Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop Studio is an unusual-looking convertible notebook. Sure, you can use it as a laptop or tablet, but its display doesn’t rotate 360 degrees until it’s behind the keyboard. Instead you pull the screen forward. Pull part way and you’ve got an easel that 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 sort of easel-style hinge. In fact, they’ve been a thing for over a decade, and at least a handful of different companies have made use of the design, although perhaps none more so than Acer.

Here’s a brief history of easel-style notebooks:

Flybook VM (2007)

A now-defunct PC maker called Flybook launched one of the earliest laptops with an easel-like hinge. The Flybook VM was a 3.5 pound notebook with an 11.5 inch display and an Intel COre 2 Duo processor.

Flybook VM

Unlike most laptops, the Flybook VM had a display that was raised up high over the keyboard for a more desktop-like viewing angle thanks to an extended hinge. But it wasn’t designed for artists, but rather “jet-setting business professionals” looking for a computer that could comfortably fit on a tray table.

The unusual display, which tilted forward over the keyboard, meant that there was more space for typing on the go, and you could also bring the screen closer to your eyes when watching videos on a plane.

Acer Aspire R7 (2013)

More than 8 years ago, Acer introduced this notebook with what it called an “Ezel” hinge and display. This 15.6 inch notebook may have been the first true convertible tablet with this sort of design, allowing you to use the computer in laptop, tablet, “ezel” or display modes (that last one is what you get if you flip the screen over so that it faces away from the keyboard.

Acer Aspire R7

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

Weighing about 5.5 pounds and selling for $1,000 and up at the time, the Aspire R7 was just the first in a line of models from Acer to feature this sort of hinge.

Samsung Ativ Q (announced 2013, released… never)

Like the Acer Aspire R7, the Samsung Ativ Q featured an easel-like hinge that would have allowed you to pull the screen forward. But unlike every other laptop on this list, the Ativ Q was designed to be a dual OS device: it was supposed to ship with both Windows 8 and Android 4.2.2 pre-installed, allowing you to choose which operating system to use at boot.

Samsung ATIV Book Q

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

The Ativ Q would have been a pretty impressive entry in this space though. It had a 13.3 inch, 3200 x 1800 pixel display at a time when most laptops were using 1080p or lower resolution screens. And it weighed just about 2.84 pounds and measured 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 display, pen support, and an “Ezel Aero” hinge that supported both flipping the screen around 360 degrees and bringing the screen forward like an easel.

That means this 3.5 pound notebook supported notebook, tablet, tent, or stand modes as well as an easel and display modes.

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

HP Spectre Folio (2018)

This is one of the weirder entries in a list of weird computers. The HP Spectre Folio is basically what you’d get if you took a 2-in-1 tablet with a detachable keyboard… and bound the whole thing in a leather folio case so that neither the keyboard nor the tablet/display section can be fully removed.

What you get is a multi-mode device that can be opened or closed like a laptop. But you can also pull the screen part-way 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 Spectre Folio like a tablet.

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

Acer ConceptD 9 (2019)

A few years ago Acer decided to get serious about the content creation market with a series of ConceptD laptops and desktops aimed at creative professionals. The first models included a 9 pound ConceptD 9 notebook with a 17.3 inch 4K display and an easel-style hinge that can be pulled forward.

With support for a Wacom EMR stylus, up to an Intel Core i9 processor, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 graphics, and 32GB of RAM, this was the most powerful laptop of its type at launch. It was also one of the most 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, support for up to an Intel Core i7-10750H processor, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 1650 graphics, and 16GB of RAM.

Acer ConceptD Ezel (14 inch)Available with 14 or 15.6 inch displays, these laptops are still available, with list prices starting at around $1500, although they’re occasionally on sale for less.

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’s set to launch in North America in December for $1600 and up.

Acer ConceptD7 Ezel (2020 – ??)

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

The first version was available with up to an Intel Core H-series processor and NVIDIA RTX graphics for $2700 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 $3100.

