The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world

The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world

Summary: Long before the iPad arrived, convertible tablets found a small following. The sudden interest in tablets got me wondering just how far convertibles have come, and whether one could be a credible replacement for both a laptop and iPad.


Long before the iPad arrived, computer makers began experimenting with tablet PCs running Windows. Slates without keyboards got little traction, but convertible tablets with keyboards found a small following-largely among business users who spent a lot of time out of the office.

It has been a while since I've looked at these convertibles, and a lot has changed. Microsoft Windows 7 has better support for touch input, Intel's latest chips provide better performance and battery life, and integrated 3G wireless makes these devices more compelling. The sudden interest in tablets got me wondering just how far these convertibles have come, and whether one could now be a credible replacement for both a laptop and iPad.

See gallery: Can convertible Windows tablets give iPad some competition?

Over the past several weeks, I've been testing two of these convertibles, the HP EliteBook 2740p and the Lenovo ThinkPad X201 Tablet. Both are based on 12.1-inch WXGA (1280x800) displays, and use the latest Core i5 and Core i7 processors. I've also had a chance to try out the comparable ultraportables, the EliteBook 2540p and ThinkPad X201, which helped to highlight what you gain (and give up) by opting for a convertible over a standard laptop or slate tablet.

[Update: Here are the links to my reviews of the HP EliteBook 2740p and Lenovo ThinkPad X201 Tablet.]

HP and Lenovo aren't the only ones with convertibles. The competing Dell Latitude XT2 is based on the older Core 2 Duo ultra low-voltage processors, and Fujitsu and Panasonic also sell 12.1-inch convertibles for business users. HP also has a consumer 12.1-inch convertible, the TouchSmart tm2, which just received an upgrade to the new Intel chips.

I'll post more detailed impressions of the EliteBook 2740p and ThinkPad X201 Tablet over the next couple of days, but first a few general thoughts on this niche.

The latest convertibles look a lot like conventional ultraportables, and aren't much bigger or heavier. The only giveaway is the extra space in the back designed to hold the hinge that allows the screen to swivel around and lie flat. The ThinkPad X201 Tablet that I tested had a larger 8-cell battery that extended even further from the back, while the EliteBook 2740p had a thin "slice," the HP 2700 UltraSlim battery, which snaps on the base to extend battery life. Both convertibles weigh less than four pounds making them as easy to take on the road as an ultraportable. Of course, that's still a lot heavier and bulkier than an iPad or e-book reader, and this makes a big difference when you are using it in tablet mode to read documents.

A big advantage to these convertibles is that they use Core i5 and i7 processors giving them the same performance as ultraportables and even larger laptops. The EliteBook 2740p uses standard Core i5s, while the ThinkPad X201 Tablet is only available with ultra low-voltage Core i7s. The standard voltage processors provide better performance, but at the expense of battery life. Either way these convertibles are significantly more powerful than slates, whether they use Apple's A4 processor, other ARM-based chips from the likes of Marvell or Nvidia, or Intel's Atom. Convertibles also include the features of a full-fledged laptop such as up to 8GB of memory, expansive hard drives, 2-megapixel Webcams, integrated 3G wireless, memory card slots, three USB 2.0 ports and, in the case of the 2740p, FireWire. Unlike the EliteBook 2540p, though, neither of these convertibles has an internal DVD drive.

Where convertibles-and all Windows tablets, for that matter-really need work isn't the hardware, it's the software. Windows 7 has better support for tablets, and this makes it easier for developers to build applications that are optimized for multi-touch or pen-based input. But there are few Windows applications that really take advantage of this to deliver a different user experience. The ones that worked best for me in tablet mode were OneNote 2010 for taking notes (the handwriting recognition is surprisingly good), and for reading long documents, Kindle for PC and Adobe Reader 10.1. Lenovo added a SimpleTap utility that makes it a bit easier to adjust some system settings with touch, but oddly HP excluded the TouchSmart applications on its consumer PCs from the 2740p.

