Windows hybrid makers: It's all about the tablet

Windows hybrid makers: It's all about the tablet

Summary: PC makers are scrambling to build hybrids of all types and sizes. That's good, but the tablet should be the focus.

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Whatever you might think about Windows 8, it's a good fit for hybrids. Those are the laptops that also serve as tablets. They're sort of a 'one size fits all' of the laptop world. OEMs are producing them in all sizes and forms, but it's important for them to realize that for many of us it's the tablet that makes it work or not.

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HP Envy x2 (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

I've tested dozens of hybrids, from large monsters that twist from laptop to tablet, to small models with a thin tablet that lifts off the laptop dock. Some of the hybrids I have used fold the display, aka the tablet, under the keyboard to produce a 'slate' form. Other hybrids let you fold the display back to form 'tent' layouts. It's a smorgasbord of hybrids, in other words.

Hybrid makers, the tablet is the thing. Build a thin, light tablet first.

Each of these styles of hybrids will find some who like them. These are highly personal in nature and thus some will like one style and others something totally different.

I can only speak for myself but having tried so many styles, only one works for me. That's the hybrid with the detachable tablet. It makes sense to me that if I'm going to use a hybrid as both laptop and tablet, it needs to be good at both functions.

It's essential for me that a hybrid must be a good tablet first, and a decent laptop second. Tablets are used in the hands a lot, and that means a thin, light slate. It must be comfortable to use as a tablet or it falls short for me.

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Asus Transformer Book T100 (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet) Click to enlarge

A couple of hybrids I've used are very good tablets and decent laptops. The HP Envy x2 I owned last year is a solid 11-inch tablet that is a good laptop when docked. The Asus Transformer Book T100 I now own is a good hybrid that becomes a great 10-inch tablet when undocked. Both of these hybrids are adequate laptops that become great tablets when the screen is detached from the dock.

That's the way it should be. Hybrids that keep the screen attached to the keyboard unit by twisting the display under the base don't work for me. That may not be the case for others, but for me having the weight of the entire laptop is just too much when using them as a tablet. Sure, you can set it down on the lap or tablet to mitigate the extra weight, but why should you have to compromise the experience because of the form?

So, hybrid makers, the tablet is the thing. Build a thin, light tablet first, design a good keyboard dock, and integrate a hinge/connection that makes it easy to attach/detach the tablet to the dock. It's preferred that battery life increases when docked due to a second battery in the base, but that's not essential if the tablet gets ~12 hours on its own.

The tablet alone should be around 1.3lbs, 1.5lbs if it's a larger slate (13-inches). The whole unit docked needs to be about 3lbs, with 2.5lbs even better for tablets 11 inches or smaller. 

While this is my personal preference for hybrids, I think you'll find a lot of buyers who feel the same way. We had bulky hybrids for a decade, don't forget the convertible Tablet PC. Those didn't sell, and while the form is better today than in the past I don't think it's improved enough to entice many more buyers than back then.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro_2
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro (Image: Lenovo)

OEMs, think of it this way — if you're in the automobile business and your goal is to reach convertible buyers, you wouldn't make a line of automobiles with just a sun roof, would you? I don't think so. It's the same with hybrids — build a real tablet (detachable screen), not one with a compromised tablet user experience (attached screen that bends under the keyboard base). The latter is like building a car with a sun roof and trying to convince buyers it's as good as a convertible.

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Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Tablets, Windows 8

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53 comments
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  • Convertibles

    I agree with the author about the convertibles - they should be fully competitive non-compromise tablets. Although there's one issue with most detachables: When switching quickly from laptop to tablet on the road, there's often no convenient place to put the keyboard. I need to open the bag, put the keyboard in, close the bag again. And when putting the tablet in the bag I need to take the keyboard out, join it with the tablet, and put the combined unit back in the bag.
    Something like the Yoga or the Surface where I can fold the keyboard back is more convenient in that respect. In case of the Surface I can either fold the keyboard back or remove it. What I'm saying is that I prefer devices that are the best of all worlds: Devices that allow to remove the keyboard and be a very good tablet, but also allow to simply move the keyboard out of the way temporarily without having to put it in a bag.
    Sacr
    • And the winner is?

