Windows 8 hybrids: How to build the perfect laptop and tablet combo

Windows 8 hybrids: How to build the perfect laptop and tablet combo

Summary: The versatility of Windows 8 has led to an amazing assortment of hybrid computers. These laptops that are also tablets best take advantage of Windows 8. The perfect one hasn't been built yet, but here's how to do it.

HP Envy x2
Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

Microsoft bit off a daunting task when it decided to make Windows 8 work well on both laptops and tablets. It's done a pretty good job, and that's led to a wide variety of hybrid computers to best take advantage of it. Laptop makers have taken different approaches to the hybrid, and no doubt each model appeals to some buyers. My requirements for the perfect hybrid haven't been met yet, but here's how it can be done.

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The hybrid has taken many forms, and while most models are similar in some ways, most fall short for me. Of the two styles that are prevalent, only the hybrids with detachable tablets appeal to me. The laptops with screens that rotate, twist, or spin over the keyboard don't cut the mustard as far as I'm concerned.

These convertible style hybrids will suit some buyers, but they aren't good tablets for me. When I use a tablet in my hands I do not (in fact refuse to) have the bulk and weight of the laptop bits messing with the tablet experience. I must have a tablet that is thin and light as can be.

Microsoft has produced an innovative design with the Surface tablet that is sort of a hybrid. It's a tablet that when used with one of the keyboard covers can be kind of a laptop, so the hybrid term fits. While many Surface owners love their hybrid, I need a full laptop dock as detailed below and not a keyboard cover.

However you feel about it, the iPad is the gold standard for form and weight of a tablet. It is as thin as can be, and only weighs about 1.5 pounds. This is a good standard for tablets, and the one that hybrid makers should emulate.

The tablet is only half the battle for hybrid makers; hybrids must be good laptops, too. It doesn't matter to me if a hybrid has either a good tablet or a laptop. The perfect hybrid in my world must be both a great tablet and laptop to eliminate compromise for the user. That is obviously harder to do than it seems as we haven't seen it done yet.

Getting the tablet right

As previously stated, the tablet portion of the perfect hybrid must be as thin and light as the iPad. This is especially important, and hard to do, as a good hybrid must have at least an 11-inch screen. Any smaller than that and the laptop portion of the hybrid is too small to have a decent keyboard. Smaller tablets also make it harder to fit needed components such as memory card slots for additional storage when the tablet is used alone.

Making the tablet thin complicates things for the hybrid makers as that's where all the PC hardware lives. The tablet must be without compromise on the PC side so everything must be crammed in there. I'm convinced this is the primary reason that most hybrids we see are of the one piece convertible design. That eliminates the need to create a thin screen with a full PC inside. Unfortunately, that doesn't work for me personally. Give me a tablet that meets my standards or don't make it.

As mentioned, be sure and put a microSD slot on the tablet to provide additional storage. Most hybrids have decent storage of 64GB and even 128GB, but it's nice to have an additional 64GB of removable storage on top of that.

The tablet also needs a decent web cam on the front for use as a tablet and especially for use as a laptop. Hybrids with Windows 8 are good for professionals, and a good web cam ensures that Skype is properly supported.

Last but not least, the perfect tablet needs to support pen input, and that means an active digitizer. Using a pen is not important to everyone, but it can be a deal breaker for some. It makes sense to build the capability into the perfect tablet.

Next: Don't shortchange the laptop; PC Hardware Requirements; Putting it all together

Topics: Laptops, Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • so, The Lenovo Helix

    seems to fit all categories
    • That's what I was going to say

      But I really want Haswell inside.
      x I'm tc
  • As for the HP Envy x2

    It might take a boost with the new Bay Trail Atom when they come out and if HP wants to keep it in the Atom family.

    Not everybody wants or needs all the power of a Core i5 or i7. For something very portable, I'd favor battery life over high performance, unless the new Haswell can lower power consumption as low as an Atom CPU when the power is not needed.
  • Great Analysis James

    As much as I love my Surface Pro, your design requirement are spot on. The hybrid HAS TO BE a good laptop, and although the keyboard cover of the Surface is a great idea, it makes for a terrible laptop experience except for sturdy flat surfaces. If HP swaps out the Atom processor for Haswell on an Envy x3, they will easily dominate the market. There are a few additional items you should consider in your dream hybrid:

    1. Full size SDXC - no more micro SD - very little additional space for camera standard flash
    2. Go 256gb, or at least offer a second microSATA slot in the keyboard base
    3. Replace one USB 3 and the HDMI port with a single (smaller) Thunderbolt port
    4. Optional 4g LTE
    • One up

      For the Thunderbolt port!
  • Wireless (wifi) integration from the tablet to the laptop base........ you can continue to use the computing power of the "main" processor in the base while carrying the table around (within wifi range) ala hybrid thin client.
    • Computing should be in the tablet only

      Base unit for keyboard, additional power and ports only
      Pick up the tablet, every thing goes with you.
      Anything else complicates without any real benefits.
      • That's why i like the Slider hybrid idea,

        But no one has got it right yet. I want be able to use it as a tablet most of the time, but don't want to have to find and attach a keyboard dock everytime I want to do something with it.

