Laptops get faster and thinner every year, but in 2016, a number of groundbreaking technologies changed the way people interact with their computers. From a completely flat keyboard that transforms into a writing surface for pen and paper, to eye-tracking sensors that alter the way you game, several products provided new forms of input. OLED screens and VR-ready graphics cards took the visual experience to a whole new level.
Powerful peripherals enabled users to send data and power over a single cable or remove the backgrounds on videos. And hardware vendors continued to push the design envelope, packing powerful Core i7 processors into some of the most svelte chassis ever made. These are the 10 best laptop innovations of 2016.
The Lenovo Yoga Book was the crown jewel of innovation in 2016. In both Android and Windows flavors, the device straddled the line between tablets and laptops in a way we've never seen before. Its design is nothing short of stunning, in a magnesium case with a watchband hinge, and it's even crazier on the inside.
The Halo keyboard turned into a superaccurate drawing tablet, and we loved being able to write on paper and have it recorded digitally. We never quite got used to the keyboard, though, which makes the Yoga Book best for early adopters. But we can't wait to see where Lenovo takes this concept next. – Andrew Freedman
Thinner, lighter and more powerful, the Alienware R3 OLED is truly a sight to behold. In addition to the streamlined redesign, this gaming laptop is outfitted with an absolutely stunning OLED display, making it the first in its category to do so. The 2560 x 1440-pixel panel delivers color so vibrant that it's hard to look away.
Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Yoga also features an OLED screen, and we hope to see more laptops with this technology in 2017. If the Alienware's stunning display weren't innovative enough, the laptop is also outfitted with an Nvidia 10-series GPU, making this system the smallest VR-ready laptop on the market. – Sherri L. Smith
PC gamers love to stream their adventures on services like Twitch, but when these gamers want to appear on screen alongside the action, they have to worry about fans seeing their messy living rooms. Logitech's C922 webcam uses intelligent software and a high-quality 2D sensor to automatically filter out the background behind your torso, without the hassle of a green screen. – Avram Piltch
The ZenBook 3 proves that you don't need to compromise on performance to get an incredibly thin and attractive design. Where the similarly sized, but slightly thicker MacBook uses a low-power, low-performance Core m CPU, Asus crams a full-power Core i7 processor into its notebook and cools the processor with a groundbreakingly svelte fan and heat pipe.
But the ZenBook 3 is more than just another uber-thin ultrabook; it's also the most attractive laptop we saw all year, thanks to a stunning navy-blue and gold aesthetic that carries through to the keyboard. The new ZenBook is also extremely sturdy for its size, using 6013 aluminum alloy, which is 50 percent stronger than the alloys we see on most metal notebooks. – Avram Piltch
Nvidia's 10-series Pascal GPUs are a true generational leap. They are not only faster and more powerful than prior generations, but for laptops, these chips also make the difference between being able to use an Oculus Rift/HTC Vive or not. Every gaming laptop with a 10-series chip, no matter how slim, is now a VR-ready monster.
It almost goes without saying that Pascal GPUs deliver impressive frame rates in traditional games at 1080p or 4K resolutions. Nvidia has made sure that PC gaming will never be the same. – Sherri L. Smith
MacBook Pro w/Touch Bar
Rather than give macOS a touch-screen interface, Apple got rid of the row of Function keys at the top of the keyboard and replaced them with the OLED Touch Bar. This thin panel switches between different series of buttons depending on what app you have open, providing draggable video editing for Final Cut Pro users, emoji suggestions for Messages addicts and media controls for watching video. And lots of developers are jumping on board for their own apps. – Henry T. Casey
Most laptops, even $4,000 rugged models, will break if you drop them from heights of over 3 feet onto concrete. However, in our tests, the $229 Asus Chromebook C202 survived a 3.9-foot drop, as well as spills on the keyboard. Even when the hinge came loose after the drop test, all we needed to do was pop it back into place. This Chromebook is built to be repairable, so you can give it a real beating. If only every laptop were this durable.– Andrew Freedman
You've got the best security software installed. You always use a VPN when you connect to the internet, but you can still be hacked … by the jerk sitting next to you on the plane and staring at your screen. For years, laptop users have thwarted visual hackers by sticking bulky privacy shades on top of their screens. Fortunately, HP has developed an even better way to prevent unwanted onlookers from reading your display.
Laptops such as the EliteBook 840 G3 and 1040 G3 feature Sure View, which applies a lighting-control film to the panel that activates when you hit Fn + F2. In our testing, Sure View narrows viewing angles to a cone of 70 degrees, enough only for the person staring head-on at the laptop. – Henry T. Casey
USB Type-C Docking Stations
USB Type-C first appeared on devices in 2015, but in 2016, this groundbreaking port reached its potential, as vendors released docking stations that can both charge your laptop and send data/video over a single cable. The first unit we tested, the Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station (UD-ULTCDL), remains the best, because it can power one 4K and two full HD monitors at the same time — all without any performance or compatibility issues. – Avram Piltch
Android Apps on Chrome OS
Could Chrome OS finally be growing up? The browser-based operating system is simple enough for kids to use, but didn't have many compelling apps of its own. In 2016, Google enabled select Chromebooks to run Android apps, instantly giving the notebooks access to tons of useful programs that work well off-line.
Unfortunately, the Android-emulation feature is still very much in beta, so many apps don't work the way they should, with choppy frame rates in full-screen mode and unresponsive close buttons. Many apps may also require some interface adjustments to work on clamshell laptops, because they're designed for use on touch-screen tablets and phones. But overall, Android on Chrome OS is a step in the right direction. – Henry T. Casey
Tobii Integrated Eye-Tracking
I stared into the display of the MSI GT72S G Tobii, and it looked backed and tracked my eye movements. In an attempt to make gamers better and faster, Tobii has integrated its eye-tracking software into gaming laptops. Now, professional and amateur players can control the in-game camera with a glance.
The Alienware 17 takes Tobii's sensor to new heights by using it to wake from sleep and turn on the system lights as soon as you stare at the screen. It's truly an eye-opening experience. – Sherri L. Smith.