Windows laptop or tablet? For most the answer is clear

Windows laptop or tablet? For most the answer is clear

Summary: Windows 8 is designed to work well for both tablets and laptops. This extends to the hybrid, those devices that attempt to be both. Based on extended use of both, it's clear most should go old school.


I'm a tablet guy, there's no denying that. I use them for hours each day, including strapping a keyboard on them and using them for work. That's why the Windows 8 hybrid concept is so compelling to me, as I can use them as either tablet or laptop. But the more I use Windows 8, the more I realize the hybrid/tablet is overkill.

04 Venue 11 Pro front laptop mode
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

This realization surprises me, as tablets are a form I find useful. I like using them in my hand, doing both work and "tablet" functions. But as my time with Windows 8 grows by leaps and bounds, I find I use it in laptop mode far more than as a tablet.

See also: Dell Venue 11 Pro with Travel Dock: Outstanding laptopThe dirty little secret of Windows 8: It runs on lesser hardware really well | ThinkPad 10 (review): Great Windows tablet, good laptop

I'm not the only one, I regularly hear from hybrid owners that they spend 90+ percent of their time using the system as a laptop. I also hear a surprising reason from them, using Windows 8 feels more natural on a laptop than a tablet.

After a lot of consideration, I understand what they mean. I feel the same way. With the Windows 8 desktop just a tap away, I find I spend a lot of time on that side of the OS. That is much easier done with a laptop and trackpad at my disposal, augmented by the touch screen.

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I find I usually use hybrids, I own one and test lots of them, with a keyboard attached. I sit down, open the lid, and start working with the laptop, much as I have always done with Windows in the past. The touch screen is nice but it's not essential for working with Windows 8. I end up using Windows 8 pretty much as I have in the past, with laptop in front of me.

Given this realization, it's become clear to me that for many considering a Windows system for purchase, it's probably better to go old school and just get a laptop. Forget about the lure of the tablet and get the best affordable laptop. They are often cheaper than tablets with keyboard docks, and usually have more ports for peripherals. There are more laptops to choose from at purchase time than tablets/ hybrids.

If you're going to have a keyboard attached to your tablet or hybrid most of the time, many laptops are just as portable. There are some light laptops available so there's plenty of choice. 

This is an epiphany for me personally, as I never thought I'd recommend a laptop over a hybrid. I like my tablets, there's no doubt. But given that I use hybrids as laptops the vast majority of the time, I have come to believe that others are the same way. Windows has always been used on desktops and increasingly in later years on laptops, and it feels natural to do that now.

I'm sure some use Windows tablets heavily, and that's fine. They should keep doing so. But for many, I believe that going with a straight laptop is the best choice. Simplify the tool and just get busy.

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • Exactly right.

    Surface is a laptop with a removable keyboard. If that's what you want, fine.

    But if you want a tablet get a tablet.

    If you want a standard laptop get one.

    Probably even better to have a tablet AND a Chromebook. The talent does what a tablet should, while the Chromebook does most of what a laptop does. And both for less than the cost of a laptop.

    Just don't get confused.
    • They need a Surface with a real keyboard...

      I think if they made a Surface with a real keyboard (though still detachable) they'd have better success. As this article points out, most people are using Windows 8 in desktop mode... which means that a keyboard is integral... and the better the keyboard, the better the experience.

      Microsoft needs to abandon its policy of "not competing with its partners" and create a real Surface keyboard. Newsflash to Microsoft: You're already competing with your OEMs... and they're already competing with you!
      • MS has a big problem with Windows 8

        The big problem with Windows 8 is that it is not taking off as an economically viable platform for developers. Therefore you have to go back to the desktop to enjoy rich apps. MS has not "dog fooded" Windows 8 either as a viable place to develop apps and make money. Almost 2 years after Windows 8 release, MS has released few apps on the platform, that it relies on to make money, and has instead released a great many free apps, which only undermines that goal for it and everyone else. I e.g. don't understand the News app. MS develops this app along with others in HTML which takes forever, instead of its on .Net technology. If MS developed its own apps with its own technology, it could rapidly develop them, making them extremely rich, giving it a chance to monetize them. What I'd like to see MS do, is hold up a slew of Windows 8 apps of its own, and say to developers, "See, you can build Windows 8 apps and make good money doing so."