        If they could make a slider like the Duo11/13 (probably more 11 because I think I prefer the idea of the track point to the tiny track pad) but make it about 13mm thick (the size of a Gen 1iPad) and 900 grams (that's roughly .7 inches and 1.9 pounds for non-metrics playing at home) I think it would be a great device. I would have said it was impossible a month ago, but if Sony can make and 11 inch, i5 packing ultrabook that fills these dimensions then I don't think a Bay Trail powered slider, which makes up for the greater bunk and weigh of the mechanism by shedding the cooling system, is outside the realms of possibility.
        • Sliding Tablet PC will do the trick

          Man, i so agree with you! The detachable devices don't quite cut it, but the sliding mechanism works great as long as it remains thing and light and packs the power needed (but they need to work on a design that makes the angle of the screen adjustable).

          Altough i will add that the main problem about all tablet pcs and tablets i've seen is the screen. The screen is NEVER edge to edge, meaning you need to have a bulk device to have a decent screen. If they improved on that aspect, i bet we'd start seeing more 15'' and 17'' tablet pc.
  • Hey James, how is your Chromebook treating you?

    After raving about how Chromebooks were great laptop replacements (and then buying a macbook pro and then a macbook air, I want to know how much you use your Chromebook. You didn't sell it or anything, did you? If you did, how can we take your reviews seriously?
    • Do You Live to Be a Pit Bull?

      How about commenting on the article at hand rather than being a self-anointed attack dog for once? I've criticized James as well for his love of Apple products, but despite that he still has one of the best perspectives on mobile computing in the business, while you sir spend your online life sharpening your devil's horns. Give it a rest and contribute to the creation of the best hybrid laptop possible...or at least take Gas-X and relieve your pressure elsewhere...
      • He's not self-appointed

        He is a paid Microsoft shill.
    • good post

      ToddBottom 3 you're very intelligent. Keep the work up for bringing facts and forward thinking to this forum
      Nathane Grave
    • Well

      It is possible you could sink to a new low. Awaiting developments vis a vis your impending reduction in altitude.
  • Have been saving up to replace 6 yo laptop

    and this sounds like just the device for me.
    Initially I wanted a Surface Pro and that is still in the running but I am more a laptop user than tablet. I want a light laptop first and a tablet second. One device instead of Two.
  • "...the perfect laptop and tablet combo"

    "Perfect combo" is an oxymoron, James. Any way you cut it, there are compromises with both the tablet and laptop functionality. Tim Cook was right.
    • True, no perfect convergence device

      The iphone is neither a good phone nor a good PDA. apple doesn't seem to suffer from releasing imperfect convergence devices.

      What is 100% true today is that even the worst Windows 8 hybrid is better than having to carry both an ipad and a mac. If you only need a laptop, buy one. If you only need a tablet, buy one. If you need both, a Windows 8 hybrid is far better than buying both.
      • In other words, as long as Apple does it,

        it's OK for everyone else to do it, too. Apple is the standard, eh?
    • All devices have compromises of some sort or another.

      A tablet has compromises over a laptop and visa versa. Even when comparing one device to another in the same class this occurs.

      Just because something is a hybrid or combo device doesn't mean BOTH features suffer. Many of the hybrids offer completely comparable experiences as a tablet (or a notebook), depending on their design. In addition to that they also offer an expanded functionality of the other mode (notebook or tablet respectively).

      That isn't to say there are not designs that ride the middle of the road or miss the mark of both completely, but that is part of design progress.
      • Good points about hybrid or combo devices

        Personally I think Ubuntu Touch has a great shot at being the closest to a perfect hybrid/combo device. They have said that there will be Ubuntu Touch devices going on sale late this year of early next year and Ubuntu Touch Production downloads this Fall for self installing on many different devices. If this takes off with OEMs there will be Ubuntu Touch devices in stores in less than six months.

        Here is a preview of Ubuntu Touch on a tablet: