Laptops lure new buyers with dramatic designs – The Spokesman Review

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July 5, 2023 Updated Wed., July 5, 2023 at 5:04 p.m.
Lenovo makes a surprisingly convincing case for the two-screen laptop.  (Chris Velazco/The Washington Post)
Laptops have gotten thinner, sleeker and more powerful over time, but the basics of their design have mostly stayed the same for decades. But recently, exceptions to that rule have become much more common.
This year, in particular, we’ve started to see a handful of fascinating machines that question some key assumptions – like the idea that your laptop only needs one screen, or any screens at all.
But what’s it like to actually use some of these seemingly outlandish machines in real life?
If your standard laptop isn’t quite cutting it anymore, here’s what you should know about some of the strange designs angling to replace it.
Two screens: Lenovo Yoga Book 9i
When it’s closed, Lenovo’s $2,000 Yoga Book 9i looks like any other svelte, modern laptop.
But things get weird when you open it for the first time: rather than a traditional keyboard and trackpad on its bottom half, you’ll find a glossy second screen.
You can type directly on that screen if you want – though I wouldn’t recommend it – or you can plop an included Bluetooth keyboard on top of it and use it like a more conventional laptop.
But where’s the fun in that?
The real joy of using a machine like this comes when you prop it up with an included folding stand.
Suddenly, you’ve got two full, 13-inch screens stacked on top of each other that you can fill with your web browser, Word documents, photo editing tools and whatever else you’ll need to get some work done.
For multitaskers on the go who crave the flexibility that comes with multiple screens, the Yoga Book is mostly a pleasure.
I used it in that odd, towering configuration in a smattering of coffee shops around San Francisco while writing this story, and being able to rearrange loads of windows – including my notes, PDF documents and Adobe Lightroom – like I could on my convoluted, multi-screen home setup made work a breeze.
And when it was time to pore through some long documents, I could flip the machine onto its side and see more of those files on the now-vertical screens.
Of course, there’s a catch – and kind of an ironic one, all things considered.
The Yoga Book 9i may shine when it’s propped up as a multi-screen machine for productivity nuts, but using it like a more traditional laptop is kind of lousy.
When that Bluetooth keyboard is perching on the bottom screen, for example, it never feels fully locked in place.
That means if you’ve ever used your laptop while reclining in a couch – like I often do – you’re probably going to see that keyboard slip out of place before long.
And while the Yoga Book is smart enough to display a virtual trackpad on that lower screen when the keyboard is positioned just right, that glossy finish means there’s a tendency for your finger to stick on the glass while you’re trying to move the cursor around.
The Yoga Book isn’t the first dual-screen laptop like this we’ve seen before, but it’s by far the most polished and usable.
I could see road warriors and productivity nuts getting a lot of use out of a machine like this, but for folks who aren’t willing to put up with its quirks, a lightweight second screen that plugs into their existing laptop may be the more rational way to go.
No screens: The Sightful Spacetop
All right, let’s forget about screens entirely – what if your next computer had a pair of smart glasses attached to it instead?
That’s the vision behind the $2,000 Spacetop, a new “augmented reality laptop” from the Israeli start-up Sightful.
The idea is simple: when you sit down at a coffee shop or a hotel bar to catch up on your work, you slip on those glasses and peer at what the company claims is the equivalent of a 100-inch virtual screen.
I first tried the Spacetop a few weeks before Apple unveiled its pricey Vision Pro headset and was honestly surprised by how quickly I fell into the flow.
Using the trackpad and typing on the keyboard while my eyes darted around multiple virtual app windows hanging in the air didn’t take much getting used to, and when it was time to re-engage with the real world, I found I could hold down a button to temporarily shut off my virtual view.
Before long, I had re-created the exact screen configuration I use when I’m working at home, to the point where I felt like I could get through a day’s work without too much fuss.
This all sounds pretty neat, and it is, but comes with more than a few caveats.
For better or worse, the Spacetop is basically a giant Android phone with some augmented reality glasses permanently attached.
That means this machine comes with some serious limitations: it’s mostly meant to handle the kind of tasks you can perform in a web browser.
In other words, people who use their laptops for gaming or video editing need not apply.
And even common tasks, like taking a video call, felt a little awkward – not because the Spacetop couldn’t handle it, but because the webcam points up at you from above the keyboard, giving your colleagues a great view of your nostrils.
And about that supposed “100-inch” virtual screen – it mostly works as advertised, but the augmented reality glasses (developed by a company called Xreal) offer a pretty narrow view of that space.
Because of that, even though you can cram far more app windows into that virtual screen than you could onto a traditional laptop’s display, you can’t see much more than you normally would without having to crane your head to and fro.
Even if you think your daily work might be compatible with a machine like this, there’s a good chance you won’t get the chance to find out anytime soon.
Sightful CEO and co-founder Tamir Berliner says the company is carefully vetting people who signed up for a spot on their early access waiting list to make sure their first batch of machines only wind up with people who may actually get some use out of them.
After a bit of playtime, I feel pretty convinced that smart glasses could convincingly replace a traditional laptop screen for some people – I’m just not convinced that Sightful’s first attempt is the machine I want to do it with.
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Updated 10:39 a.m.
My phone runs on 5G. I also just saw a bunch of ads about “10G”. Is it twice as fast?
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