At the entrance to Toshiba's CES booth, there stood an enclosed display with a concept laptop inside: the company's shape-shifting, 5-in-1 PC. Plenty of curious tech journalists crowded this metallic laptop, trying to figure out how it transformed into so many different devices. The trick? All of its "transformations" aren't equally useful.
Toshiba's 5-in-1 is a bit more advanced than your average laptop/tablet hybrid. Instead of two pieces, you have three: screen, keyboard, and base. The base is just a rectangular piece of metal that houses all of the 5-in-1's components, as well as ports. It doesn't detach from the screen because you kind of need it for the computer to work, but it can be folded and arranged differently according to how you wish to use your new-fangled concept laptop.
According to Toshiba, the five different ways to use this PC are as follows: laptop mode, convertible tablet mode, tablet mode, canvas mode, and presentation/TV mode.
Laptop mode is pretty straight-forward, although with a slight caveat: This device has no touchpad, instead opting for a pointing stick. While this isn't a total abnormality—many business-oriented laptops still use pointing sticks—it might not appeal to the average consumer who has grown accustomed to the touchpad. For the record, I couldn't function without my laptop's trusty touchpad.
Convertible tablet mode is essentially the same as laptop mode, except the keyboard isn't attached to the display. While this doesn't seem very useful, it will enable some folks to place their screen on a table and type with the keyboard on their lap. Yes, this is a stretch.
Tablet mode is exactly what it seems like, but you have to remember that third component to Toshiba's 5-in-1: the bar that houses the actual computer. It folds inwards and outwards on a hinge and has to be folded onto the back of the screen, giving you a tablet with an unsightly bump. Since this device was closed off to all the CES attendees, I have no way of knowing how light the tablet is or if it's comfortable in this mode. If the specs are good, though, consumers might be able to live with a less-ergonomic tablet in exchange for added power.
So that's three different ways to use this PC. Where do the last two fit in?
Canvas mode is basically tablet mode with the screen resting on the base, essentially letting you interact with Toshiba's PC at an angle. Presentation/TV mode has the screen sitting upright on the base, so it's just hybrid mode without the keyboard.
Specs were not given for the shape-shifting concept PC, nor was it clear whether this would ever go into production. We can't fault Toshiba for trying something different, especially in a market like laptop computing where we find plenty of manufacturers introducing "me too" products. Is it an actual 5-in-1 PC? Definitely. Are those five different forms equally helpful? Definitely not. Still, we'd love to get our hands on one of these if it ever releases.