BenQ may not be a familiar name to some — at least not in the US — but its roots in the electronics industry date back to the ’80s. The company, formerly a division of Acer, was spun off in 2001 in an attempt to build a brand name for itself. With a background in manufacturing, BenQ began building devices for companies like Nokia and Motorola; devices that were mostly for sale in Asian markets. Soon, it started its own line of mobile handsets and in 2005, BenQ announced a cube-like multimedia device called the Z2. It was poised to compete with the other camera-toting and music-playing cellphones at the time, while also targeting the youth market with its unique form factor and colorful exteriors. Curious to know more? Check out our gallery below.
Whether you’re looking to replace your laptop or just find something to keep you entertained, there’s a tablet out there to suit you. But with an ever-increasing array of slates crowding the market, narrowing down the list can be a chore. So we’ve sorted through the pile and picked out some of our favorites for both power users and media consumers. Our complete buyer’s guide is always just a few clicks away, but feel free to cruise through the gallery below for a quick rundown of the best tablets you can buy today.
Looking for a more powerful Acer Chromebook? It’ll cost you — the company announced today that its C720 Chromebook is getting a processor bump and a new price tag. $350 buys a notebook with a 4th generation Intel Core i3-4005U CPU clocked at 1.7GHz with a 32GB SSD, a modest bump from the 1.4GHz Celeron CPU, 16GB SSD and $200 starting price of the current model. Acer says the new CPU will give the machine a noticeable performance boost without affecting the 8.5 hour runtime consumers have come to expect from the laptop. Little else about the Chromeboook seems to have changed; its still available with 2GB or 4GB (in a $380 model) of RAM. Still, if you want to save some money with Acer’s cheaper, slower laptop, buy now: the new models hit store shelves later this month.
Both Gartner and IDC appear to have some good news for the PC industry — the seemingly never-ending death spiral may have come to an end. While the two research groups don’t agree completely on the numbers, it does appear that after two years of stead and sizable declines, the PC industry is seeing shipments flatten out. In total, according to Gartner, 75.8 million computers were shipped in the second quarter of 2014, a negligible 0.1 percent drop from the same quarter a year ago. While IDC saw a much more sizable 1.7 percent fall in PC shipments, that’s still a far cry from the 7.1 percent decline it anticipated and the smallest it’s measured in two years.
Two years ago the netbook market imploded and tablets started eating into laptop sales. Since then shipments of traditional computers have been falling at an alarming rate. IDC doesn’t necessarily expect this to indicate a longer term trend towards flat PC sales. Basically, the worst may not be over yet. Despite impressive growth from major players like Dell, HP and Lenovo smaller companies are still seeing tremendous drop off. And the declines are particularly steep in markets like India where the most potential for growth is. Instead the improvements during the quarter were carried primarily by the US and Western Europe, which might not be able to keep the industry from declining further in the long run.
Computers have gone through nothing short of a renaissance in the decade since Engadget was born. When we started in 2004, desktops still ruled the roost; laptops were frequently clunky; and tablets were niche devices for doctors.
That state of affairs didn’t last for long, though. Netbooks briefly took over the world, bringing tiny laptops to the masses. Ultrabooks proved that slim machines could still be powerful. And just about the entire PC market has had to confront the rise and domination of touchscreen-enabled mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. In short, it’s pretty remarkable how much of a difference 10 years can make in tech.
2004: Sony VAIO X505
Notable specs: 1.1GHz Pentium M processor, 20GB hard drive, 1.73-pound weight, 10.4-inch (1,024 x 768) display.
Sony didn’t realize it at the time, but it was laying the groundwork for the next decade of laptops with the VAIO X505. The 10-inch system was so featherlight and slender that it was easy to take anywhere, much like a netbook or Ultrabook. If it weren’t for the astronomical $2,999 price tag, it’s possible it could have started a mobile-computing revolution.
2005: IBM ThinkPad T43
Notable specs: 1.6GHz to 2.13GHz Pentium M processors, 30GB or larger hard drive, 6-pound weight, DVD drive, 14.1-inch (1,024 x 768 or 1,400 x 1,050) display.
