Lenovo goes gaming as Toshiba goes upscale

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Lenovo's 27-inch IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC can be used as a standard, if gigantic, desktop computer. The real fun happens when its flat on a tabletop.

Say what you will about Microsoft (MSFT)'s Windows 8, it has certainly inspired personal-computer makers to shake up their offerings.

We've seen PCs that bend, PCs that slide, even PCs that convert to Android tablets. Now come two more, one enormous and the other compact. Each in its own way tries to redefine what a Windows-based computer can be.

Lenovo (992)'s 27-inch IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC can be used as a standard, if gigantic, desktop computer. It comes with a wireless keyboard and laser mouse, and a hinge that props it up at a comfortable viewing angle for productivity applications.

But the real fun, and the Horizon's reason for being, happens when you collapse the stand and lay it flat on a tabletop. Suddenly, Windows 8 is gone, replaced by a Lenovo-designed multi-user interface called Aura, and the Horizon becomes a digital game board.

The computer comes with nine games pre-installed, including Air Hockey and Monopoly. More are available through a partnership with Electronic Arts (EA) and Ubisoft (UBI), and it can also run games written for Google (GOOG)'s Android mobile operating system, thanks to a technology called BlueStacks.

It has three kinds of game controllers: a pair of strikers for the hockey game, joysticks that attach via suction cups, and digital dice for traditional board games.

Heavy going

The Horizon weighs about 18 pounds, making it luggable if not exactly portable, and the screen has a battery if you want to set it up for a quick session of Texas Hold 'Em and don't have a power outlet handy.

As a PC, the Horizon is full-powered, with a choice of Intel's Core i7 or i5 processors, one-terabyte hard drive and eight gigabytes of random-access memory.

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Lenovo is currently selling the Horizon via its website at $1,849 for the i7 version and $1,699 for the i5; it says those prices will fall to $1,599 and $1,499 when it hits Best Buy (BBY) store shelves in June.

The Horizon isn't cheap, but it's a fun and flexible take on the concept of the "family computer."

Flashy Toshiba

Toshiba (6502) has long had a reputation for delivering solid, unflashy laptops. Now it has decided to bring the bling, with the pricey, tricked-out Kirabook 13.3-inch notebook.

It's ultra-thin, ultra-light and built around Intel (INTC)'s Core i5 and i7 chips. Seven tenths of an inch thick and 2.66 pounds - - less than the 13-inch MacBook Air -- it comes with eight gigabytes of memory and 256 gigabytes of solid-state storage.

With its magnesium alloy body, the computer is nice to look at, though the design -- with two rounded corners and two squared-off ones -- may be an acquired taste for some.

The really gorgeous aspect of the Kirabook is the screen, with a resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels that works out to 217 pixels per inch. Imagine taking the dazzling Retina display fromApple (AAPL)'s full-sized MacBook Pro and transplanting it to the lightweight MacBook Air, and you'll begin to get the picture.

The Kirabook's screen is almost too nice, if that's possible. The subpar appearance of some Windows programs and web content that weren't designed to be viewed at such high resolutions is annoying. But that can't fairly be blamed on the Kirabook.

With that beautiful display and nice-sounding Harman Kardon (HAR) speakers, Toshiba aims to go upscale with the Kirabook. My enthusiasm, though, was dampened by problems with my i7-equipped review unit.

Noisy fan

One was the extraordinarily noisy fan, which had a tendency to kick on soon after boot-up and periodically thereafter. Another was the battery; though it's supposed to last for six hours, it sometimes plunged from nearly full to zero while the computer was asleep overnight.

Toshiba says it hasn't received other such complaints, and it may have just been bad luck that I got a defective unit. Still, it definitely detracted from the premium experience the company was attempting to deliver, as did a touch screen that proved a smudge magnet despite its alleged fingerprint-resistant coating.

Then there's the price. The base-model Kirabook costs $1,600, but doesn't come with a touch screen, which I consider to be required for Windows 8. The touch screen adds $200 to the price, while my test model, with the Core i7, is $2,000.

It's a nice machine, but for that much money you expect more, and you should get it.

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Rich Jaroslovsky
Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

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