The problem with hybrids -- it's the tablet

The problem with hybrids -- it's the tablet

Summary: The age of the hybrid is here. A hybrid is a mobile device that functions as both a laptop and a tablet. Sadly, they aren't very good to use as a tablet.

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HP x2 Envy 500
HP x2 Envy Image credit: HP

The CES in Las Vegas this year was filled to the rafters with hybrids, those laptops that through some mechanism becomes a touch tablet. Most of the new hybrids run Windows 8, although there are a few Android-packing models. 

For a hybrid to be a good product it must be a good tablet first and foremost. The laptop functions are secondary.

The reviews of these hybrids are mixed but many agree that using them as a tablet is not very pleasant. Too heavy, too bulky, and in some cases with strange compromises like having the laptop keys exposed on the back of the tablet. It brings the question what purpose these hybrid serve for most consumers?

Having used tablets for over a decade I can confidently state that comfort is a big factor in determining if a given model is good or not. It wasn't until the iPad came along, very thin and light, that tablets became acceptable to use by the masses.

The comfort level, or lack thereof, is the biggest problem with these new hybrids. They are too big and bulky to be comfortable to use in the hands as tablets. 

See also: Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 hands on: Flexible laptop for flexible Windows 8 | Why I can't recommend the Surface RT for tablet shoppers | Surface RT hands-on: Not a good tablet, not a good laptop

I am convinced that for a hybrid to be a good product it must be a good tablet first and foremost; the laptop functions are secondary. There are lots of good laptops (Ultrabooks) on the market so hybrids are not adding anything of value to the consumer except the tablet functionality.

Thus the only hybrid form factor that has any chance of providing a good user experience starts with a solid tablet. That's a tablet similar in form to the iPad, thin and light. That requires a keyboard that detaches from the tablet for those times when the tablet is the desired tool.

There is simply no way to keep the keyboard attached to the tablet for use in the hands. It doesn't work. Too heavy, too bulky, and too many compromises. You must be able to pop the screen (tablet) off completely for use in the hands. Anything else is an excercise in futility for the user.

Microsoft got it right with the Surface RT. Make a decent tablet form that can be used with a separate keyboard as a laptop. It's still pushing the limit as it is large and unwieldy in the hands when used as a tablet, at least for me.

The Surface Pro due to appear shortly will miss the boat completely in my view. At two pounds it will be too heavy to be a comfortable tablet, detachable keyboard aside.

The takeaway is for OEMs to build a good tablet first, whether Android or Windows 8/RT, and then add the keyboard/laptop bits separately. That's the only form that adds value to consumers.

Topics: Laptops, Android, Tablets, Windows 8

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154 comments
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  • Toe the line James...

    continue to toe the line.
    Fuhrer D
    • He's just giving his opinion

      and one I agree with. This whole scenario is basically proceeding along just as I predicted a year ago (except I didn't predict the surface,but it doesn't matter). In fact worse than predicted.
      They tried it once with these tablets with stylus, went nowhere, then the iPad came forth at just the right time to massive success.
      At this point MS is just trying the similar failed formula again, now its tablet + keyboard, and it still isn't working. Its also funny to see the success of the stylus-based galaxy note 1 and 2 after MS gave up on the stylus for windows phone 7 and RT. They must just be banging their heads in frustration at this point. But that's because everything is always about "windows" and that's now comming around full circle and is ultimately what's killing them.
      drwong
      • Agreed.

        Its not just the form-factor and the hardware, its the overall usability and experience. They have finally started to wake up in Redmond.
        Non-Euclidean
      • Tablet hybrids will become the de facto form factor going forward

        Interestingly James doesn't mention the originator of the modern hybrid tablet form factor, ASUS. ASUS started this modern version of the dockable keyboard. The ASUS Transformer hybrid tablets are the best iteration of this transcendent design. The lastest being the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity. There is no better tablet or hybrid tablet on the market. And it comes in at a good price point too.

        The Surface RT cannot even come close to the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity in either form, function or price. The same is true for the iPad and their lame bluetooth keyboards with kludgey covers.

        The main reason that true Windows (pro) tablets are not ready for primetime is due to the processor. The currently available processors for these tablets are not efficient enough yet. They consume to much power and run too hot. As long as a processor requires air vents on the tablet, it's a deal breaker.