Windows still has no answer for the App Store (iPad and iPhone) or the Android Marketplace with their array of touch-enabled apps, and this is one of the factors holding back Windows tablets. This can be a bit overblown, however. The fact is convertibles can do anything a laptop can do, and run many of the same types of apps and services available on the iPad. But most Windows apps aren't really designed for touch and the experience lacks the variety, convenience and serendipity of the App Store.

Overall a convertible tablet is a fine alternative to a conventional laptop. It delivers the same performance, features and battery life of an ultraportable-in a package that is only slightly larger and heavier. But as a substitute for an iPad, it is harder to recommend. Windows convertibles are much bigger and heavier than slates, and they lack the instant-on, long battery life and software experience of the iPad. If you want a tablet for reading research reports and the occasional e-book, a convertible gets the job done. But if you want a companion mobile device you can use continuously throughout the day-to check e-mail and social networks, browse the Web, and listen to music and watch videos-then you want an iPad, or one of the many Windows 7, Android or WebOS slates due to ship later this year.

Topics: iPad, Banking, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Give it time

    If there is a huge push toward tablet computing, developers will eventually get around to updating the UI to their softwares. Microsoft is leading the way though, that's why I think they're including the Ribbon in more and more of their programs. It's easier to touch than drop down menus of yesteryear (And more visually appealing to look at).

    Some more programs, I use which you may not know about are <A HREF="">Fishbowl for Facebook</a>, which is touch enabled.

    And *sigh* even Google Chrome has an <A HREF="">addon</A> that gives touch support to the browser.

    Also, there is the Microsoft Touch pack, but those are more games than anything. Everything else included in the Windows OS does just fine with touch though, at least on my end (My fingers aren't too gigantic), I also have taken the time and enlarged some of the Explorer elements such as the titlebar buttons, and menu text to make those easier to touch as well. Otherwise my ASUS T101MT has a stylus included that allows me to manipulate the rest of the UI, and allows me to use digital ink (take that iPad!), which I believe is a big necessity in using a tablet device.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world

      Fact of the matter is the article is comparing Apples to oranges. The target markets are totally different for an iPad than for a tablet running W7 or Android. The iPad, while certainly a computer, isn't designed to 'compete' with other similar devices as, frankly, there are no similar devices. The comparison is flawed by assuming that all small computers have the same target market.
      A good for instance is I wouldn't dream of buying a netbook or tablet running W7 or *nix or Android for an end consumer like a technophobe or elderly or very young person. But an iPad is quite capable of filling their computing needs in an easy to use format. On the other hand, were I looking for a light weight portable workstation the iPad isn't on my list.
      • RE: The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world

        @dheady@... said: "I wouldn't dream of buying a netbook or tablet running W7 or *nix or Android for an end consumer like a technophobe or elderly or very young person. But an iPad is quite capable of filling their computing needs in an easy to use format."

        I'm so over tired of hearing this.

        a) My mother is 81 years old. She has spent the last year and half training her *replacement* webmaster for three web services. She continues to work in Drupal, customizing it with advanced CSS and JavaScript.
        b) My grandson is 12 years old and has been handling "real" computers since he could talk.
        c) My wife is a technophobe who has been writing, managing library full of DVD's and CD's since the days of CP/M and Televideo terminals.

        Get your dhead out of your dass and smell the coffee. The iPad isn't necessarily for your stereotypes. It's for people who want a cool little device to play with, read books, watch a movie or surf. I'd like one too. And when they have a smidgen more than 256Mb of memory, I'll get one.
      • RE: The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world

        @Olderdan I find it absolutely amazing you've heard those phrases even once, much less enough times to get "over tired of hearing" them.
      • "Target markets..."

        @dheady@...: <i>"The target markets are totally different for an iPad than for a tablet running W7 or Android."</i>
        I will disagree here, because Android and W7Phone are almost exactly-equivalent OSes, however, the full version of Win7 is, as you say, a completely different beast. This does, however, weaken your argument.