        The News, Weather, Finance, etc. apps should all be richer than their MSN web counterparts, having extra features such as live streams, on demand programs (vs. just clips), that would compell users to subscribe to them. Instead MS just sits there and doesn't try anything original, and creates a platform full of free stuff, which makes almost all apps on the platform worthless. It is so frustrating. Then the new CEO comes and says he is about cloud first, vs. platforms first, which makes many developers wonder if this means he has deprioritized developers along with its own platforms, as evidenced by him partnering with Google developers over its own MS platform developers on Nokia X phones. I tell you it is so weird that a new CEO comes to a company, and he makes customers on its competitors' platforms happy, and developers and customers on its own platforms wondering what is going to happen. With Ballmer it was about, "developers, developers, developers!" With the new MS CEO, it is about, "our services on other platforms, other platforms, other platforms!" With the new MS, I don't know which end is up.
        P. Douglas
        • Agree that Metro apps are weak & need more functionality...

          If Microsoft wants Metro apps to replace desktop apps then they need to be more powerful and functional. Right now, they're basically just widgets with little more than one or two functions.
          • Most expensive apps

            Do you know the most expensive app I've seen in the store costs $29.99? Seriously. The Windows 8 app store is a joke for developers. If something doesn't change soon, I'm going to refocus my development efforts on another platform.
            P. Douglas
          • How much does

            the most expensive app for iPad cost? Not too many people buy stuff that is more expensive than a. Few dollars. On the other hand, silly apps like "Yo" can get you millions. It's not a Windows issue.

            What a real Windows issue in my view is, is that large companies like Amazon do not make good apps for Windows. The apps are free on every platform, because the app publishers earn their money from services they provide, but they still are too lazy to make good client apps, even if, by now, Windows 8 and 8.1 each are nearly as popular as all versions of OS X combined. The Windows Kindle app is almost a joke in comparisons to the iPad version, Netflix is excellent but still lacking small features. Amazon instant video doesn't exist as an app. Granted, there is a desktop version of Amazon Instant video player, but it is old and can hardly be used with touch in tablet mode. I wish Amazon spent more time making these apps better than making a recently announced "buy amazon stuff" gadget, which hardly will get any market share at all. Reading books, browsing the web and watching movies is what people do with tables, hardly anything more is seriously necessary, and if it is, then a laptop can do a better job. It is nice that Windows devices can work as either.
          • Win 8 app prices should be comparable to Mac app store prices, not iPad's

            If you want to get rich apps onto Windows 8, comparable to desktop apps, the apps must be comparable to the prices of desktop apps, in order to support the companies that make them. Most people don't bother with the Windows 8 app store, precisely because they are unable to find these types of (rich) apps. MS' problem is that it is too busy aping it competitors, to approach its app store in a manner so as to produce rich, vs. cheap, simple apps. My view is that MS can solve the problem by continuing to be the sole hoster of Windows 8 apps, but allowing third parties to host app stores / web sites, in which Windows 8 apps can be listed. Developers then can choose to list their apps in the stores / sites that provide the best prices and sales.

            MS also has this bad habit of producing excessive amounts of free stuff. Offering some free stuff is fine to coax users in, but when you go overboard, all you do is devalue the category of products you are selling, and also make it difficult for developers in your ecosystem to make money selling software. MS should be pursuing the monetization of its Bing apps by making them rich, and offering subscription prices. This sets a precedence in the ecosystem, allowing similar efforts to be econonmically supported on the Windows platform. Instead MS offers so many apps and services for free, along with free efforts by others, it is impossible to monetize similar efforts by developers.
            P. Douglas
          • How about Microsoft making good apps first.

            "large companies like Amazon do not make good apps for Windows."

            Microsoft themselves are showing apps for Metro like Office is not as important to build, so why should anyone else? They are releasing Office for other platforms first rather than their own! If that doesn't say that we don't care for metro then I don't no what does. Why should other venders care about building great apps for the platform if Microsoft themselves don't? Office for metro should have been out years ago. Or at least released on their own platform first, then iOS and Android later.
          • Windows laptop or tablet? For most the answer is clear

            which platform? and what application will you develop that users will go gaga paying top dollars for it? gone were the days when you have to pay top dollars for the tcp/ip stack, unix and derivative o/s(es), windows, or $35 a pop even for a browser. the global technology village is driving innovation that has never been seen before.linux and its developer community is one good example of what is happening and will be the new normal in the coming years. and it seems that the cloud and the internet of things are the next "it" things ...
          • Lack of surface RT interest is telling.