        Which is another reason why Android hybrid tablets like the Transformers will continue to dominate this space. Both the hardware and software give you the best of both worlds for now. iPads might have equally good hardware, but the iOS software is lacking when it comes to things like using keyboards with trackpads, mice, game controllers, and full use of USB ports and access to SD card slots. All features that are easily available in Android eco-system. It's very much like Windows in that way.
        laequis
        • TF300

          I've got an ASUS TF300, and I love it. But you are wrong about there being no comparable Windows offering. In fact, ASUS makes a versioin of this tablet, with the same form factor and the same Tegra 3 processor running Windows RT.

          It's a neat machine, but personally I am doo deeply invested in Android and there aren't enough good Windows RT applications for the Win RT version to interest me at the moment.
          dsf3g
          • Agreed.

            I was referring to the upcoming Windows 8 Pro tablets, not the Windows RT versions that are currently out.

            Though I think ASUS has demoed a Windows 8 Pro tablet in the Transformer configuration, but it hasn't shipped yet.

            However, Samsung did announce that they were not coming out with a Windows 8 Pro tablet. So it remains to be seen if ASUS still decides to go through with it too.
            laequis
          • TF600

            I've used the TF600 which is an ARM based win RT transformer. This tablet transformer hits the form factor better than the MS Surface.
            Best hybrid so far IMO.
            warboat
      • I disagree. You're now only giving 30 days to measure success or failure

        And you can't change parameters at the last minute to make your argument work, which is what you're doing.

        There looks to be a very large market for tablet keyboards, enough to keep quite a few manufacturers in the mix, so I would have to think that MS offering an integraded keyboard is the smart move.

        And the galaxy note is hardly a tablet or a phone. MS was smart not to worry about a stylus based PDA, let Samsung have it.

        But then again, did you know you can uses a stylus on any tablet or phone? So what's so special about that Galaxy Note, again?
        William Farrel
        • you have obvisouly never used a device like the galaxy note series

          there is a HUGE difference between the stylus of the note devices and any standard $5 stylus you buy at your local store. Those $5 stylus are not very fine, they are typically rubber tips, either hard or soft but need to be thick. in essence they need to imitate a user's finger to be useful on ANY touchscreen device. not very good for drawing, or even note taking... i've used a few and they all have the same issue and they all suck.

          The stylus (which is called an s-pen) that the note uses can be very fine. Samsung uses software on the note that allows all sorts of pen functionality just not possible with the standard stylus. You can make the mark as fine or thick as you want. From what i've read it can recognize handwriting even.

          I admit i haven't had a chance to play with any of the note devices so my experience comes from another device that also has a specialized stylus

          One other manufacturer did attempt the stlyus, BEFORE samsung,on their short-lived tablets. HTC. It's called the scribe pen (also known as an ntrig pen) and it was compatible with both the 10" jetstream and 7" flyer. Both devices were hugely overpriced and the pen costed $80 by itself, at the time. so a total fail in that regard...

          but besides the sale price the pen was remarkable as it had a host of functions. You can take notes using the built-in or 3rd party apps. The gallery allowed you to draw over and notate pictures you took (without ruining the original image), yu could import that image to the built-in notes app, you could also adjust the type of pen to initiate: from a standard pen to a thin pencil, crayons, caligraphy pen, highlighter, marker, etc.

          There's the difference :)
          dracodos
          • wondering exactly what a "stylus" is

            Last time I needed one I picked up a ballpoint pen, tip retracted, and it worked just fine. Maybe the hard tip would have scratched the screen surface eventually...
            I've also used a golf tee, a fairly long fingernail, pretty much anything with a firm smooth tip.
            Except a rolled up folded $5 bill, though I'm pretty sure it would work
            redking44
          • active digitiser

            The kind of stylus used by Samsung these days are 3d sensitive. It can even detect the stylus hovering and act on it like hovering a mouse pointer over a link.
            Samsung has implemented preview feature when you hover. It is also pressure sensitive, so the harder you press, the thicker the line drawn.
            Way beyond the stylus on resistive touch screens that you alluded to
            warboat
          • Yeah the Note

            I was just going to add a comment about my Note and I saw this.
            I can't be happier with it. Large enough to read web sites and small enough to deal with cellular .
            al881
        • Galaxy Note stylus

          If you haven't used a Galaxy Note of any kind, you have no idea about the S-pen stylus and what it can do.
          Resistive stylus is only 2D. Capacitive stylus is a complete joke and nothing more than a fake finger with roughly the same accuracy.
          The S-pen is in a totally different category in terms of flexibility and accuracy.
          warboat
      • Hybrids are invariably...

        heavy, bulky, complex, a compromise, and more expensive than their single form brethren.

