A veritable evolutionary explosion of Windows 8 devices will soon come bearing down on you.
Big, small, tablety, not tablety, full of touch and ready to fold into strange shapes for your general amusement.
Welcome to the Windows 8 Field Guide, an Audubon's Birds-style attempt to help you identify the classifications and subphyla of this odd new computing world. It's not as hard as you think once you break down the various common types. Be forewarned: these classifications are works in progress, and there could very well be more evolutionary variants coming soon. But hopefully, this should help classify some of the multipurpose strangeness you're already starting to see on pre-order pages.
Of course, you still have laptops, desktops and tablets, and some of these tablets will have one of two operating systems: Windows 8 or Windows RT.
After that, the classifications get a little more diffused.
Prime examples: HP Envy X2 (pictured), Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx and Asus Vivo Tab.
What is it? a tablet that turns into a laptop, or a laptop that breaks apart into a tablet. The idea is simple: if there are two pieces that split apart, it's a hybrid. The keyboard base generally has extra ports and connections, like USB, as well as an extra battery. The top part's a tablet that's also the screen. Some of these hybrids run Windows 8, while others use the very different and more limited Windows RT. The processors inside can also be vastly different: fast ultrabook-level Intel Core i-series, Intel Atom-based or Nvidia Tegra.
The hybrid lite
Prime example: Microsoft Surface (pictured).
What is it? exactly as the name implies, a tablet with a keyboard that may be included with the system and was specifically designed for it, but isn't a key piece to the system's function. This is different than a hybrid because, in this instance, the keyboard's not an integral part of the system and doesn't hold extra ports or batteries.
Prime examples: Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga (pictured), Asus Taichi and Dell XPS Duo 12.
What is it? if it looks like a laptop, and then you can swivel something around and make it more like a tablet, it's a convertible. The key difference between this and a hybrid is that the parts stay together. Convertible laptop/tablets have been around for years, but Windows 8 has given the form new life. These laptops have touchscreens and hinged top lids or screens that can flip or swivel.
Prime examples: Sony Vaio Duo 11 (pictured) and Toshiba Satellite U925t.
What is it? this special-case version of the convertible doesn't open up like a regular laptop; instead, its keyboard slides out and the top screen angles up, almost like a giant smartphone, to become a laptop-like device that feels more like a tablet with a permanently docked keyboard. The advantage: easier to open and shut in tight quarters. Disadvantage: it's less flexible than other types of convertibles. Also, to save space, some shrink their keyboards down or eliminate touch pads.
The touchscreen laptop
Prime examples: Acer Aspire S7 (pictured) and Sony Vaio T13 Touch.
What is it? a laptop with a touchscreen. This is easy to understand. A lot of existing laptops are being upgraded into Windows 8 versions by adding an extra capacitive touch layer to the screen. The screen works just like a tablet, but is often a bit thicker.
The touchscreen all-in-one
Prime example: Acer Aspire 7600U (pictured).
What is it? the world of big, all-in-one desktops with their innards housed in the monitor have been gradually adding touch for years. Many of the remaining all-in-ones that didn't have touch are getting it now, in time for Windows 8. It's nearly becoming standard.
The special case
Prime example: Sony Vaio Tap 20 (pictured).
What is it? this category, unto itself, is new, and doesn't have many representatives. Imagine a full-size touchscreen desktop system that you could easily take with you and use with an attached battery. It would be a giant tablet, of sorts, that could run Windows 8. It could be a versatile kitchen/living room computer, or even a shareable PC in the living room.