Recently I was fortunate enough to spend a day with PC Advisor readers. No, not all 5.2 million of you, I am but one man. I hung out with 10 competition winners testing tablets, laptops and an all-in-one PC, all running Windows 8.
Their reaction to the variety of form factors available in the Windows world was intriguing. Each device was admired and coveted, but for a variety of different uses. So the reader who is a father of young children liked a robust touchscreen laptop for his kids to play with. Our travelling businessman wanted a hybrid laptop and tablet so he could create a presentation on the move, and then present it in tablet format.
Lots of people wanted the tablet for lots of reasons, and we know how popular laptops are – in particular when they are fast and portable.
What intrigued me was how popular was the all-in-one PC, and for such a variety of reasons. It shouldn't have been a surprise that our current best buy – the stunning 27in Dell XPS One 27 Touch – was a hit. But I was interested at how versatile were the uses our readers saw for all-in-one PCs.
One person thought that a big-screen PC would be ideal for his work-life, allowing him to do away with his multiple monitor setup and save desk space. For several people an all-in-one PC was envisioned as the centre-piece of the living room – a PC, yes, but also a touchscreen TV, movie theatre, photo frame and video-caller. One reader fancied an all-in-one as a gaming rig – to live in his bedroom, but portable enough to sling in the car and take to a mate's house. And yet another wanted a PC that could live in his home office, but easily move to the front room for movie nights, and the kitchen for when he was cooking up a storm.
There's something about all-in-one PCs. There the last great hope for the desktop – the only category of PC you can expect to grow that isn't built for mobile use. They are, on the face of it, less versatile than traditional desktop PCs. It's difficult to upgrade the components, and you are stuck with the display with which they are built.
But as smartphones, tablets and Ultrabooks proliferate we all expect our computers to behave like consumer goods. We want to pick something off the shelf, plug it in, and use it. And that's it. Desktop PCs require setting up, but all-in-ones don't.
We want our PCs to look good, too - typically all-in-ones fulfil this requirement. Indeed a good all-in-one PC is good enough to replace both the TV and the set-top box in your lounge. Pair one of the soundbars we've reviewed recently and you'll have the perfect web-connected multimedia hub right in your home. A home-entertainment centre, yes, but one that can run Office 2013 and on which you can check your email and write a report – or at least pretend to as you watch the footy or play Crysis 3.