Before Surface Laptop Studio: A Brief History of Easel Hinges and Retractable Laptop Screens



The new from Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is an unusual looking convertible laptop. Of course, you can use it as a laptop or tablet, but its screen doesn’t rotate 360 ​​degrees until it’s behind the keyboard. Instead, you pull the screen forward. Pull it halfway and you have an easel you can use to create digital artwork. Keep pulling and you can push the screen flat for use in tablet mode.

But when Microsoft introduced the Surface Laptop Studio this week, it wasn’t the first company to release a laptop with this kind of easel-style hinge. In fact, they’ve been around for over a decade, and at least a handful of different companies have used the design, but perhaps none more than Acer.

Here is a brief history of easel style notebooks:

Flybook VM (2007)

Flybook, a now defunct PC maker, launched one of the first laptops with an easel-shaped hinge. The VM Flybook was a 3.5-pound laptop with an 11.5-inch screen and an Intel COre 2 Duo processor.

VM Flybook

Unlike most laptops, the Flybook VM had a screen that was raised above the keyboard for a more desk-like viewing angle thanks to an extended hinge. But it wasn’t designed for artists, but rather for “jet setter pros” looking for a computer that can sit comfortably on a tray table.

The unusual display, which tilted forward above the keyboard, meant there was more room to type on the go, and you could also bring the screen closer to your eyes when watching videos. on a plane.

Acer Aspire R7 (2013)

Over 8 years ago, Acer introduced this laptop with what he called an “Ezel” hinge and screen. This 15.6-inch laptop may have been the first true convertible tablet with this type of design, allowing you to use the computer in laptop, tablet, “ezel” or display mode (the latter is what you get if you flip the screen so that it is not facing the keyboard.

Acer Aspire R7

For some reason, Acer thought it was a good idea to place the touchpad above the keyboard, where it’s completely inaccessible in laptop mode, meaning you can only use it in laptop mode. ezel on this laptop.

Weighing around 5.5 pounds and selling for $ 1,000 and up at the time, the Aspire R7 was just the first in Acer’s model line to feature this type of hinge.

Samsung Ativ Q (announced in 2013, released… never)

Like the Acer Aspire R7, the Samsung Ativ Q featured an easel-shaped hinge that would have allowed you to pull the screen forward. But unlike all the other laptops on this list, the Ativ Q was designed to be a dual OS device: it was supposed to come with Windows 8 and Android 4.2.2 preinstalled, allowing you to choose the operating system to use at startup. .

Samsung ATIV Book Q

And that’s probably why it was never released. Around 2013, a number of companies were planning to offer dual-boot devices like the Ativ Q, but after facing pressure from Microsoft, they abandoned those plans.

The Ativ Q would have been a pretty impressive entry into this space, however. It had a 13.3-inch, 3200 x 1800 pixel display at a time when most laptops used 1080p or lower resolution displays. And it weighed about 2.84 pounds and was less than 0.6 inches thick.

Acer Aspire R13 (2014 – 2015)

The following year, Acer introduced the Acer Aspire R13, a smaller laptop with a 13.3-inch touchscreen, stylus holder, and an “Ezel Aero” hinge that supported both flipping of the 360 degree screen. and moving the screen forward like an easel.

That means this 3.5-pound laptop supports laptop, tablet, tent, or stand modes, as well as easel and display modes.

Available with an IPS LCD touchscreen up to 2560 x 1440 pixels, the Acer Aspire R13 sold for $ 899 and up when it went on sale in 2014. Acer released improved models with newer processors and more powerful the following year.

HP Specter Folio (2018)

This is one of the strangest entries in a list of weird computers. The HP Specter Folio is basically what you’d get if you took a 2-in-1 tablet with a detachable keyboard … and bound it all together in a leather folio case so that neither the keyboard nor the tablet / screen section could be. completely deleted.

What you get is a multimode device that can be opened or closed like a laptop. But you can also pull the screen halfway forward so that it covers the keyboard, giving you an easel-like experience. Or pull it all the way forward so that the screen covers the entire base, allowing you to use the Specter Folio as a tablet.

The Specter Folio features a 13.3-inch touchscreen with finger and pen input support and a fanless design featuring a low-power Intel Core i7-8500Y processor and 54.28 Wh battery for long battery life.