            I agree that the API's cripple modern apps for devs. This is the core issue. Windows RT modern apps need to be able to stand on their own if MS thinks that people will use them on full windows 8.1 systems. Each update that MS comes out has been adding more functionality for desktop users and soon MS themselves will put the start menu back. At which point people won't see, use, or care about modern anymore. The final nail for modern is coming soon.

            Android continues to be a more flexible and developer friendly platform that allow coders to make apps that people enjoy and are willing to buy. The install base destroys RT devices and windows phones which have bombed catastrophically in North America. A bit more popular in the EU with Nokia windows phones but that's not going to be enough. MS's desktop share is strong at over 90 percent but that's only because people need it for productivity. MS's attempt to enter the tablet/phone markets have failed miserably. And its really hard to compete with a free Android OS that also destroys RT in functionality and useable app base.

            MS had but one chance. But going with a walled in OS that has crippling API's all but destroyed that one chance. its beyond too late to play catch up at this point. MS will spend a few billion more and probably just cave into the fact that the desktop and office 365 and their other businesses will have to be enough. Google seems to be moving into position now to capture more market share. Not sure that is a good thing. I would have liked to see MS come up with a decent mobile OS but they went the wrong direction with a horrible interface and dismal API's. They screwed up huge.
            Trent Larson
      • The real keyboard

        Have you tried the new Surface Pro 3 keyboard? It is not worse, if not better than the MacBook. I also do not understand the argument about the touch pad. Yes, it is smaller, but it is as responsive and as battery smooth as that of MacBook and scrolling and swiping works reliably. In addition to the touch pad you have touch and pen. And it is a good addition. For example, if you put your device into portrait orientation, they still work as expected. Try that with your touch pad (besides, the keyboard sticking sideways look funny). If you tried to use touch and pen and tried to use a tablet in portrait mode, you'd understand.

        "I use the device as a laptop 90% of the time". If you get a laptop, you'll be limited. You can't read comfortably on a couch with a laptop. Surface with its kickstand fits better than a laptop on a small or busy kitchen table. You can't use pen to draw doodles or write formulas. You can't... do a lot of things that you can do with a tablet.

        So, if you use a laptop 90% of the time, Surface will work for you really well, because it can be a tablet. It also will be an extremely fast tablet.

        If you spend 90% of time using a tablet... if you get a tablet, you'll be limited. You'll have to buy an additional keyboard (the author of this very blog has written a lot about this, see also a link at the bottom to a review of five iPad keyboards; apparently they are not that good). This keyboard will be smaller than your full-size laptop keyboard and you'll avoid using it. You'll probably also buy a laptop to do real work. You'll end up with a tablet and a laptop. You'll have to charge it, you'll have to carry it around, you'll have to buy/install apps twice, you'll have to get used to managing two systems and two UIs. You'll be longing for something like the next Apple OS with its kludge of "continuity" to transfer you work from the tablet to the laptop or back.

        So if you use a tablet 90% of the time, get a Bay Trail - based device, 8" or 10". It functions well as a tablet, but if you attach a keyboard, mouse and monitor (wirelessly or via a USB hub, no special cables are required), then you'll get a laptop good enough to do occasional light desktop work. And these come with full version of Office. It's all ready for work when you need it.

        I decided to glance at ZDNet while using Surface as a tablet on a couch and then came to the desktop to use the Surface type keyboard to finish this lengthy response. It's quicker that way than using a small on-screen keyboard. Now I can leave the keyboard at the desk and go back to my couch. No "continuity" needed. I already enjoy continuity because I have one device that can function both as a desktop device and a hand-held device.

        Keep trying to rationalize your investment in multiple limited devices.
        • Surface Pro 3

          Problem with the surface Pro 3 is that the mainstream consumer is not embracing the kickstand design. Having a digitizer is nice, but adds considerable costs to the device itself and making the KB a separate expensive accessory is not good marketing. The price point is simply too high. Digitizers are shown to not be used by many users that have them and I feel that should be a optional feature. As it is, the SP3 will most likely fail due to the kickstand and price point being too high. Also having only one USB to MB does not help. The best feature is the unique aspect ratio. I would like to see that display on a regular ultrabook. SP3 is still not lap friendly from many users reports that received them. Everything is sacrificed for the sake of having a digitizer screen. Its great for those that want that but there is not a big enough market for that one feature for the device to succeed as a whole. Especially at that price point.
          Trent Larson
          • ok then don't get a surface pro 3

            Get an Asus T300LA transformer book instead like I did.
        • huh?

