For most, tablets do not make good full-time laptops

For most, tablets do not make good full-time laptops

Summary: I hear from a lot of folks who want to find that one hybrid tablet system that can be their only computer. I think most of these people are on a quixotic search.

HP Envy x2 hybrid (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Regular readers know I use tablets, many different tablets, with keyboards for getting work done. I am happy with this method as it works well for me. As good as this is, there is no way I'd use a hybrid as my only computer due to the compromises that go along with that.

It seems the holy grail in mobile for many people is the quest to find that one system that can be their full-time computer and tablet. The lure of having one single device that meets all computing needs is powerful, but not very practical.

I used to be looking for the same thing, but I've come to realize that a tablet/laptop hybrid is not going to be both a great tablet and a very good laptop. I'm still going to need a good desktop system or notebook on my desk in addition to any hybrid solution I use. The hybrids are going to fill the role of a secondary system at best.

That's good enough for me, I love having a solid secondary system that I can use when needed. These are highly mobile and often that's a preferable setup to use. That's why I am impatiently waiting for the delivery of the Transformer T100 hybrid Windows 8.1 system. I know it will fill in admirably when I head out for the day and for short business trips.

I don't think there is, nor will there ever be, a single device that can be my only computer. The reason is simple — for me the attributes of a good tablet (size, weight, etc.) are at odds with those required to make a good laptop.

What it won't (and can't) do is become a primary PC that meets all my needs. Like virtually every hybrid out there, the lack of a full complement of ports, the small display, and the under-sized keyboard, will not have the versatility that I require to have it serve as my only computer. I believe that is true for most folks, including many of those searching for a single hybrid device to meet all of their computing needs.

I don't think there is, nor will there ever be, a single device that can be my only computer. The reason is simple — for me the attributes of a good tablet (size, weight, etc.) are at odds with those required to make a good laptop. I've used tablets with screens big enough (e.g. 12+ inches) to also be a decent laptop, and those failed miserably at the tablet functions.

Your mileage may vary but for me, a tablet with a screen larger than 10 inches is too big to be comfortable. I don't like holding a bigger tablet in my hands for very long. While the 10-inch display can make for a fine secondary computer, it's not big enough to be a main computer. The display is too small to use all the time, and more importantly it forces the keyboard on the hybrid to be too small for full-time use.

To be clear, I use 10-inch tablets all the time in my work, and usually with a hybrid keyboard of some type. This works fine for me, but only for reasonable periods. I couldn't use this all the time as my only computing setup without compromise, and I don't think many others could either.

The attributes that make for a good tablet fail as a full-time laptop, and vice versa. I don't believe it is possible for a single hybrid device to adequately serve all tablet and laptop needs for most folks. The mad search for the perfect device to fill all computing needs is just that — a mad search.

It's sort of like I've been saying for a long time about mobile tech in general. There will never be a perfect mobile device because everyone's needs and likes are different. What is perfect for me may be trash for you. We like different things so your perfect device may be impractical for me. And that's OK, that's why we have choice which is always a good thing.

I don't think choice will help most shoppers find the perfect hybrid that can meet all their needs. Tablets and laptops are too different to meld them into that perfect device.

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Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • Personally I still use three devices

    I started with a desktop and laptop then got a Nexus 7. My use of the N7 has almost displaced my laptop but I still find times I need the laptop. And I don't see dropping my desktop anytime in the foreseeable future. So for now I'll keep using three devices.
    • I use 4 devices

      I use a detachable with a Core i5 as tablet, laptop and desktop, and also have a 24'' monitor and use a 50'' TV as another screen (Miracast). The 4th device is a phone.

      I found that for me, detachables are a perfectly reasonable desktop replacement, because they have the exact same monitor as the desktop.
      • I use 10

        Top that! ;)
        • How do you use 10?

          This really looks like a troll post. He states an extremely high number and does not provide any justification for it.
          • I think he was joking...

            Notice the first was three devices, then someone replied with I use four and so he jumped them to ten. The smiley face probably should have been a clue...