Acer ConceptD 9 (2019)

A few years ago, Acer decided to seriously enter the content creation market with a series of ConceptD laptops and desktops aimed at creative professionals. The earliest models included a 9-pounder ConceptD 9 laptop with a 17.3 inch 4K display and an easel-style hinge that can be pulled forward.

With support for a Wacom EMR stylus, an Intel Core i9 processor, an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card and 32GB of RAM, it was the most powerful laptop in this series. type at launch. It was also one of the more expensive, with prices starting at around $ 5,000.

Acer ConceptD 3 Ezel (2020 – ??)

The following year, Acer introduced the ConceptD 3 Ezel, a smaller, more affordable laptop with an Ezel hinge, supporting up to an Intel Core i7-10750H processor, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 1650, and 16 GB graphics card. of RAM.

Acer ConceptD Ezel (14-inch) Available with 14- or 15.6-inch screens, these laptops are still available, with list prices starting around $ 1,500, although they are sometimes on sale cheaper.

Earlier this year, Acer also unveiled the ConceptD 3 Ezel Pro, with up to an Intel Core i7 Tiger Lake-H processor and NVIDiA RTX 3050 Ti or NVIDIA T1200 graphics. It is expected to launch in North America in December for $ 1,600 and up.

Acer ConceptD7 Ezel (2020 – ??)

In 2020, Acer introduced this high-end Creator series laptop with a 15.6-inch display and Ezel-style hinge.

The first version was available with up to an Intel Core H-series processor and NVIDIA RTX graphics for $ 2,700 and up, or in a ConceptD7 Ezel Pro version with an Intel Xeon processor and up to NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 graphics, with prices starting at $ 3,100.

Both models were 5.5-pound laptops with IPS 4K touchscreens, supporting Wacom EMR pens and up to 32GB of RAM.

In mid-2021, Acer introduced improved models that are expected to be available later this year for $ 2,500 and up.

ConceptD 7 Ezel

2021 models are available with up to an Intel Core i7-11800H processor and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card or up to an Intel Xeon W-11955M processor and RTX A5000 graphics card for the Pro version.

HP Elite Folio (2021)

Not content with letting Acer have fun, HP introduced this compact 2-in-1 laptop with a pull-forward display in early 2021.

Weighing just 2.85 pounds and measuring 11.8 “x 9” x 0.6 “, this convertible laptop / tablet / bedside hybrid may be the smallest yet, but it still has a touchscreen reasonably large at 13.5 inches, 1920 x 1280 pixels and supports a Wacom AES Pen.

One of the reasons the HP Elite Folio can be so thin and light? It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx 5G processor rather than an Intel or AMD chip. Qualcomm’s ARM processors generally consume less power and generate less heat than x86 processors. As the name of this chip suggests, the Elite Folio can also connect to 5G cellular networks.

That said, Windows 10 on ARM is still a bit of a work in progress, so not all apps or features will perform as well as on computers with x86 chips.

The HP Elite Folio sells for around $ 1,415 and up.

Honorable mentions

The Vadem clio was a handheld computer that ran Windows CE software rather than full-fledged Windows. Released in 1999, it had a design surprisingly similar to more modern easel-style devices, with a 9.4-inch VGA touchscreen that could be pulled out or placed flat on the keyboard for use in tablet mode.


The 2012 Dell XPS12 convertible laptop had a screen that flipped 180 degrees… while the frame and bezels stayed in place. This allowed you to switch between laptop and tablet modes just by closing the lid. But while the design resembles that of the transitional easel models, the fact that you can’t hold the screen in easel mode makes this 12.5-inch convertible something different.

Before completely withdrawing from the laptop business in 2014, Sony released a few convertible laptops with unusual (at the time) pull-tab hinges.

The company referred to the Sony VAIO Duo 13 as a “hybrid slider PC” with a screen that can slide to and over the keyboard for use in tablet mode. But it wasn’t really designed to be held still in easel mode.

Sony Vaio Flip 15 (PCMag)

Sony also introduced the Vaio Flip PC the same year. This series of laptops, available with 13.3-inch, 14-inch, or 15.6-inch screens, also had screens that could be pulled forward to cover the keyboard, but you could also flip the screens over to cover the keyboard. they are facing the keyboard for use in presentation mode. .

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