        To be honest, at least for now, the mobile market and the 'portable' market are two quite different things. There are obviously needs for some people to have full computing capability at their fingertips no matter where they go. Most of these also need the full connectivity of USB ports and ethernet ports in order to administer the systems under their care. However, this is a very limited group of people.

        Others may feel they need the full capability of a physical keyboard all the time; these people would be professional writers and journalists who need to type quickly at quantities of a few thousand words in a matter of minutes in order to get their ideas across into a word processor or off to their publishers as quickly as they're done typing. Again, this is a very limited number of users.

        These users are not the target market for a tablet-type device. A tablet's market would be the person who used to use a clipboard to carry a pad of paper everywhere he went. He needed the ability to carry it easily, take notes on it while standing, maybe even peering into the viewport of a ceramics kiln or pill press or other form of manufacturing process, or maybe doing nothing more than playing a pen-and-paper RPG where he wants to keep track of damage taken or energy expended during the course of his gaming. This person doesn't need the full capability of a desktop or laptop computer, but he can benefit from the portability and functionality of a tablet.

        Through all of this, up to now the best we've had is laptop and later the 'netbook'-style machines that met the needs of all, but was more than needed by most. Microsoft recognized this new need, but felt that if they put the 'clipboard' style of use onto a full Windows iteration, that developers would find a way to make it work. What happened was that the developers didn't see a reason to even try. As the author put it, it wasn't worth the effort. Yes, the argument can be an apples to oranges comparison, yet the oranges represent historical computing mindsets while the apples represent the mindset of 'only enough power to meet the needs.' Android, iOS and even HP's WebOS should meet the needs. A full-blown version of Windows or OSX is simply massive overkill. The full power can never be used, so why waste resources on accommodating it? Maybe this will change in the future, but I expect by then the desktop computer will more likely become an integral part of the desk or room while the tablet will fully embody the mobile aspect. The only place then that such a concept would fail would be in such a remote environment that typical wireless networking would be essentially impossible--like, on the moon or in a space craft where lightspeed simply isn't fast enough for real-time communications.
    • Leadership


      How exactly is this Microsoft leadership? Since the GUI defined the universal computing experience the die has been cast. The buying power of the consumer has defined the template of broad computer usage. Business has followed in lock-step. The best way to introduce touch computing to business is to subsidize it with a massive number of consumer purchases. Business benefits more than anyone from a pervasive platform. Last time I checked, business was charged with meeting broad and common human needs. Those needs were not met by Microsoft and their second rate attempts at a tablet. People looked at digital ink and laughed at the 2k device that did a terrible job of what a $2 pen and paper did superbly. The tablet needed to be a new way of consuming media, not a expensive, glorified pencil. "Take that iPad" indeed.

      What a tablet... any tablet, needed was a groundswell of support from a lot of ordinary people. What it did not need is to be the bragging right of some boardroom barnacle.
    • Not a Microsoft Fan, But... Something Brewing in Redmond!

      @NStalnecker Before broadband came on like gang busters, Microsoft was already hatching a lightweight thin client OS and Network, based on NT microkernel. When they launched Xbox Live, they launched the basis of what would eventually come to the future of online interactive gaming and in so doing set the stage for the first successful Secure Online Garden Walled Marketplace on the planet!

      Since 2002 that online experience has only gotten bigger/better and when the whole Online Marketplace came a "LIVE" in 2005, it changed the entire Gaming World online forever (it can do the same for phones). The first Apps were games, but it was the basis of what Apple ripped off of Microsoft to form their App Market from. Sony too.... followed suit with a ripoff Game App market of their own. But what these other closed garden walled networks still lack, Microsoft had from the start and that's the sense of being a part of the whole interactive community. Not just in connecting users with a store, but in connecting users to other users in the "Live Experience"!

