Editors' note: This post was originally published May 16, 2013.
It's been with great interest that I've been following the growth of the new tabletop PC category. These systems are in some ways all-in-one desktops, similar to the Apple iMac, but with the added ability to fold down flat, as in the case of the new HP Envy Rove 20. Others feel more like megatablets, for example the 18-inch Dell XPS 18, which is a close cousin to Windows 8 slates such as Microsoft's Surface Pro. Both types combine big screens and big batteries to create a unique experience, with features of a personal computer, a piece of consumer electronics equipment, and even living-room furniture.
That's why I use the unofficial term tabletop PC to describe them. Since late 2012, we've reviewed models from Sony, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo. The Dell and Asus models are the most hybrid-like, with screens that detach from traditional-looking stands. The HP, Sony, and Lenovo models are thicker and heavier, with built-in kickstands that can stand up or at an angle, or fold down flat. All of them function just fine facing straight up from a coffee table or kitchen counter, and you can expect plenty of custom built-in furniture options should this trend take off.
Despite liking a lot of the engineering and extra features in the newest model, the HP Envy Rove 20, I still gravitate toward the two outliers. The 18-inch Dell XPS 18 is thin and light, and it's the easiest to carry around; the Lenovo Horizon is the most ambitious, with a giant 27-inch display, custom software interface, and a small collection of included accessories for tabletop gaming.
The built-in kickstand is rock-solid and adjusts to different angles easily, and the Rove also features HP's standard Beats Audio subsystem, more USB ports, and a clever on-demand screen rotation button that keeps Windows 8 from flipping the image around every time you jostle the screen. Read the full review of the HP Envy Rove 20.
It functions perfectly well as a desktop all-in-one, but to see it really shine, push the spring-loaded hinge down and lay the system flat on your table, desk, or even the floor. Aura, a touch-centric operating-system overlay, switches on automatically when you fold the system down, and a collection of several custom apps and games is available in this mode, including the requisite air hockey (seemingly the first app everyone thinks to install on a tabletop PC), Texas Hold 'Em poker, and Monopoly. Read the full review of the Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27.
Sony's 20-inch version of the tabletop PC deserves credit for being the first out of the gate, but subsequent systems have done better on weight, features, and price. Also, it has a 1,600x900-pixel-resolution screen that just isn't adequate for such a large screen. Read the full review of the Sony Vaio Tap 20.
The Transformer AIO essentially gives you two computing devices. One is an Intel Core i5 CPU base unit that behaves like a standard Windows 8 all-in-one. Lift the 18.4-inch display out of its cradle and the screen switches over to its built-in Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, becoming a giant, 5.6-pound Android tablet. Read the full review of the Asus Transformer AIO.
Thanks to its light weight and portability, the Dell XPS 18 is probably the most useful of the current crop of tabletop PCs, and it's fun for playing touch-friendly games. However, the Microsoft app store doesn't make appropriate software easy to find, and the screen's top coating had too much finger drag to really work for fast-paced air hockey/Pong-style games. Read the full review of the Dell XPS 18.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these tabletop PCs head-to-head.