The ThinkPad T43 was the swan song for an era of computing when laptops were mostly for globe-trotting professionals. One of the last PCs to bear the IBM name before Lenovo closed its acquisition of IBM’s PC business, it represented everything good about the ThinkPad badge: It was fast, well-built and relatively easy to carry in a briefcase.
2006: Dell XPS 700
Notable specs: Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Extreme processors, dual 320GB hard drives, dual DVD drives, dual GeForce 7900 GTX graphics.
Dell had built up a reputation for high-performance PCs well before 2006, but the XPS 700 was the system to own that year if you wanted a gaming desktop from a major brand. Its aggressive design still holds up today, and it was often as powerful as custom-built rigs. It was a dream machine at a time when you still needed a giant tower for serious online gaming.
2007: ASUS Eee PC 701
Notable specs: 800MHz or 900MHz Celeron M processors, 2GB to 8GB solid-state drives, 2-pound weight, 7-inch (800 x 480) display.
The Eee PC 701 marked the official start of the netbook craze, which lasted until the iPad’s arrival in 2010. Its screen, speed and storage were very modest even when new, but it showed that you didn’t need a big, expensive portable just to check your email at the coffee shop.
2008: Apple MacBook Air
Notable specs: 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo processors, 80GB hard drive or 64GB solid-state drive, 3-pound weight, 13.3-inch (1,280 x 800) display.
The archetypal Ultrabook. While it wasn’t without its quirks, the MacBook Air successfully bridged the gap between ultraportables and full laptops. It was fast enough for most tasks, yet light enough that you’d hardly notice it in your bag.
2009: HP Firebird
Notable specs: 2.66GHz or 2.83GHz Core 2 Quad processors, dual 250GB or 320GB hard drives, DVD or Blu-ray drives, dual GeForce 9800S graphics.
While HP’s Firebird line wasn’t perfect by any stretch, it showed how efficient desktops had become. You could get a reasonably quick, ready-made gaming PC that both looked good and didn’t swallow up too much surface area. It’s arguably the prototype for the small-yet-strong Steam Machines that would follow five years later.
2010: Lenovo IdeaCentre A300
Notable specs: 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 500GB hard drive, 21.5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Although the iMac is virtually synonymous with all-in-one computers, Lenovo’s sleekly designed IdeaCentre A300 was proof that Apple didn’t have a complete lock on the category. Rather than glom the computer on to the A300′s back, Lenovo tucked it away in the base. The result was a relatively subtle, stylish desktop that looked right at home in just about any environment.
2011: Samsung Chromebook Series 5
Notable specs: 1.66GHz Atom processor, 16GB solid-state drive, 3.3-pound weight, 12.1-inch (1,280 x 800) display.
Unlike the other PCs here, the Chromebook Series 5′s real revolution was its software — with Chrome OS, both Google and Samsung were betting that you only needed a web browser for most of your day-to-day computing. That was optimistic on a slow, Atom-based machine circa 2011, but the Series 5 helped launch a wave of stripped-down, affordable laptops that could do a lot without relying on conventional apps.
2012: Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display
Notable specs: 2.3GHz or 2.6GHz Core i7 processors, 256GB to 768GB solid-state drives, 4.5-pound weight, 15.4-inch (2,880 x 1,800) display.
Apple’s 2012 MacBook Pro redesign was just an iterative upgrade in some ways, but it was also a bellwether for where laptop design would go. It wasn’t just that extra-sharp Retina display that turned heads; this was also one of the first high-end, full-size laptops to ditch optical discs and hard drives in the name of both an easier-to-carry body and faster, flash-based storage.
2013: Acer Aspire R7
Notable specs: 1.8GHz Core i5 processor, 500GB hybrid hard drive, 15.6-inch (1,920 x 1,080) adjustable display.
