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.

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Don't shortchange the laptop

The whole point of designing a hybrid should be to build both a good tablet and laptop. Getting the laptop bits right is critical to make the perfect hybrid. This can be difficult for the laptop portion of a hybrid is essentially a dock for the tablet, which contains the entire PC hardware.

This dock approach seems to make some hybrid makers feel they can cut corners with it, but that's far from the truth. A good laptop has a decent keyboard, and a solid trackpad is also required. Windows 8 is designed to handle all these input methods, and it's vital that the hybrid laptop control is without compromise.

This is where the ThinkPad Tablet 2 I tested months ago fell short. While a nice tablet, the tiny keyboard accessory didn't make for a great laptop expeience. This sacrificing the laptop experience to make the tablet better is a big no-no for the perfect hybrid.

A great hybrid must be indistinguishable from good laptops when the tablet is docked. The fact that the screen can be detached is not an advantage when a hybrid is being used as a laptop so it shouldn't even be noticed by the user.

To make the tablet portion of the hybrid thin enough to meet the standard, it means putting most (if not all) of the ports on the laptop dock. That means several USB 3.0 ports, HDMI output, and any other port the OEM wants to include must be there. The important thing in the design is to make the laptop portion of the hybrid as good as pure laptops. The theme of no compromise extends from the tablet to the laptop dock, too.

The most important feature of the perfect hybrid laptop dock is to include a second battery. Long tablet battery life is a must, and having another battery in the laptop dock serves two purposes. It increases the overall battery life while used as a laptop by using both batteries, up to double the life, and it keeps the tablet battery charged.

When properly implemented the hybrid should use the battery in the laptop dock first, only switching to the tablet battery when the laptop battery runs dry. This ensures the tablet battery is always full when detached for using without the dock. The tablet battery should also charge when docked in the laptop if possible. This battery scheme guarantees the longest run time away from an outlet.

My perfect hybrid should be about 11 inches. While a 13-inch laptop is a good size, that's a little too big for the tablet in my book. This complicates the design but again, no compromise.

PC hardware

Even if an OEM nails both the tablet and the laptop design, it's all for nought if the PC components are too anemic. Good performance is a must for the laptop to be good, and even the tablet benefits from it.

Right off the bat we can rule out the use of an ARM processor. While ARM processors are good enough for some tablets, they fall short for good laptop performance. They also require using Windows RT, and that's a big no-no. My perfect hybrid must use full Windows 8 so I can use non-Metro apps, so ARM is out.

The perfect hybrid must have good performance while providing long battery life, so the new Intel Haswell processor is a must. Having seen firsthand the major difference a Haswell-equipped laptop can make, my perfect hybrid must have it inside. The Intel HD5000 integrated graphics that are part of Haswell will make both tablet and laptop performance as good as can be.

Many hybrid uses can be tackled adequately with 4GB of system memory, but let's put 8GB in our system. Might as well be able to handle apps with intensive memory requirements if we're designing the perfect system.

Flash storage is a given for our hybrid, and at least 128GB would be good. No one will turn down more storage (unless the price is too high) but for me 128GB is plenty.

Putting it all together

I have used over a dozen hybrids with Windows 8, and only one of them has come close to my perfect design. The HP Envy x2 has nailed both the tablet and laptop design, with the tablet as thin and light as the standard, the iPad. While the 3 pounds in laptop mode could be a little lighter, it is so thin it would be suitable for my perfect hybrid.

The Envy x2 meets all of the requirements detailed in this article, save one. Both the tablet and the laptop pieces almost meet all the criteria the perfect hybrid needs. The dual battery system is as good as it gets. The ports provided in the laptop dock are fine.

20130314_122133
HP Envy x2 -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

Where it falls short is by using the Intel Atom processor. This choice was good at the time HP built the Envy x2 as it was the only choice to give a proper compromise between performance and battery life. It provides 14+ hours with the two batteries which is outstanding, but performance takes a hit due to the Atom.

Since the processor is the only thing I would change to make my perfect hybrid, I really hope HP will produce a new model, Envy x3 makes sense for the product name, that is exactly like the x2 but with at least a Core i5 Haswell processor. This might cost a few hours of battery life over the current model, but there should still be well over 10 hours possible with the two batteries.

I would buy this hybrid in a heartbeat.

Have I nailed your requirements for a perfect hybrid? If not, what would you like to see in a hybrid? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Topics: Laptops, Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

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49 comments
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  • so, The Lenovo Helix

    seems to fit all categories
    bizzlemcdizzle
    • 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.
    lepoete73
  • 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
    dksmidtx
    • One up

      For the Thunderbolt port!
      danbi
  • Wireless (wifi) integration from the tablet to the laptop base........

    .....so 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.
    kd5auq
    • 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.
      thekman58
      • 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.
        Daishi83
        • 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.
          miguelsanto
  • 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?
    toddbottom3
    • 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...
      dksmidtx
      • He's not self-appointed

        He is a paid Microsoft shill.
        james.vandamme
    • 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.
      ego.sum.stig
  • 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.
    thekman58
  • "...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.
    Userama
    • 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.
      toddbottom3
      • In other words, as long as Apple does it,

        it's OK for everyone else to do it, too. Apple is the standard, eh?
        baggins_z
    • 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.
      Emacho
      • 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:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h384z7Ph0gU&hd=1
        DancesWithTrolls