        None of this means some folks won't favor the hybrid; more power to them, but for me, the tablet form gets unwieldy when you add a physical keyboard-even a detachable one.

        I can do these major functions with my laptop, pad, and cell phone: write a novel, make a movie, record/compose music, take a picture, make a phone call, GPS navigate, play games, and surf the net.

        It's cool to be able to do all this on all three devices, but not all three are equally capable or convienent form factors, are they?
        godsfault
        • That just is not the truth of the matter

          The Acer Iconia W510 or Samsung Ativ 500t are every bit a usable as a tablet that any other tablet is. Their specs are comparable to most popular models right now AND they can do more with their full desktop operating system, digitized stylus, full featured programs and enterprise ready features.

          There is nothing holding those back from being great tablets AND having the option to be lightweight laptop replacements as well.

          I just don't understand the mentality being displayed where people argue to defend the limitations of their devices. As if you need a phone, tablet and a laptop in order to get done the things you need to do.

          The market is already moving away from that. "Phablets" are good inbetweens for people who want 1 device to replace their minitablets and phones. The new windows8 devices offer the same thing for those who want to replace their current android/ios tablet and laptop with one device.


          It is pure nonsense that the new tablet hybrids are somehow incapable of doing exactly what people are doing with them.


          We are witnessing the same thing that happened to desktops as a result of laptops. People said laptops were to heavy, not powerful enough, couldn't be upgraded, yet laptops, netbooks and ultrabooks are the top choice now. The small compromises turned out to be way less important than the benefits of the mobility of a laptop.


          In my case I was able to replace the following devices
          *Dell gaming laptop - 8lbs.
          *Asus transformer with keyboard dock - 3lbs
          *Samsung Galaxy S3 - 5 ounces

          with
          *Lenovo Yoga 13 - 3lbs
          *Samsung Galaxy S3 - 5 ounces

          I dropped 8 lbs of travel weight, 1 less device to carry around, plenty of free space in my travel bag now and lost zero functionality. The best thing is I don't have to put down my tablet to do work or leave my laptop to consume entertainment. Everything is in one device.

          What do current mobile operating system tablets offer in comparison to hybrids, because I don't see it.
          Emacho
          • I totally agree

            I used to carry around 1 MacBook laptop , 1 modified MacBook with built in Wacom screen, and a 10 inch android tablet. It was ridiculous. Now I use a Sony Viao DUo 11, and Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T. The Sony, works great as a work machine and is light weight and versatile, the Samsung is my lounge around the house//compute home device. Its super light and is more useful than any Apple/Android tablet device on the market and it's also a full computer when it has to be. I think if more people give windows8 a chance they will be very impressed. This nonsense about Windows 8 needing a keyboard is strange, because I use my Samsung as a touch Screen device 99% of the time. I think those Touch/Type covers on the MS Surface have really confused consumers... HAHA....
            drayphly
  • There are close to 1700 Win 8 /RT models

    Yes that number is right, some of these models are not good and some are excellent, but the point is that consumers has so many choices.Surface RT and Pro are Super tablets and there are also excellent models from all vendors inlcuding HP, Lenovo, Dell etc with sizes from 10, 11.6 and 13.x. Some of these hybrids are lighter than iPad and Surface RT is also the same weight as iPad.

    "The Surface Pro due to appear shortly will miss the boat completely in my view. At two pounds it will be too heavy to be a comfortable tablet, detachable keyboard aside."

    - You got this totally wrong, Surface Pro is 'The' tablet that enterprise and many consumers looking for. Its uses i5 processor, so have enough horse power for heavy lifting. Intel Atom has the battery advantage, but not good for legacy apps.

    Consumers looking for lighter tablets could go for Surface RT or tablets with Intel atom.
    Owlll1net
    • I agree

      on the Surface Pro. It is the first tablet that I have thought might be acceptable.
      wright_is
    • Some of these hybrids are lighter than iPad and Surface RT is also the same

      What hybrid, of equal screen size, is lighter than the iPad or RT ?
      E Conner
      • What Hybrid Is Lighter Than The iPad Or RT

        That's an easy one! Have you ever used an Asus Transformer Prime or one of its successors? ...lighter and more powerful than an iPad, has a detachable keyboard, a slightly larger screen with better resolution, expandable memory via SF card, and a real host enabled USB port that supports many devices. It's a wonderful tablet and a more-than-adequate NetBook/laptop.
        sam_865