            Some people are way too serious.
          • Yeah, it was a joke

            Sort of. I Have:
            Samsung 15.6 Laptop (8GB, i5, SSD, Nvidia, etc)
            Samsung Galaxy S2 (Running JB 4.3.1)
            Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (Running JB 4.3.1)
            Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (Running JB 4.3.1)
            Acer Revo (used as media server/centre for Plex)
            Samsung Chromebook 550 3G
            Samsung Chromebox Series 3
            2 Rock chip Android TV devices JB 4.1.1
            (and use an Acer Travelmate on site with my main client to access their network)

            So, it depends what you classify as a device really, I don't count monitors, but the chromecast and android hdmi devices are useless without a TV.
        • HA HA HA

          There are 10 people in the world, those who know binary and those who don't
          • And if you knew binary

            you would know there are only 10 "types" of people....not 10 people....that would be decimal. :)
          • You got me

            my bad
      • yeah hybrids work well for me, it is a compromise but not a bad one

        i agree i finally put down the money on a new 10.5in detachable hybrid. Last laptop i bought was over 6 years ago... well worth the money it fits all my needs, powerful desktop/laptop hardware, tablet interface for couch surfing, s-pen for fine writing/note taking/drawing for my daughter, fast msata drive. The only downside (besides the cost of getting a larger storage drive) is that it seems many manufacturers want to solder on the RAM instead so i can't upgrade the 4GB to anything higher unfortunately, unless i find a motherboard with 8GBs (ouch, i can only image the cost)
      • I use 3 mostly but 3 more occassionally.

        1. Tablet Kindle Fire. Books, PDFs, News, Weather, some shopping, very limit web.
        2. 15" hybrid. All the on the go uses of a laptop plus Microsoft's OneNote. The 15" hybrid gives me a little more than a standard 8.5X11" paper and is perfect with OneNote. I have gotten rid of the portfolio I used to carry. The less than 10" is to small for this plus you need a digitizing touch. However, I agree that a screen larger than 10 inches is too big to be comfortable for many tablet uses.
        3. Desktop with 3 monitors, 4 core i7, 64gb ram. For long term usage you need large monitors. For those power applications like compiling and solid modeling you need the power.
        4. Sometimes when I am at different locations or in conference rooms I use a desk top there. I work mostly at home but occasionally visit the office. Some have projectors. There are 3 locations I use most of the time and I maintain the profiles on them. There are others that I seldom use, some maybe only once. I do not really count them but if I did my total would easily exceed 10.

        Microsoft's SkyDrive ties them all together.
        • 3 in 2

          1+ 1/2 of 2 = Surface RT

          Remaining 1/2 of 2 + 3 = Laptop i7 + 16Gb RAM + Nvidia 2Gb VRAM + 15" Full HD + external 19" monitor.

          Crisis has its rewards, makes us do more with (apparently) less. But I agree with you, and Skydrive is really the glue to it all. I just need a new 2-SIM Windows phone to have the same work environment everywhere.
      • Think I could get by with two if I REALLY had to.

        1) a very light laptop (ala 13" MacBook Air) and
        2) smartphone.
        I find I'm using my tablet less and less as time goes by.
        I would, however, really miss my Nook GlowLight, which I read myself to sleep with in bed quite regularly. :)
        • plug into a monitor?

          Do you plug the Mac Air into a larger monitor at home? Just curious. I have a Mac Mini and use a 27" monitor and fonts seem tiny. A 13" would lead me to a stronger prescription on my glasses - no doubt.
  • Ultrabooks and Macbook Airs come the closest

    But they're not tablets so you're not getting a tablet experience. You need a laptop first, a tablet second.

    Personally I find 7" and 8" tablets the best these days, if I need something bigger (i.e. - in a single word work) I use my 13" Sony Vaio S (Windows 8).

    I totally agree with this article and screen size is the biggest problem. At some point tablets will have 100-500GB storage as routine and most people don't need lots of ports but 10" is to small for most users.

    That is unless they plug an external monitor in which is a niche thing to do and will remain so.
    • Re: Ultrabooks and Macbook Airs come the closest....

      Most notably the latest generation 13" Retina MacBook Pro.
      • not even close

        you can't detach the screen and take it into a meeting and draw ideas, take notes without clickety clack noise of the keyboard, annotate and sign documents and not look like a dick using a laptop in front of clients.
    • My laptops are gathering dust.

      I use two machines - my desktop and my iPad. I own laptops and even a netbook, but I haven't used any of them since getting my iPad.
    • Laptops odd man out for me

      I don't see laptops playing a role similar to tablets. Laptops are mostly desktop replacements these days as the desktop only lives on through people like me. But the laptops will start to be ignored as tablets mature. Tablets still feel like they are a very immature tech. Apple and Google will eventually do more of what MS did, creating an OS that works well both with touch and a trackpad.
    • ultrabooks are so last year

      it is tablet PC now.
      full desktop OS in a tablet which dock into a keyboard to make the ultrabook obsolete.