Windows 8′s touch-friendly interface prompted a flood of PCs that tried to be everything to everyone, and that’s epitomized in Acer’s one-of-a-kind Aspire R7. Depending on how you adjusted its multi-hinged display, the R7 could serve as a desktop, laptop or tablet. It wasn’t especially good at any of these, but it revealed how eager PC makers were to keep you from buying mobile tablets.
2014: Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Notable specs: Core i3, i5 or i7 processor, 64GB to 512GB solid-state drive, 12-inch (2,160 x 1,440) display.
If you want a system emblematic of the changes to PCs in the past 10 years, you only need to look at Microsoft’s latest flagship device, the Surface Pro 3. So long as you get its (practically mandatory) keyboard cover, it blurs the lines between tablet and laptop — it’s as useful for watching movies on the couch as it is for serious media editing at your desk.
Jon Turi contributed to this post.
Last week, Google announced the aptly named Android One, a plan to unite the myriad budget devices running its mobile operating system. But Sundar Pichai and crew aren’t alone in banking on the singular power of one. No, Google’s One is just one of many in the industry’s recent past. It turns out, everyone wants to be the one.
For the last few years, we’ve travelled to Computex in Taiwan to see the latest flock of Ultrabooks, with the latest and greatest models providing the biggest news of the show. This year, though, the highlight of the show wasn’t one particularly great notebook or even one company — though ASUS did steal the show with its mile-long list of new products. Rather, it was a prototype from Intel that teased the next generation of ridiculously thin and light PCs.
You think your Ultrabook or iPad Air is thin, but you have to see Intel’s reference design to grasp the skinniness of 2-in-1 devices powered by the Core M-series of processors. We’ll start to see products integrating Intel’s new line of chips later this year, but just imagine how much slimmer high-powered laptops will be a few Computexes down the line. At a certain point, devices will reach peak thinness, and then the focus will shift to improving battery life and performance in such a compact package — and that’s when everybody wins.
Intel’s look at the future of mobile computing is probably the most significant announcement at a show that’s traditionally all about PCs, but this year’s Computex also shined the light on wearables. True, we didn’t see any hardware that rivals Google Glass or Pebble in features or sophistication, but several prototypes from smaller companies boast clever designs for gadgets that live on your head or wrist. A flexible-battery manufacturer demonstrated a strap design that doubles the life of your smartwatch, offering a solution to one of the biggest complaints about the most popular models. E Ink’s wraparoud-display prototype is also an interesting approach to the next generation of wearables, giving you a ton of space to display info on your wrist.
Computex may not be the “CES of Asia” in terms of high-profile product announcements, and much of the new tech we saw here in Taipei was evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of cool stuff to see. We’ve made it easy for you by breaking down our coverage just below — enjoy!
- Hands-on with the Liquid Leap: Acer’s first wearable tries to be everything to everyone
- Acer claims the Liquid Jade is the world’s ‘most compact’ 5-inch smartphone
- Acer shows off ‘Extend’ app allowing you to control your phone from your PC
- Acer claims its €79 Liquid Z200 is the cheapest branded Android phone
- With three SIM slots, Acer’s Liquid E700 is a phone for frequent travelers
- ASUS’ PadFone X goes global: still a 5-inch to 8.9-inch transformer
- ASUS’ Zenbook NX500 is a thin and light laptop with a 4K screen
- The ASUS MeMO Pad 8 is ‘the world’s lightest 8-inch LTE tablet’
- New Fonepads from ASUS offer 3G, extra processing power
- ASUS intros the Transformer Book T300 Chi, a super-thin hybrid laptop
- ASUS Transformer Book V is a Windows hybrid with a detachable Android phone
- Here’s a semi-professional 32-inch 4K monitor from ASUS
- ASUS Transformer Pad refreshed with front speakers, lighter keyboard
