Dear Windows 8 laptops: Please be cheap

The lines between tablets and laptops are blurrier than ever and shoppers won't want to pay over a grand for new kit.

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
3 min read

The fine line between laptops and affordable tablets is blurrier than ever and it's about to get blurrier still, thanks to the blurring powers of Microsoft's touch-optimised Windows 8. So can we really be expected to shell out a grand for a laptop any more?

In this brave new smudged hybrid world, shoppers won't want to pay as much as they would for a traditional laptop, so manufacturers had better be ready to sell new gear at low prices.

Think about it -- before the advent of tablets, £800 to £1,000 seemed a typical price for a middling to high-end laptop. Now, with the £400 iPad and £160 Google Nexus 7 rattling around, shelling out anywhere close to a grand for a computer is starting to feel ludicrous. Even the absurdly powerful Asus Transformer Pad Infinity 700 (snappy name, Asus) is only about £600.

In a sense, we've been spoiled by these wallet-friendly gadgets, but nevertheless, they've set the bar for what people want to pay for a touchscreen-enabled rectangle.

I learned today that Lenovo's 13-inch Yoga tablet -- which features Windows 8 and the ability to contort itself backwards like that incongruous bad-boy geologist from Prometheus -- will start at £1,000, a price tag that could curdle milk.

Two years ago that price seemed normal, now it feels outrageously high. Admittedly, that Lenovo laptop will feature an Intel Core iSeries processor, the full-blooded version of Windows 8 and a folding flappy screen -- but only one of those three things gets my blood pumping, and it's not the processor or the flappy flaps.

Even Lenovo's 11-inch version, which runs the more modest Windows RT that stops you downloading software from outside the Microsoft Marketplace, is set to start at £700.

Here's the thing -- it may well be far more expensive to produce the Yoga than it is to build a more standard tablet, but I'm not sure shoppers will see the difference. If it has a touchscreen and looks a bit like the iPad, I think you'll struggle to persuade folks to part with 500 extra quid for the privilege of owning it.

At the recent IFA tech trade show in Berlin, I got a glimpse of the first wave of Windows 8 devices, a large chunk of which were hybrid tablets with detachable keyboards. My colleague Andrew already commented that such gadgets are poised to kill traditional laptops.

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For the price of this device you could own 100,000 penny sweets.

In hardware terms, they're not dissimilar to the bog-standard laptops of yesteryear, but on an emotional level, devices like the Samsung Ativ Smart PC, HP Envy x2 and Dell XPS 10 feel far closer to tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, or indeed the iPad. I think that's how potential buyers will see them too, and as such, they'll need tablet price tags to sell in bulk.

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The Samsung Ativ Smart PC. Poised to kill.

We still don't know the price of Microsoft's own Surface tablet or Windows 8 devices from other manufacturers, so there's every chance Lenovo's pricing is simply a tad optimistic and not indicative of Windows 8 laptop/tablet prices generally.

I can only hope, because I'd hate to see the promising Windows 8 stalled by pricey hardware. By marrying its familiar, trusted Windows platform to a touchscreen-ready interface, Microsoft has a shot at making the most practical, useful tablets ever created. Now it needs people to buy them.

Would you pay double the price of an iPad for a Windows 8-powered hybrid laptop? What specs would you want to see to justify the premium? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook.