nice weight for everything you get: a 2.1 GHz eight-core processor, 4 gigs of RAM and full HD capability plus nice extras like a 720p webcam that’s certified for Google Hangouts and an AirDroid web app for managing other devices. It looks good as well (although some feel it’s a bit tacky, with fake leather on its edges). The machine is more expensive (listing just under $400) and has a shorter battery life (about eight hours) than most of its Chrome OS competitors, but it’s as close as you’ll find to a true notebook laptop in a Chromebook. (Samsung has also released an 11-inch version that’s cheaper, but it doesn’t have the resolution or extras of its big brother.)
ATIV Book 9
On the laptop front, Samsung has come out with a new version of the ATIV Book 9 for 2014 and it’s a big step forward – with resolution and battery life among the major improvements in this latest model. The 15.6 inch, 1920×1080 display is noticeably brighter than in the past, and provides true HD far superior to the previous ATIV Book 9; it also allows for wide-angle viewing that wasn’t previously possible. As for battery life, this model averages an impressive 14 hours and you won’t find much better. You can store a lot of data with the Book 9 2014 model, with dual SSDs allowing for more than a gig of hard drive storage; it also comes with 8 gigs of RAM. Audio capability has been improved for 2014, with an SPlayer and a Wolfson DAC chip. At just over four pounds and carrying a price tag of anywhere from $1500-$2000, it’s a premium machine for premium performance.
Samsung has updated its Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet for 2014, but a new addition to their product line has drawn the most interest. It’s the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, a tablet that almost seems to be a laptop because of its size and price (between $750 and $850 depending on whether you choose the 32 or 64GB model). It should also be noted that only WiFi capability is available right now; an LTE version is due this summer. Size aside, the Note Pro 12.2 outperforms the smaller models, mostly because it includes a better version of Android, is equipped with USB 3.0 and is able to remotely connect to a computer. For 2014 Samsung has improved the viewing experience on all of their Note tablets, switching to a TFT LCD display that’s not as bright as previous editions but shows detail much better on the 2560×1600 screen.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon
The ThinkPad laptop has come a long way since its IBM days, and Lenovo has outdone itself in rebuilding it for 2014. Both the outside and inside have undergone big makeovers this year resulting in a beautiful 14-inch machine with terrific performance. Chief among the improvements to the X1 Carbon is the use of Intel’s newest dual-core processor, the i5-4200U with integrated HD 4400 graphics. Not only does that mean more processing power and a vastly improved display, but longer battery life as well. One disappointment is that a 1600×900 display is standard, but 2560×1440 WQHD is available as an upgrade. On the outside, this machine is much more solid than its predecessors, due to the use of a different carbon polymer in its construction; it feels lighter than in the past, but will hold up to wear a lot better. Two smaller changes worth mentioning is that the 2014 version no longer has trackpad mouse buttons and that the keyboard has only five rows of buttons rather than six. That may take a bit of getting used to, but doesn’t really detract from the performance of this terrific ThinkPad.
N20 and N20p Chromebooks
Lenovo has finally decided to move into the huge consumer chromebook market, with its first models due in the summer of 2014. The N20 and N20p will be very similar; the major differences will be that the N20p will come with a touchscreen, and will be hinged so that it can flex 300 degrees allowing you to tuck the keyboard behind the screen (but not 360 degrees, so you can’t use it in “full tablet” mode). It will be stylish (looking much like an IdeaPad Flex) but apparently won’t break much ground under the hood, with a quad-core Celeron processor, 16 GB/4GB of storage, and an 11.6 inch 1366×768 display. Connectivity should be one of the N20p’s strong points, though, with both 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 in order to make WiFi video conferencing a selling point for this machine. Retail price is expected to be around $329, quite a bang for the buck if this chromebook performs to its promise.
ThinkPad 10 Tablet and Yoga Tablet 10HD+
The Lenovo ThinkPad 10 is due out in early summer and looks like it could be a winner. It’s a solid, yet slim and light 10-inch tablet that runs full Windows applications with a lot of power. It uses a quad-core Intel processor which still allows for a 10-hour battery life, according to Lenovo. Noteworthy in the ThinkPad 10 is an active digitizer, which should provide better “digital writing” performance than the iPad. It will be easy to connect this tablet to a ThinkPad dock with HDMI, USB and Ethernet ports, as well as to an optional keypad, in essence turning a nice tablet into a full notebook laptop. The tablet is expected to launch at $599 (without accessories).
This summer will also see the debut of Lenovo’s new-and-improved Yoga Tablet 10HD+. They’ve taken the positives of the old Yoga tablet, including impressive battery life and a low price, and added a quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor and doubled the RAM to 2GB. They’ve also bumped the screen resolution up to 1920×1200 (it used to be 1280×800), improved the on-board camera from five to eight megapixels and moved it to the center of the tablet’s screen where it belongs. Despite all of the improvements, the list price should still only be $349, $50 more than the old model – not a bad price for what this tablet should be able to do.