- Hands-on with ASUS’ Zenbook NX500: The MacBook Pro meets its match
- ASUS’ 20-inch ‘portable’ all-in-one PC has gesture controls and a carrying handle
- There’s no such thing as too many antennas for ASUS’ high-end router
- ASUS’ new Fonepads are solid tablets, but still awkward for making calls
- Up close with ASUS’ quirky Windows laptop/Android phone hybrid
- ASUS has two Steam Machines and one is incredibly compact
- ASUS’ Chromebook C300 is yet another well-made budget laptop
- ASUS crams 4K gaming into sleek and distinctive laptop
- ASUS introduces us to the ‘world’s largest’ curved LED monitor
- ASUS’ new external Blu-ray drive does 7.1 audio at a fair price
- ASUS shows off a 14-inch USB touchscreen monitor
- Asia’s biggest tech show is ASUS’ show
- Angry owl is angry: ASUS does a badass gaming headset
- Dell adds two budget Android tablets to Venue lineup, prices start at $160
- Dell’s new Inspiron 20 is a giant tablet for work and play
- Dell aims for the mainstream with its two new Windows convertibles
- HP’s back-to-school lineup includes lots of convertibles (and Beats products, too)
- HP hedges its bets, unveils a 14-inch laptop running Android (updated)
- HP’s Pro x2 612 laptop-tablet hybrid brings pen support, a sturdy keyboard
- Intel doubles down on tablets, says it will power 130 models this year
- Intel launches Core M processors for even thinner 2-in-1 PCs
- Intel’s Windows 8.1 Pro Broadwell tablet is thinner than the iPad Air
- Intel’s super-thin ‘Core M’ tablets will be cheaper than you think
- Intel: Where we’re going, we don’t need cables
- With seven different use modes, Toshiba’s Kirabook is a Lenovo Yoga on steroids
- Toshiba stuffs Windows into a 7-inch tablet, whether you want it or not
- Watch strap batteries could double the life of your wearable
- An up close look at the giant gaming PC that’s also a desk
- This $295 battery-powered unicycle could replace your Segway
- E Ink’s working on a smartwatch with a full wraparound display
- The PhoneStation uses your smartphone as a head-mounted display
Google’s latched on to Diane Von Furstenberg as the solution for making Glass fashion-forward, unveiling a collection of frames made by the famed Belgian designer last week. While it remains to be seen whether trendy colored-frames can make a $1,500 wearable more appealing, a few smaller companies here at Computex in Taiwan have some novel ideas that could make you more willing to strap a mini-computer on your face… or your wrist.
To be clear, there are plenty of cheap smartwatches and Google Glass rip-offs hogging booth space at Computex. It’s just another sign that wearables are taking off in a big way — everyone wants in on the game, even if it means producing an also-ran product at a much lower price point. Innovative fitness trackers, for one, didn’t make a big splash at the show, with devices like Acer’s Liquid Leap mimicking features we’ve already seen in countless other products.
But even if their tech isn’t cutting-edge, many manufacturers showcasing here in Taiwan are paving the way to more innovative design with one-off prototypes. In some cases, that means sleeker and more diverse hardware, and in others it means clunky but interesting use cases. We’ve seen examples of both, and it made trudging through the copy-cats worthwhile.
Take E Ink, for instance. The company has teased the concept of a full wraparound display smartwatch several times, but a rep at the show said the design has been prototyped, and he wasn’t shy about providing details about how such a watch would work. For one thing, having more screen real estate would let you view more information than on your typical smartwatch, and color E Ink would allow for some neat watch-face designs. And, as one Engadget reader pointed out, the sleek design’s footprint isn’t a far cry from some bracelets, so it could be a more stylish option than the Galaxy Gear, for example.
While getting rid of the watch strap altogether could make for a sleek design with more room for displaying information, one company wants to put the band to good use by adding a lithium-ceramic battery. Prologium’s watchband battery could double the runtime of your wearable, which is definitely good news for anyone who’s been disappointed with the Galaxy Gear or Pebble’s stamina.