Both models were 5.5 pound notebooks featuring 4K IPS touchscreen displays, support for Wacom EMR pens and up to 32GB of RAM.

In mid-2021, Acer introduced upgraded models that are expected to be available later this year for $2500 and up.

ConceptD 7 Ezel

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

HP Elite Folio (2021)

Not content to let Acer have all the fun, HP introduced this compact 2-in-1 laptop with a pull-forward display at the start of 2021.

Weighing just 2.85 pounds and measuring 11.8″ x 9″ x 0.6″, this convertible notebook/tablet/easel hybrid might be the smallest to date, but it still has a reasonably large 13.5 inch, 1920 x 1280 pixel touchscreen display and support for a Wacom AES pen.

One reason 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-based processors typically 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 run as well as they do on computers with x86 chips.

The HP Elite Folio sells for about $1415 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 that’s strikingly similar to more modern easel-style devices though, with a 9.4 inch VGA touchscreen display that could be pulled forward or placed flat over the keyboard for use in tablet mode.

@Bryanlockwood

The 2012 Dell XPS 12 convertible laptop had a display that flipped 180 degrees… while the frame and bezels staid put. This allowed you to switch between laptop and tablet modes just by closing the lid. But while the design looks similar to the easel models when in transition, the fact that you cannot hold the screen in easel mode makes this 12.5 inch convertible something different.

Before getting out of the laptop business altogether in 2014, Sony launched a couple of convertible notebooks with unusual (at the time) pull-forward hinges.

The company referred to the Sony VAIO Duo 13 as a “slider hybrid PC” with a screen that could slide forward to and over the keyboard for use in tablet mode. But it wasn’t really designed to be held stationary 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 displays, also had displays that could be pulled forward to cover the keyboard, but you could also flip the screens so they face away from the keyboard for use in presentation mode.

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14 Comments

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  1. Of all of these, only the Flybook VM improves the viewing angle to make it more ergonomic. Apparently ergonomic viewing angles is not a priority for non-traditional laptop designs.

  2. I really like the concepts offered by these laptops. It’s a shame that none of them took the next logical leap and tried to offer the ability to rotate the screen panel into a portrait orientation.

    The Acer Aspire R7 was the perfect design to accommodate this.

  3. Good compilation, Brad.

    I think that this ‘easel’ form factor does not have the same mass market possibility as the Surface Book, and that this Surface Laptop Studio is closer in design to the Vaio Fit than noted (just with detents / a tighter hinge to hold it in different positions, plus that base fan), but recognise it can work great for people who draw and want the screen closer to them.

    Still, I’d have preferred the Surface Book’s <800g detached tablet, which makes more sense as a portable device vs this new one (even if it’s battery life was limited); all it needed was Thunderbolt support – thinner bezels would be nice, but not mandatory.

    Oh well, guess I might start looking at a Surface Pro 8 and pairing it with a Brydge KB.

    1. (I know I’m simplifying the hinge, which MS patented, but the similarity to the Vaio Flip is more than passing.)

  4. “For some reason Acer thought it was a good idea to put the touchpad above the keyboard”

    To be honest, I wish more laptops did this. No hard edge pushing against my wrists, and I just use the touch screen when needed, or a mouse if at a desk. For anyone questioning the practicality of this layout, I really encourage you to try it for yourself before writing it off. I know I’m kind of banging the drum here whenever the R7 comes up, but it really is the most comfortable pen-enabled laptop I’ve used.

  5. Brad,

    I thought the HP Spectre Folio would’ve easily made the list. It was the first easel like laptop released in the last few years? The leather laptop? You remember the one with the core m processor? I tried buying it a few times in the aftermarket, but the prices never dropped much on that one…it’s still very popular.

    Best,

    Steven B

    1. I may have forgotten that the screen could come forward. I was turned off enough by the leather that I didn’t really pay too much attention to that one 🙂