      The next couple years will be very interesting to se which hybrid style wins. Or there may not be a winner. I like the names for the styles: rips, twists, back-flips, flying-spins, two-hinge. There is also a hybrid hybrid a rip and twist. Have I missed any?

      Personally I like the two-hinge. I have a 15" version. To me this give me a writing area that is just about the size of a standard sheet of paper. I got rid of my portfolio.

      Has anyone noticed that Microsoft's OneNote really take 3 kind of inputs differently. (Mouse, touch, pen) All are treated differently. You can easily do something's with one that are harder with the other. You would need a digitizing touch on your tablet to know the difference.
      MichaelInMA
      • Hit the nail on its proverbial head.

        The Surface tablet is, in my opinion anyway, the best of all of them and OneNote is the app that makes the ecosystem in the enterprise. The ease with which it connects to Outlook making collaboration easy and transparent is very difficult to beat. As you point out that thin folding keyboard on the Surface is perfect. Only a fool carts around a tablet without protecting the screen so all manner of cases and folios exist for every tablet which adds weight. The keyboard on the Surface performs that function very nicely and it pops off and on so easily it can be done in the pitch dark. I have used both covers, touch and type, and admit it feels a little odd having keys under my fingers with the type cover but you get used to it and after over a year of use the keyboard doesn't appear to have suffered any. Only other complaint I have is that the mouse pad is a bit over sensitive as set from the factory but this is easily customized in System Settings. At home I find myself using the desktop and/or laptop not at all anymore. I had a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for the desktop and found that the Surface installed them automatically so I just use them.
        The Heretic
        • Now where did I put that cover?

          I keep loosing my glasses all the time. Now you want me to keep track of where I left the cover. I spent 6 months using a Surface. I cannot count the number hours I spent looking for the cover. Also, when in various situations on the go I could not find anywhere safe to put the cover so I could use the Surface as only tablet.

          Experience made me look for something other than a rip so I bought a two-hinge this time.
          MichaelInMA
    • I agree

      The ideal for me would be a detachable keyboard that can still be turned on and connected wirelessly to the tablet when detached. Tablets with add-on keyboards that don’t physically attach with a strong hinge are too clumsy for me to be satisfied with, but I like being able to use the tablet and then reach for the keyboard if I want to type something.

      For me, a digitiser is also essential. Tablets with and without digitisers are almost different device categories, and it’s frustrating that this difference isn’t made clear and obvious by producers. Those of us who want digitisers have to read through technical documentation to find out if a given Windows tablet includes one. Sometimes firms (e.g. HP) are even deceptive in their marketing, showing useless capacitive styluses next to tablets that lack digitisers.

      The lack of clear awareness and promotion of Windows tablets with digitisers is a huge marketing failure by Microsoft. iPad and Android tablet users are often amazed when they see how well I can write on my Windows tablet (precision, easy erasing, no interference from hands touching the screen), but have no idea why it’s so much better than theirs. I have to explain that it’s a Windows tablet, has a digitiser, that if they want to buy one they have to make sure not to buy one without a digitiser, etc.

      If Microsoft were anywhere near as good at marketing as Apple, everyone would know which Windows tablets include digitisers. They’d also know that those tablets allow them to do things (Apple would probably call them ‘magical’ things) that they simply can’t do with iPads and Android tablets (or Windows tablets without digitisers). A lot of professionals with iPads would probably switch if they actually knew what they could do with a Windows 8 (not RT) tablet that includes a digitiser. If they try a Windows 8 tablet without a digitiser (or, even worse, Windows RT), they’ll probably see no great advantage over the iPad or Android, at least on the tablet side.
      WilErz
      • One step at a time

        First people need to be taught to use a touch screen. I find it amazing how few know how to use one. Even professors and grad students in computer science do not know how to use one. If Microsoft pushed the digitizer first then people would start to think a pen was required and touch screens would be even more taboo. The market needs to take the baby step to touch screens first. Only when touch screens are omnipotent like the mouse can you start to market the difference between touch screens.

        I agree with you that digitizers are essential. I would never get a tablet without one. From the current marketing it is very hard to figure out which ones do. I also agree that the digitizer and OneNote could be an iPad killer. OneNote without a digitizer is frustrating. It is actually better with mouse than touch only screen.
        MichaelInMA
        • Everybody talking Windows 8 hybrid computers in tablet form yet?

