One of the clearer messages coming from CES this year relates to Windows 8. Namely, that despite billions of dollars and endless man-hours of design, engineering and marketing, no one has been able to figure out what the right form is for a Windows 8 device. There are hybrid tablet/laptops with slide-out keyboards, there are Ultrabooks with touchscreens, there are tablets with styluses, and ones with optional click-on keyboards. Our favorite, though, is one we played with from Lenovo, an over-sized tablet so bold and crazy it just might work.
The IdeaCentre Horizon is a 27-inch tablet — yes, about triple the diagonal display dimension of a conventional iPad — that has a full suite of inputs and all the functionality of a desktop Windows 8 device, including a front-facing camera, microphone and speakers. When you flip it on its back, however, it clicks into a mode Lenovo calls Aura, and the interface and functionality completely changes to become a multimedia and gaming table. (Those who saw the original Microsoft Surface table from 2007 will be familiar with this concept).
The user interface is a circular ring of buttons in the center of the screen, with labeled tabs like Photos, Games, and so-on. Poke Photos and a ring of thumbnail pictures from your library pop out, which you can scroll through using a finger. Tap one and it’ll spring open and enlarge. You can fiddle with it using a pinch-to-zoom gesture, twist it around using two fingers, scroll through other photos in your collection by swiping, or “throw” the image across the display for someone else to play with.
Same thing with movies, and there are tabs for sharing content of social media and accessing data from other PCs. The key feature for most will be using the tablet like a giant gaming table, for digital Monopoly, or air hockey (for which you use special rubber sensor paddles that slide across the display) or a dozen other options, including some that rely on special e-dice that you roll on the table or suction cup joysticks. Somewhat crucial to the Horizon experience is a sturdy, optional stand that smoothly tilts the screen, is height adjustable and has wheels ($200).
While we doubt many of these will actually end up making it into homes when released this summer (for around $1,700), we do like that Lenovo is attempting to innovate around the already stale design standards of tablets and think some version of the Horizon could eventually be a big success.