      As we speak WP7 is being prepared and incorporated into the MS "Live Anywhere Experience". Whether the writer is aware of this or not, I highly doubt. But even his convertible Win7 notebook is a part of Microsoft drive for a completely interconnected World of not just Gamers, but everyday joes in business and every walk of life on every device will be communicating together in one "Live Anywhere World". They will be making purchases of Apps and Games for Cell phones, Apps for desktops and convertibles in a Marketplace older than Apple's stolen weak asinine App Store. That will no doubt become 3rd rate in no time to MS Marketplace and 2nd place Android market!

      Apple has made a huge mistake in their blindness and arrogance by ignoring the fact that everything they've done, Microsoft has done before them and BETTER!

      What will it take to convince this stupid ignorant World that Microsoft has 40 million potential WP7 customers waiting for it's launch assault on the lonely world of the iPhone 4. That Gamers represent even more avid rabid fans that Apple's. Where launch games alone for Xbox 360 have sold millions on the first day in a Billion Dollar business that is still growing and expanding today!!!

      Bye Bye Apple iPad and iPhone4.... nice knowing you, but I wouldn't want to be 'ya so see 'ya! :D sure and grab some air before you go under with your..... iPod wantabee phone and slate! ;) phones are coming that you can hold any way you want to make calls your phone hasn't been able to do from the start!
      • RE: The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world

        > Apple has made a huge mistake in their blindness and arrogance by ignoring the fact that everything they've done, Microsoft has done before them and BETTER!

        Er... GUI?
        Er... color?
        Er... sound?
        Er... mouse?
        Er... networking?
        Er... CD drive?
        Er... music player?
        Er... phone?
      • @NStalnecker is a Luddite...

        ...who doesn't like to see a lot of change. Hence the vehement opposition to anything different because it doesn't have a windoze sticker attached to it.<br><br>We all know M$ can't cut it in the [b]true tablet world[/b] so they fall back on eight year old technology in the form of those clumsy, underpowered swivel screen laptops based around a mouse & keyboard-centric desktop OS.<br><br>If one prefers to be stuck in time, then do as Nicholas says. I personally believe touch-centric GUIs are the wave of the future. They won't entirely replace the old mouse & keyboard but they will lessen our dependence on them.
        ahh so
      • RE: The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world

        @i2fun@... LOL yeah, keep telling yourself that...Winmobile 7 looks like it was designed for a 3-year old with ADHD who can't handle more than 2 icons on the screen at once....Windows tablet? Please, tell someone in Redmond that putting a point and click OS on a tablet does NOT qualify as a touch device. And as for music? Last time I checked I haven't seen anyone from the "social" running around town squirting music at each other.

        Microsoft should stick to what it does best...desktop OS and video games....their forays into other markets have been met with a rousing flop.

        After the failure of Windows 7 mobile, Ballmer will be packing his bags and meat helmet and looking elsewhere for employment.
      • Phone? haha Networking? lol.. Mouse? =Xerox GUI? = Xerox!

        @kenift First touch screen smartphone introduced by MS in April 2001 = iPaq Pocket PC running on Windows Mobile with first touch screen dial pad. Before iPhone came out it could be used as a remote control and they even incorporated a GPS!

        Everything else you mention was ripped off by Apple from other companies. The networking? .... get real Apple was on their own closed network copied from AT&T.... you know from whom Steve Jobs and company performed their first heist of long distance phone calls from them, using their infamous "Blue Boxes"! But his thievery didn't start there it started in high school. That's where he learned to be a CROOK! .....notice he still likes wearing his prison garb clothing!!! lol...

        Microsoft was on the WWW with Line-mode browsing in 1992. Yes Berners-Lee used a NeXT computer to write the first browser and the basis of WWW in 89-91, but that had no connection to CrApple or to NeXT Computer's iHitler Jobs and his fervent fan control schemes. Apple was proven wrong from when they became CrApple and first sued MS for the GUI they stole and LOST in court on!

        By limiting their OS to their own brand computers with parts all made by other companies and manufactured in other company's FACTORIES, they killed themselves as the dominant personal computer maker! .....thus making them computer makers in NAME ONLY. As they are still today with everything they sell being made in China by their overworked Foxconn Manufacturing Chinese Slaves!

