Jan 10, 2013

Remember this past November, when Sony introduced that battery-powered Vaio Tap 20 all-in-one desktop? How does a 27-inch version from Lenovo sound?

Lenovo has different ambitions for its new Horizon Table PC than Sony has for its desktop-tablet hybrid. The size of the Horizon alone makes it harder to confuse for a giant tablet, for one thing. But Lenovo also wants customers to think of the 27-inch multitouch Horizon not so much as a semi-portable desktop (battery life is limited to an estimated 2 hours), but instead as a multiuser device.

Yes, the Horizon is a Windows 8-based PC. On top of Microsoft's new operating system, Lenovo has also added its own multiuser interface called Aura.

Aura is integrated deeply into the operation of the Horizon. Drop the screen down to its table-top-style flat mode, and Aura pops up automatically, presenting you with a relatively intuitive software control wheel from which you can launch various touch-supported applications.

Some of the apps look familiar, like a photo browser, and music and video players. You can pull files off the wheel and pin them to the main Aura background screen to use as shortcuts. A series of simple gestures helps you keep the main screen tidy. Other apps, though, particularly games and educational titles, come designed with multiple users in mind.

Most of the Horizon's programs on display at the show are games. It has variants of air hockey, a four-player shooting game that's a mashup of Gauntlet and Boxhead, an elaborate multiplayer board game, various card and casino-style games, and others.

Lenovo will also offer an app store, of course, and it says Electronic Arts' EA Sports sub-brand and Ubisoft have both committed to making Horizon-based games. Lenovo has also seeded the software development kit for anyone to download.

All of that will seem rote for a company pushing to establish a platform. Lenovo has taken the concept further, though, introducing some unique hardware accessories to go along with the Horizon.

With the computer, you also get a set of sliding air hockey paddles, a set of joysticks, and even a large six-sided die. The joysticks and the paddles are both touch-capacitive, and they turn the Horizon into your own personal arcade, interacting neatly with the games that have been designed with the Horizon's input devices in mind.

The top-down shooter, for example, has dedicated spots onscreen for you to connect the joystick via a set of suction cups. The die is also unique, transmitting the correct number to the system via a Wi-Fi connection.

On top of all of that, Lenovo also has idea about expanding the way you gather around the Horizon. A four-wheeled stand was on display, and though it might not make it to the U.S. it would make sense for a classroom, commercial, or institutional environment. Even more transformative is Lenovo's coffee table design concept.

Primed for Hammacher Schlemmer, the coffee table concept puts the Horizon lying down flat in a spot in the middle of the table. A set of motorized sliding covers can conceal the system entirely, making the table seem more or less like a traditional piece of furniture. Another set of motors can angle the screen up allowing you to use the system like a traditional desktop. In its reclining mode, though, the coffee table puts the Horizon in an inviting position for multiuser interaction.

You can imagine a family game night forming around the screen, but that won't be a reality soon since the coffee table accessory is only a concept. Without the coffee table (a certainly expensive extra if it were a real product), consumers will have to set up a dedicated space to take advantage of the Horizon's multiuser capabilities.

It won't be for everyone, but some people might have interest in carving out a space for a system like this. The $999 price tag for a model with an ultra-low voltage (ULV) version of Intel's Core i3 chip won't hurt adoption, and that still gets you all of the input accessories, as well as the 27-inch screen. Its impressively thin design, coming in at 1.1 inches thick, is also inviting. Its 17.8-pound weight, less so.

For people interested in using the Horizon as a more traditional performance-oriented desktop, Lenovo says it will also offer Core i5 and Core i7 ULV CPUs, to go along with the solid-state hard-drive options and Nvidia GeForce GT 620 graphics chip, all available at traditional pricing levels.

Lenovo says it won't be the only vendor selling a system like this when the Horizon goes on sale early this summer. You might have doubts about the idea of a multiuser PC experience. Based on my brief time playing with the Horizon, though, if you do relent and buy a system like this once more of them hit the market, you might just find yourself enjoying it. You might also find yourself wishing for a new coffee table.


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