          Below and above folks are comparing iPads and Android tablets running a cell phone OS, iOS, and Android, to a computer. I own the X2 that I read about here and got the same $75 off coupon that Mr. Kendrick used early last year to get his. At the time I had a Galaxy Tab 10.1, a Galaxy Tab 7", a Surface RT with keyboard cover and two Android phones, as well as a high end SSD equipped Toshiba laptop, an Acer Netbook With max ram and 12 cell battery and out desktops. It is just me and my wife, it is a hobby I've had, and now indulge as a retiree.

          None of the tablets including the RT could load Office, but had the surface had Outlook as well as the rest of the MS Office apps it came with we might have kept it. But it could not do POP 3 or IMAP email. After using a real computer in hybrid form, I realized I had no use for the toys, no young kids too inexperienced to know the limitations. I sold the Surface RT, the two Galaxy Tabs which we had outgrown a year before, the laptop, and the netbook as they were superfluous. I bought my wife another full computer in tablet form, the Lenovo Lynx 11.6" Windows 8.1 tablet.

          When Apple makes a tablet using OSX, with USB 3.0, 64GB SSDs, HDMI, SD card slots, Office Home and Student included free, that can load all the Apple full software and use all the Apple Mac peripherals I'll try it. OH! And they have to sell it, like the Windows 8.1 T100 with all that, and the quad core turbo 1.5-1.8 SOC Atom 3700series, ASUS T-100 or Dell Venue pro 8, for 349.99.

          Apple has no computer in tablet form factor. If they don't get one light and powerful as the Windows computers in tablet form, they will be relegated to the bottom tier along with Polaroid Android Tablets for kids for $79.00. THREE HUNDRED TO FIVE HUNDRED DOLLAR CELL PHONE TABLETS THAT CAN'T RUN OSX? Are they crazy?

          Until then, as I know from experience, the Androids and iPads are nothing but inconveniently large cell phones that can't even make calls!

          I agree with your excellent article Mr. Kendrick. I am selling my X2 for either a Dell Venue or T100 just as an upgrade from the dual core Atom 2700series SOC to the much faster Bay Trail 3700 chipsets.
          AreV
  • It is all about the tablet

    Which is why iPad is dominating in the tablet market and these Frankenstein's monster convertibles stay on retail shelves.
    Retterdyne
    • iPads are actually outsold by Android

      I'm not sure what world you live in.

      I think a lot of people are going to be surprised how well hybrids do when their sales are combined and compared to iPads.
      Emacho
      • Hooray for the market share fan!

        If you're going to dump a load of cheap, barely usable junk onto the market then, yes, you most likely will achieve the greatest market share.

        Now what?

        You're not making any money from it. Developers won't write for it because they know they'll struggle to make any worthwhile money. People who do mistakenly buy it stop using it after a few weeks.

        But, hey, let's not bother with business 101, WE'VE GOT MARKETSHARE!
        Englishmole
        • Business 101

          Have you seen the numbers (not top line, bottom line) on the iPad compared to the Samsung tablet lines?
          When you see the margin that Apple has in the iPad, you have to wonder who is dumping a lot of "cheap" stuff into the market.

          I have clients that used to use iPads and have switched to the Samsung Note series, and the comment has basically been "I'll probably never buy another iPad again".

          When it comes to the "tablet" its about the stylus. (Kind of like a piece of paper without a pen or pencil.)
          Sul52
          • Sure you do

            "I have clients that used to use iPads and have switched to the Samsung Note series, and the comment has basically been "I'll probably never buy another iPad again". "

            Right. Your "clients" at your "computer repair" booth at the Peddlers Mall.
            Retterdyne
          • When it comes to tablet, its about the stylus?

            Others are claiming when it comes to tablet it's about the keyboard, or its about Windows, or Office?

            Some people are just confused about the form factor and its majority use case. They are looking for tablet PCs with emphasis on PCs (as primary use case) but are confusing it with modern tablets such as the iPad. Which were created for the purpose of using comfortably in one's hand (primary) and in any position. As the form factor suggest. With an attached keyboard and things like stylus being secondary.
            dave95.
          • Some people confused?