        Meanwhile Microsoft with the introduction of Windows 95 took the World Wide Web and PC's (reasonably priced computers) out of the hands of Techno-Flubbs and Wealthy little snobs like all you iNazis and made it all available to the masses. Making Windows PC a household term no different than microwave or TV in every household. They still hold over 90% of that home computer market by the way!

        That's why even today almost every person can say they've used a PC and practically none can claim to have ever used a CrApple Mac!

        With the introduction of WP7 we will have the first true handheld Game Phone that'll make iPhoney4 seem like a re-branded Nintendo DS iPod phone.... which is all it is!

        Because as always Apple is charging YOU more for less stuffed into a pretty breakable glass case. So if you go to actually use it for what it was meant for you can't, because you have to hold it wrong to do that! .....brilliant idea CrApple in designing antennas you have to touch to make a call and then it drops it! Such a C@@L invention and to think 3 yrs and 3 design attempts later and they're still doing it WRONG. Oh... but they've made it drop calls better now when you ground out two of it's antenna sections with just the merest finger touch or penny or tiny metal scrap. So obviously it's more than attenuation from your hand like the idiots are using to try and prove it affects every phone that drops bars! ....try BAD by DESIGN, cuz the excuses are making them look like FOOLS!
      • RE: The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world


        Can't see your point ;-)

        GUI - Xerox Star
        Colour - Tektronix, IBM and lots of older computers
        Sound - PC, Creative and lots of pre-PCs
        Mouse - Xerox star and older
        Networking - PC and mainframes
        CD - PC
        Music player - hundreds of manufacturers MP3 was here before the iPod
        Phone - Windows smartphones and lots of others

        Rebadging and marketing - superlative

        Hope the history lesson helps ;-)
  • Convertible Tablets vs iPad / Slates

    Both have advantages and disadvantages. Tablets with full featured versions of MS Office are excellent for power mobile users. Add the handwriting / note taking capability of a tablet (something I miss and the reason I don't bought an iPad) and is an excellent tool for meetings and classes. <br>In the other side, an iPad is great for browsing and light use, excellent for everyday consumers.<br>Which is better? IMO, that depends in the user, and not in the device.
  • Cue Trickytom2's Daily Whine

    blah blah blah Ipad sucks blah blah blah Ipad sucks blah blah
    • iPad


      What sucks about the iPad is you are paying twice the amount for a larger screen and no new functionality over a comparable iPod Touch. Go to Apple's webiste and look at the 32GB iPad and iPod Touch, and you will see what I mean. The 32GB iPad is selling for $599 while the 32Gb iPod Touch is selling for $299.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world

        @NStalnecker Then don't pay for it. No one's forcing you to. That's the problem with you Micro$hills, you come in here and whine about price but people still pay for it. If you don't like it, DONT USE IT. I paid for my 64GB iPad and I'm quite happy with it. Sorry if you're jealous.
      • Hardly jealous.

        For paying twice the amount for nothing new, sans a bigger screen and the shiny Apple logo on it, call me a shill all you want, but don't point fingers if your's aren't clean either.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • @cyber

        Your credibility goes down when you use "Micro$hills", you know that right? Oh, by the way, people are allowed to criticize products. They're even allowed to criticize Apple products.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: The other tablet: Convertibles in an iPad world

        I don't get your argument about screen size. Look at the difference between the smallest Dell laptop (10") and the biggest (17"). It roughly doubles the price, for less of a screen-size increase than the Apple devices (3.5" -> 9.something). I know it isn't a perfect comparison, but this jump seems reasonable to me, for any manufacturer or device type. Screen is the most expensive part of the hardware.

        And I hate to sound like an Apple fan-boy, but you should go into an Apple store and play with an iPod touch, then with an iPad. Even with identical software, I have found the experience to be much different (and better) on the larger device.
      • Time to update the talking points Nstalnecker


        I haven't seen much comparison of the iPod Touch from naysayers lately, well since everyone started using the thing. It's like complaining a 50" LCD TV cost twice as much as a 27" TV.