PCs learn new tricks, but can tablet/notebook hybrids rescue Windows 8?

PCs learn new tricks, but can tablet/notebook hybrids rescue Windows 8?

Summary: What does a PC maker do when the PC market is shrinking and demand for tablets is exploding? One option is to design hybrid PCs, which can switch from conventional PC to tablet and back again. In this post, I look at clever hybrid devices from Samsung, Dell, and HP.

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Dell XPS 12

Dell’s entry into the hybrid PC category takes a surprisingly different approach from the two other machines I looked at. Instead of detaching completely from the keyboard, the 12.5-inch Gorilla Glass display of the XPS 12 swivels 180 degrees inside a rigid aluminum frame. With the display in its normal position, the XPS 12 is a full-sized Ultrabook. When you flip the screen on its hinge and press it flat against the keyboard, the XPS 12 becomes a big, heavy tablet.

The flip hinge sounds like a fragile and finicky design, but once you see and, more importantly, feel it in action, any doubts vanish. (Dell says they’ve tested it to 20,000 cycles, and I believe it.)

The display pops loose with a firm but gentle push along the top. The screen feels solid and sturdy as it rotates, and the catches at top and bottom make a satisfyingly precise sound when they snap into position. It’s not unlike the feeling of solid engineering that Microsoft achieved with the distinctive click of the Surface Touch and Type Covers.

dell-xps-12

Make no mistake about it: This is a PC first, and a tablet second. At 1558 g (3.4 lb), your arms will tire if you try to hold this thing for too long. But it’s quite solid in your lap, and it’s perfect on an airplane tray table with the screen flipped to the back and tilted up to a comfortable viewing (and touching) angle. That’s great for watching a movie, reading documents, or doing light editing in coach seats where a full-size Ultrabook won’t open properly.

dell-xps-12-tablet-mode

This is a drop-dead gorgeous piece of hardware, in both looks and feel. The carbon fiber on the base and on the back of the display allow more grip than metal or plastic and feel cooler as well. The palm base is magnesium, and the base has an anodized aluminum frame that matches the look and feel of the screen.

The XPS 12 is about the same thickness as the Surface Pro with Type Cover attached, but it’s considerably larger, with 68 square inches of display area (versus 44 sq in for the Surface Pro), making it possible to use its Full HD, 1920x1080 display at normal size rather than adjusting it to 150% as the Surface Pro does. The display doesn’t have a digitizer.

The keyboard is backlit, and the keys themselves are labeled using a distinctive font that’s unlike any conventional keyboard. (I like the look; I suspect some people might find it odd.) The 1.3MP front-facing camera makes this device adequate for casual Skype calling, but it’s a little too low-res for serious video work.

On the left side of the base are a combination headphone/microphone jack, rotation lock and power buttons, and a volume rocker. On the right is a mini-DisplayPort adaptor

Despite its larger height and width, the XPS 12 weighs less than the Samsung in PC mode. And because this device doesn’t have to pack a bunch of electronics behind the display, it feels perfectly balanced and lighter than the specs would suggest.

The review unit I’ve been using has some serious guts: an i7-3517U CPU at 1.9 GHz with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. It feels as fast as any desktop PC I’ve used and had no trouble with any task I tried. But that power comes at a price in terms of battery life. In my test of video playback, the XPS 12 conked out after 3:51, with power settings at balanced and screen brightness at its default setting.

That’s shorter than the Surface Pro lasted for me, even though the Dell has a larger 47-WHr battery, which is sealed and not user-replaceable. (It’s worth noting that the display was noticeably brighter during video playback than the Samsung I looked at. Turning the display brightness down would probably extend battery life a bit.)

So I wouldn’t count on this device to last more than five hours in normal business use. On the other hand, you can count on it to do just about anything you throw at it, including running multiple virtual machines. The 8 GB of RAM makes a big difference.

I’ve owned and used Dell XPS PCs for years and have always appreciated their refreshing lack of crapware. This machine is no exception. Besides some system-specific Dell and Intel utilities, the only extra software on the machine were a few Windows 8 apps: Kindle, Skype, Amazon, and (naturally) Dell Shop.

There’s also a “Getting Started with Windows 8 on Your New Dell” training module, with video tutorials designed to overcome Windows 8-phobia.