One of Epson’s E Ink watches on display, designed in partnership with wOw Tokyo, is also worth mentioning. It’s like the girly equivalent of the Pebble Steel — there’s a delicate, feminine pattern on the band — with a longer battery life but no smart functionality, that is. The E Ink screen displays a variety of cute animations and watch faces, including images of London’s Big Ben, street lamps and circus tents. Another version, not on display, offers the same concept with a soccer theme. Nothing revolutionary here; just an E Ink watch that serves as an alternative to the standard monochrome aesthetic we’re used to seeing.
An attractive design is one thing, but on the other end of the spectrum is an unwieldy yet novel take on the head-mounted display trend. It’s no Oculus Rift, but the PhoneStation literally puts your handset’s screen before your pupils, channeling a side-by-side picture so you can watch 3D YouTube hands-free. In its current incarnation, the design is almost ridiculously heavy on your head — especially when you have a larger phone like the Galaxy Note 3 — but the convenience factor is pretty obvious.
With a little refinement, such as a lighter design or one that distributes weight more efficiently, the PhoneStation could become a compelling option for virtual-reality gaming (just add a Bluetooth controller and you’re set). And since nearly all of the tech comes from your handset, the price point would likely be quite low.
As Computex becomes less of a show about Ultrabooks, there’s room for smaller vendors from Asia and beyond to showcase quirkier products and proofs-of-concept. And, frankly, that’s made for a very interesting few days roaming the convention-center halls. Even if you never own a wraparound-display watch or strap a Galaxy Note to your head, get ready to think beyond Pebble and Google Glass — the wearable game is just heating up.
Acer is in trouble, but that’s not Jason Chen’s fault. The CEO, who’s only been on the job five months, inherited an organization besieged by a shrinking PC market and record losses. So how is he doing? Too soon to say, really, but there are signs Acer might be turning over a new leaf: The company this week unveiled a tablet, a bunch of smartphones and its first smartwatch, the Liquid Leap. No PCs, though. If nothing else, it’s clear the firm is eager to branch out beyond cheap laptops.
Here at Computex (ostensibly a computer show), we asked Chen what he thinks consumers want in a smartwatch, and how the Leap will stand apart from other wearables entering the market. Chen’s surprising answer: He doesn’t know yet. “We believe over time the market will prove itself,” he said in an interview. “What we have to do is get the product [out] and see how it goes.” In the meantime, Acer’s strategy is to hedge its bets. The Leap attempts to be both a smartwatch and a fitness device, with features that include SMS/call notifications, step counting and sleep tracking. At launch, it will only work on Android (just an Acer phone to start), but an accompanying iOS app is already in the works. Whatever it is that people want to do with a smartwatch, Acer is trying to cover its bases.
Reading in between the lines, though, it seems Chen is aware the Leap is probably imperfect. “This is the first product we’ve introduced in the wearable market, and it won’t be the last,” he said. “We understand the market is going up, and we have to make sure we don’t miss it. What we are learning, the industry is also learning.” In other words, better to enter the market as soon as possible, and get your mistakes over with early.
Just ask Samsung. Or Sony, for that matter. Both companies are on their second generation of smartwatches, and both have yet to master things like user experience and app selection. It’s not surprising, then, that Jason Chen doesn’t seem to know what consumers want in a smartwatch; companies that have been at it for years still don’t have the answer. That doesn’t bode well for Acer, which perhaps isn’t as early to the market as Chen would have you believe — and which faces competition from other newcomers such as Motorola, LG and Razer. Then again, plenty of other companies (Apple, Dell, HP, ASUS, Toshiba) have yet to announce anything at all.
Acer certainly faces serious challenges trying to figure out the wearable equation, but Chen insists his company has a leg up. His own experience in semiconductors — he comes from TSMC — helps, he says. “How long can you expect to recharge your device?” he asked, referring to some of the unsolved challenges of building a smartwatch. “Those power consumption questions need to be fixed.” More importantly, Chen says, Acer is a big brand that people trust. And even if they don’t, the company can still reach a large population of people, all while keeping the price down. “We have established a foothold in the industry so when the market starts to ramp up, we participate,” he added. “Rather than being too late, at the tail of the market.”