Available now but due for a full roll-out later this summer, HP’s Pavilion x360 is primarily aimed at the convertible laptop market, equipped with a hinge that lets you use it as a laptop or tablet-style. However, it’s priced more like a tablet with a price in the $400 range – and in order to be priced so low, it leaves much to be desired in terms of performance. The processor is a dual-core Bay Trail-style Pentium N3520, more suited to a tablet than a notebook laptop; the display is just 720p, lower than most users would expect in a convertible. The Pavilion x360 comes fully equipped in terms of necessities and nice add-ons like WiFi, Bluetooth and Beats audio, and is striking in its appearance. It remains to be seen, though, whether HP can successfully serve the convertible market at a tablet price.
Later this year, HP is expected to release an interesting new machine, a 14-inch touchscreen notebook that won’t run Chrome, but Android instead – an odd choice, since most of the world is moving to Chrome for this type of machine, with Android mostly confined to the tablet world (with the exception of a machine from Lenovo). Not a lot is known about the new Slatebook 14 yet, but word is that it will come with a quad-core Tegra processor, 1080p, HDMI output and Beats Audio. It supposedly will also be fully-certified for GMS (Google Mobile Services). There is no target release date or expected price available yet.
HP 7 Plus and HP 8 Tablets
New this spring is HP’s effort to hit the very bottom of the price ladder with an Android tablet: the HP 7 Plus. Performance is certainly not the selling point when it comes to this device; it has a 1 GB quad-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 2 megapixel (rear) and 0.3 megapixel (front) cameras, a 7-inch 1024×600 display, about four hours of battery life and mono sound. But it’s pretty well built, and it’s certainly the only name-brand tablet you can find on the market for $99.99. It even beats the HP 8, which was also introduced this year at a $170 price point; it also runs on a Chinese quad-core processor with a 1024×768 display just under 8-inches, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of expandable storage, seven hours of battery life and stereo sound. They’re both what they promise to be: cheap Android tablets.
ElitePad 1000 G2 and ProPad 600 G1 Tablets
At the higher end of the HP product line, several updated products are either on the market or on the way for mid-2014. The ElitePad 1000 is a sleek and pleasing 10.1-inch business tablet with Windows 8.1 Pro, running on an Intel Atom Bay Trail 64-bit quad-core processor with some of the best connectivity options available on a tablet. The 1920×1200 screen has been improved and USB 3.0 has been added. It’s priced around $800 with an optional docking station with all the bells and whistles you’d expect. The ProPad 600 G1 is an Atom-powered tablet quite similar to the old ElitePad 900, except it isn’t as pretty and doesn’t have as many accessories. No pricing is available yet.
There are only tweaks – but good ones – to the MacBook Air for 2014, the two major ones being processor and price. All of the newer models are now running on an Intel 1.4GHz dual-core processor, as opposed to the 1.3GHz processor found in 2013 models. Prices have also come down an average of about $100 for all models this year, which is certainly welcome. All other specs, including 4GB of storage and 128GB or 256GB of flash storage, remain the same in 2014.
iPad Air, iPad Pro and iPad Mini
The latest version of the iPad (which was actually released at the tail end of 2013 but still sets the standard for 10-inch tablets) is the iPad Air, and it’s a terrific update for this ubiquitous device. It’s much thinner and lighter, has the Retina screen but with better visibility from a steep angle (along with stereo speakers), and the Apple A7 64GHz chip (used in the iPhone 5s) boosts battery life while improving processing power dramatically, for only around $500 as a starting price. Rumors say a new version of the iPad Air with an A8 chip, 8 megapixel camera and fingerprint scanner, is expected late in 2014. An even larger version of Apple’s tablet, the iPad Pro with screen size of around 13-inches and either 2K or 4K screen resolution, is also rumored to be close to release, possibly in the fall of 2014. There’s rampant speculation about whether there will be a new version of the iPad Mini released sometime this year; several insiders say not to expect it, with the iPad Pro and the new iWatch taking priority in Apple’s development chain.
Surface Pro 3
In an attempt to compete with Apple, Microsoft is introducing its Surface Pro 3 in 2014. The device is actually designed to fit the “tablet that can replace a laptop” market, so the best comparison might be to the upcoming iPad Pro; the Surface Pro has a 12-inch, 2160×1440 screen and Intel chips from the ultrabook class, so its display and performance will come closer to that of a MacBook Air than an iPad Air. Its onboard memory and accessories are more like those of comparable laptops than tablets, as is its weight (when keyboard and accessories are included) – and its anticipated price. The Surface Pro 3 is due to market in mid-2014.