When I priced an XPS 12 with a configuration similar to this one at Dell a few minutes ago, the price tag came to $1700. That’s steep compared to some competitors with similar specs. But if you don’t care about maximum mobility but instead want a powerful, well-built Ultrabook that can double as a tablet when necessary, this is an excellent choice.

Page 4: HP's Envy X2

Topics: Hardware, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Mobility, Samsung, PCs, Windows 8

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134 comments
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  • When Ed Bott talks about rescuing Windows 8...

    there should be no doubt Windows 8 is in trouble.
    ac1234555
    • Hmmm...

      Last I checked, Windows 8 had a larger market share than Mountain Lion and Mountain Lion had a head start. Sure, Windows 8 isn't blazing out the gates, but then again desktop/laptop sales aren't either.

      Economists are still arguing if we are in or out of a recession, headed back into one, etc. If the Windows XP device I bought for $350 nearly a decade ago is still running, how can I justify spending $400+ or more on a device that realistically isn't that much of an upgrade? This isn't like 20 years ago when I would see a considerable performance improvement from an older system. Right now, the biggest improvement people will really see is with SSDs and those are only on higher end models that people aren't buying in volume.

      Yes, we are all tech fans that visit this website. Yes, we can justify spending the money. This would be no different than your wife spending $200 on a pair of shoes she's going to wear just to her friends wedding. People are less willing to spend money on things that don't have a need for these days. A look at the most popular mobile apps shows that the public is mostly interested in social media, time waster games, email, and watching videos on youtube. An older system does this just fine. I bet if we had the return of $199-249 devices that more would buy Windows 8 devices.

      I just saw a stat that over 50% of tablet shipments last quarter were under 8" models. That implies people want cheap. And that's a growing market, too. That also implies the 8"+ market (aka iPads and many others) is technically shrinking given just a couple years ago that was the only option and therefore had virtually 100% of the share.
      ikissfutebol
      • hybrids

        hybrids with x86 processors are still heavy compared to ARMs
        besides the excessive use of battery

        Duck is an animal hybrid, it swims, flies and walks, plus does none of these things well
        Henrique Dourado
        • hybrids

          hybrids with x86 processors are still heavy compared to ARMs
          besides the excessive use of battery

          Duck is an animal hybrid, it swims, flies and walks, but does none of these things well
          Henrique Dourado
        • hybrids

          don't you mean Platypus?
          bajan5026
        • Ducks

          Are one of the fastest flyers in the bird kingdom. They can cruise along at 70 to 80 mph for long distances.
          arminw
        • Only if you're talking ones with

          a core class of processors. However, if you're talking clovertrail hybrids, they are typically pretty light, have great battery life, and perform similar to arm devices.
          Sam Wagner
        • People seem to not understand...

          ...that being a jack-of-all-trades is a strength in and of itself.

          With something like a Surface Pro I can use it as a desktop by connecting a monitor and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Or I can use it as a full-powered laptop. Or I can use it as a consumption oriented tablet.

          A laptop can be a desktop and a laptop, but not a tablet. An iPad or Android tablet can only consume content, they can't be full powered desktops or laptops.

          So in my mind, the jack-of-all-trades strength of a hybrid is far better than the specialized, and limiting, strengths of desktops, laptops, or tablets.
          jmagzdnet
        • but it's delicious

          duck, that is. x86 is more dependent on the sauce
          frylock
      • save windows

        Microsoft succeed and failed at the same occasion. I bought a surface and as I like a lot. It is a great tablet as in "a tablet is not a pc". It feels good, works great and as been very stable. I took it on a few trips and remote desktop and Team viewer are great apps that allows me to work on my production pc, writing SQL or asp.net code. Watching movies, browsing the web, using Apps. Everything is fine. Win 8, on such a device is great. Not perfect but great.

        The problem with windows 8 is that it is a compromised OS. It's root is the desktop but it's been partially reoriented as a portable device OS. On my surface it shines, on my production pc....well, I don't even want to take the risk.

        We have benchmark Win 8 on many technical aspect and it won over Win 7 on almost every rest we have made. So technically it is better, the problem is Metro. It doesn't have its place on a Dual screen, programmer's PC that is setup to work visual studio, Sql Management Studio and PhotoShop. For that, the desktop is what we need and being annoyed by Metro is a nonsense.

