2018 Is the Year of Laptop Feature Upgrades

Last year, I deemed that, after a year or two of stagnation, laptops were cool again. This year, vendors are focused on making them even cooler. 

At last week's CES tradeshow, we saw a number of upcoming laptops and got a good sense of where the market is headed in 2018. Yes, some laptops will get thinner. But they do that every year. The real innovations come in the form of higher performance, better entertainment value and a easier-to-use, more personal experience.

Here are five things we just learned about the future of laptops.

HDR is in

Some laptops will look as good as TVs in 2018. We’ve seen number of devices with 4K panels, but now we'll see ones that have HDR for brighter pops of color, sharper details and deeper blacks. Standouts include the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, though we’re expecting several more throughout the year, along with additional content that supports HDR.

Now if only we’d see some more laptops with OLED screen options (only two models, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga and Alienware 13 provide the option).

Alexa Comes to Windows

“Hey Cortana, I need to shut you off.”
Alexa, your turn to shine.”

Microsoft’s digital assistant never really took off in the mainstream, and now Amazon is releasing an Alexa app that will fill in the gaps. Acer, Asus, HP and Lenovo have all announced systems that will support it with far-field microphones, but there’s no reason not to expect that every Windows 10 laptop will support Amazon’s assistant.

This follows reports last year that users would eventually be able to access Alexa by asking Cortana. Now, Amazon’s own app means you won’t need to use Cortana at all.

Microsoft’s big advantage is that you’ll be able to use Cortana when your laptop is locked, but with Alexa’s booming popularity, I’m sure people will put up with that. Microsoft will tell you it’s all about choice, but it’s a real blow towards Cortana and its attempt to hold any sort of market share at all in digital assistants and the internet of things.

New Year, New CPUs

Intel’s staggered roll out of its 8th Gen Core CPUs has been awkward, but its new Kaby Lake-G chips with Radeon graphics are a big deal. Besides partnering with AMD, which seems crazy on its own, Intel is delivering CPUs with integrated graphics that can provide real power for video editing, photo editing and even low-level gaming. They’re not workstation laptops, but mobile creatives will be able to carry something thinner and lighter than ever before, like HP’s 15-inch Spectre x360 and the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1.

And if your favorite laptop hasn’t yet been refreshed with 8th Gen Core speeds, you can expect it to soon. We saw our first business laptops, like Lenovo’s ThinkPad lineup and Dell’s Latitudes with 8th Gen ready for enterprise deployment.

Gaming Laptops Are Waiting on Intel

It was quiet on the gaming laptop front at CES. Why? Because laptop vendors either don’t have or can’t talk about Intel’s upcoming 8th Gen Core H-series processors, which haven't been announced yet.

In fact, that’s why our favorite gaming laptops of CES included a refreshed budget machine from Acer with Ryzen Mobile and a premium rig from MSI with a CPU that the company is being very cagey about.

Several vendors hinted that gaming laptops will get exciting this year, but not until the back half of the year. If you’re looking to refresh your gaming laptop, you might want to wait until the summer or the fall.

USB Type-C is finally getting somewhere

Look, we’re all attached to our full-size USB ports. But USB Type-C is the future, and this year it finally looks like everyone’s getting on board. I saw cheap Chromebooks and powerful workstations, all of which offered the new standard (or Thunderbolt 3, its more powerful sibling). Almost every laptop I saw offered it.

And that’s important, because people aren’t going to start buying and using USB-C accessories without that kind of support. Most laptops, though, are still keeping USB 3.0 around, at least for awhile longer. Not everything is going the way of the new Dell XPS 13 and Apple’s MacBook Pro, both of which use only Thunderbolt / Type-C ports.

Lots of vendors give away press kits on USB sticks with images and information about new machines. This year was the first time I got one with USB Type-C, even though it was dual-sided and had USB 3.0 on the other side. Hey, at least it’s progress.

Lead image credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

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