It's not often that Microsoft launches an entirely new operating system, but that's what happened recently with the introduction of Windows 8. Specifically, the user interface was overhauled completely to focus on "tiles," and Microsoft engineered this system to work nicely with touch panels. Yes, Windows 7 machines can be found with touch panels, but those looking for a far more polished experience should be eying one of the fresher alternatives.
I discussed the pros and cons of Microsoft's own Surface RT tablet in a prior piece, but the fact remains: some business travelers simply aren't in a place where they're able to ditch a full-fledged notebook. For those of you out there in need of a laptop refresh, and wondering which of the latest and greatest will give you the best Windows 8 experience, I've got a few recommendations.
If you need an ultraportable laptop experience and could benefit from the use of a tablet here and there, Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 13 takes the cake. It's a 13-inch Windows 8 laptop at first blush, but push the display back a little and it transforms into something else: a convertible tablet. It starts at $1,000, which is far cheaper than buying a lower-end Windows 8 laptop and then an additional tablet to weigh things down.
If you're one of those travelers who spends more time in the bush than in the boardroom, Panasonic's Toughbook C2 convertible tablet is for you. It's also capable of being used as a bona fide notebook or a tablet, but it's dressed in a massively rugged exterior that's capable of resisting spills, shaking off long drops onto concrete, and putting up with whatever abuse your next baggage handler decides to inflict. At nearly $3,000 with a copy of Windows 8 Pro, however, that ruggedness doesn't come cheaply.
On the budget side of things, the ASUS VivoTab RT is a tablet at heart, but the optional keyboard dock converts it into a more productivity-minded machine. Granted, it's running Windows RT (instead of pure Windows 8), so your older Windows software can't be installed here. That said, it's a highly portable machine, and at $599 (even with the keyboard), it's a relatively low entry point into the next generation of Windows.
Finally, Dell is making a large Windows 8 push as well. Straddling the budget ranks and the high-end tier is the Inspiron 15z Ultrabook. It's a 15-inch, Windows 8 laptop with fairly impressive specifications. Starting at $750, it's also one of the cheaper options for those who simply prefer larger panels and included DVD drives on their laptops, but I'd recommend springing for the optional touch screen in order to use your hands to sort through e-mails and swipe from one presentation slide to the next.