        I truly appreciate all the effort Ms have done to create a touch oriented Windows but they should have made it separate sku. Windows 8 desktop should be one product, windows touch another. Metro apps should work on both but the should only work as standard windows on windows 8 desktop edition.

        If that happens, I will definitely install windows 8 on all my PCs because it is a superior OS overall.
        gbouchard99@...
        • Metro as an option

          I agree with gbouchard99 that Win8 with Metro should be a separate product, or at least make it an option that you can turn on/off at installation time. For developers, the Metro UI is not going to cut it. It really is designed for the touch-screen, single-screen environment. So give me the performance gains of the back-end of Win 8 and give me Windows desktop, then I'll consider upgrading my main desktop. MS has alienated a huge group of users by defaulting the GUI to Metro on Win8.
          kchambers@...
          • A program called Classic Shell

            When installed in Windows 8, kills the so-called "Metro screen" and the computer behaves like a normal Windows 7 computer.
            arminw
          • That is a bandaid on a gunshot wound.

            Classic Shell or the other popular workarounds do not restore the full functionality of the Windows 7 desktop. The Aero interface is missing. Gadgets are missing. The desktop in Windows 8 is more restrictive than the desktop in Windows 7. Sure, it runs desktop applications, but if you're using the desktop exclusively, Windows 7 is the superior UI.

            I don't want my gadgets to be the entire user interface to my desktop. I want gadgets, but I want them tucked along the edge of one monitor at the same time I have all of my apps open across all three monitors.

            Bottom line: Windows 8 cripples desktop PCs, even if you run in desktop mode all the time and use a hack app to make it more like Windows 7.
            BillDem
          • Microsoft removed gadgets and are

            discouraging use of them because they are security risks. They are an open path to destruction for hackers. Aero is visual and uses resources. I just know when I use the desktop and i right click the task bar and select task manger and much more powerful tool appears. I also have the control shortcut displaying on my desktop for easy access.

            Yes I have gadgets on my Windows 7 machine like network stats, temp (local and where is was born) processor and graphics card stat which basically are for show and when I reallu need info I go to task manager.
            Orlbuckeye76
          • And yet, MS created them...

            So we have to blame MS for more security problems?

            How is that an improvement?
            jessepollard
          • Gadgets....

            MSFT created a small set of core gadgets...as examples of what could be done and relied heavily on developers to build to suit the needs of different users...don't put blame on MS for security concerns related to gadgets.
            smfrazz
          • No need for classic shell

            I boot my Win8 machine to the desktop, and never use Metro except to find an app that is not on my desktop or quick launch toolbars. But you do need to learn a few tricks, like right-clicking the mini metro at the extreme left of the task bar which gives you access to the right start column features and more.
            jonc2011
          • I just don't understand

            "For developers, the Metro UI is not going to cut it."
            Why? Click the desktop tile. Now, other than the lack of a Start button, you're in classic Windows mode. I just can't understand why that's such a hardship.
            Jason Barkley
          • I think Microsoft looked at the industry and

            see how the Tablet form factor is what consumers are purchasing. They wanted to get into the ballgame so they released a device and OS that could do both the old desktop applications and new Metro apps. I bet it's even affecting Macbook sales and people are purchasing Ipads. I'm a person that has a lovces big screen laptops. ( I have one with a 20.1" screen and one with a 18.4" screen). Screens are getting smaller but you can find some 17" gaming machine. Something else that's happening with hardware is the devices are become unupgradeable which means when new technologies come out you have to purchase a new device. The life cycle of these devices may kill them. Because PC's are more upgradeable the consumer will tend to keep it longer.
            Orlbuckeye76
        • Metro

          I took the leap and installed windows 8 on my work PC about two months ago. at first it was a little rough but as I got more and more familiar with how the mouse works in windows 8 I am appreciating it a lot more. I rarely used the windows 7 start menu in windows 95 fashion I pretty much always pressed windows key and typed the app name. In windows 8 its even easier as I can separate my search between apps, setting etc... with a simple tap of the arrow keys. I think if people give the metro interface a chance on the PC they will learn to love it. I like the fact that I can run metro apps if I want, but I prefer the metro app to be a companion to a desktop version.
          B_Manx