            That would be you. Worse, you can't comprehend what you are reading. I will type slower for you. Hybrid in this article is the form factor I am using now. Where the tablet screen detaches to be used one handed all day. My Envy X2 also has the more modern 11.6" screen yet weighs less than the iPads available at the time. I give Apple cred for getting tablets accepted. Five years ago. See, my modern hybrid tablet is a full computer and as light as the old iPad concept. That folks will flock to a good imitation designed to be simple, but not one that is complex is not happening, sales figures reflect that fact. Modern Windows tablets make it simple to do the simple too, yet can do work as complex as needed, or wanted.

            I can do everything an iPad can do, BUT also everything my desktop can do. Of course while lighter, bigger, faster, less expensive, fully ported and connectible, with 32GB of Micro SD swappable storage.

            That was the tablet alone. Then I can dock it, use the second 64GB full size SD slot, connect it to a TV with the full size HDMI, run for an additional Eight hours using the battery in the dock, and have a professional keyboard to do any prolonged productivity tasks with mouse or touchpad, and still use touch when easier.

            I already have a dumb smart device that relies on tiny apps and runs slow. It is called a smart phone, and it is compared to a talk only device. But it is not a computer, just a modern PDA. I don't need a larger version of my phone, call it a tablet, and lug it around too because it can't make calls or be a full computer, nor even make high quality pictures.

            Hey! Try to grasp the form factor. While it has some with attached keyboards and are heavy and bulky, which some will like, others like this topic are tablets apart from the keyboard, and ultrabooks when docked. But we who own them are talking about the dockable tablets that run Windows, silly.

            Hey! Some folks are just happy to have that Apple symbol on their devices. It makes them feel "Special," just like everyone else.

            Come back when you have a tablet running full OSX, and runs programs not just apps, as light as the iPad, and dockable with full ports, that can work AND do consumption.

            Apple got it going, Microsoft will now take over and I am tickled. They did the first tablets after all. Apple just managed to create the market, something MS always seemed to fumble in the past. Thanks Apple, for catering to the technically challenged, getting them to think you innovated what Sony Walkmans, and Fujitsu, did first after copying the Xerox concepts for GUIs and input devices. We can, again, take it from here. You can keep the untechies, they will never understand anyway. Fruits always went well with nuts, especially in California.
            AreV
        • Lets be realistic.

          I was just pointing out that Apple doesn't dominate in these areas anymore.

          Marketshare is down and heading down.
          Samsung makes more profit and revenue.
          Samsung is trending to overtake Apple in sales of high end phones and tablets.
          There are plenty of high quality android tablets/phones available.
          The android app market is trending to overtake iOS as the primary platform for developers and revenue.

          All of that is having an effect on Apples ability to keep high margins and grow.

          I generally agree with what you say, just not how you over exaggerate it.

          Yes there are a lot of garbage Android devices and Android as a whole isn't without its own share of problems, but it isn't an entire sea of nothing but profitless garbage as you pretend it is.
          Emacho
          • Well I guess next Monday...

            ...we'll hear exactly how badly they're doing.

            Oh, and you did hear about Samsung's net profit being sequentially down over 11% in what is usually the year's biggest quarter didn't you?
            Englishmole
          • Samsung making more profit?

            You need to check your facts kid! Samsung wins on quantity and that's it. BTW: Their profits are starting to decline as well. Wow! That didn't take long. :-)
            Tiggster79
          • The fact is Samsung made more profit in the two previous quarters

            I expect Apple to shoot past Samsung this quarter as Apple released their big updates this quarter and Samsung hasn't for a while.

            What happens if Apples profits decline like they did a quarter ago?

            Why is everyone so upset that some facts are being stated. This isn't a statement of personal preference or prediction on who will win something.

            Both companies are making MASSIVE amounts of profits on mobile devices. Apple makes a ton of money, but so does Samsung. Apple is no longer DOMINATING. I'm not sure why that is so hard to understand.
            Emacho
        • MARKETSHARE

          Great, now we've got Apple trolls too
          james.vandamme
      • Not really the same product category

        Those cheap sub-$200 Android tablets are hardly comparable to an iPad or Windows tablet. That's like comparing paper plates with high end dishes. The paper plates technically outsell the high end dishes and are designed for the same purpose, but nobody would even bring them both up in the same discussion.

        You can sell a lot of cheap crap for dirt cheap prices, that's all Android tablets have really proven. You get what you pay for.
        Tiggster79