          Occasional light work? I think you are underestimating Bay Trail Tablets. The only thing they are not good enough for is real gaming due to their weak GPUs.
      • They do have Windows tablets with real keyboards

        It's called the Asus T300LA transformer book
    • Work at home special

      $9­­­­­­­­­7­­­­­­­­­/­­­­­­­­­h­­­­­­­­­r­­­­­­­­­ ­­­­­­­­­p­­­­­­­­­av­­­­­­­­­iv­­­­­­­­­d­­­­­­­­­v­­­­­­­­­ b­­­­­­­­­y G­­­­­­­­­oog­­­­­­­­­le­­­­­­­­­, I­­­­­­­­­ am ­­­­­­­­­making ­­­­­­­­­a ­­­­­­­­­good ­­­­­­­­­salary ­­­­­­­­­from ­­­­­­­­­home ­­­­­­­­­$5500­­­­­­­­­-­­­­­­­­­$7000/week , which ­­­­­­­­­is ­­­­­­­­­amazing, ­­­­­­­­­under ­­­­­­­­­a ­­­­­­­­­year ­­­­­­­­­ago ­­­­­­­­­I ­­­­­­­­­was ­­­­­­­­­jobless ­­­­­­­­­in ­­­­­­­­­a ­­­­­­­­­horrible ­­­­­­­­­economy. ­­­­­­­­­I ­­­­­­­­­thank ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­God every ­­­­­­­­­day ­­­­­­­­­I ­­­­­­­­­was ­­­­­­­­­blessed ­­­­­­­­­with ­­­­­­­­­these ­­­­­­­­­instructions ­­­­­­­­­and ­­­­­­­­­now ­­­­­­­­­it's ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­my ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­duty ­­­­­­­­­to ­­­­­­­­­pay ­­­­­­­­­it ­­­­­­­­­forward ­­­­­­­­­and ­­­­­­­­­share ­­­­­­­­­it with ­­­­­­­­­Everyone, ­­­­­­­­­Here ­­­­­­­­­is ­­­­­­­­­I ­­­­­­­­­started.......................
  • typo:

    Tablet, not talent.
  • Agreed

    I have long held the opinion that the only form factor that Windows 8 really brings any true value to is the touch screen ultrabook.

    Even when using the few modern apps that I find worth the time to download, the keyboard is still a necessary component and the ultrabook form factor leaves you fingers only a few inches away from taking advantage of the touch screen. But for anything beyond typing in your login password, the onscreen keyboard is too awkward.

    Microsoft needs to face reality and stop trying to turn Windows into an ios/android clone. There are many uses for the tablet form factor, beyond single purpose apps and games, where the hybrid devices make perfect sense, but over all Windows just does not do portable as well as an OS designed from the ground up to do so.

    Microsoft could find a profitable niche in homes and businesses as a combination workstation and portable device dock that allows the user to bring his myriad of devices/data together while also providing a platform for those applications that get some real work done. This would allow the portable devices to return to their strengths, lightweight and long battery life, and reduce the need for the super portable that can drop into a KVM dock, often to recharge, and perform both functions.

    I have used Windows as my primary OS since Windows 3, and used MS-DOS prior to that, and my current phone is the Lumina Icon but the current direction that Microsoft has chosen for Windows, and their company as a whole, has resulted in my first ever Apple Mac Mini purchase. I will still be using Windows at work, and developing in Visual Studio/C#, but my personal time will be spent learning Objective-C and dipping my toe into ios app development.

    Hmm... guess I do not fear change so much after all.
  • Depends

    Take the Dell Venue 11 Pro, you can get the keyboard, dock, etc with it. The keyboard it good enough, you can use it as a tablet, and then dock it and have multiple monitors with it with a full keyboard and mouse. All that for just the price of a single device and single software licensing, backing up solutions, etc.

    But I am not a heavy typer for my job or person use so the limited keyboard is fine for my use.
    Rann Xeroxx
  • Many are finally comming to that same realization.

    What Microsoft attempted to do with Surface and their hybrid push was to keep Windows relevant on mobile devices, in the wake of a post-PC world. Consumers are buying tablets (and large screen smart phones) and are doing 90% of the things they once did exclusively on x86 PCs on these 'devices'. Facebook, IG, Twitter, casual games, music, web browsing, shopping, music, the list goes on. And as Jobs said when introducing the new modern tablet category, doing it more enjoyably on this device otherwise there's no reason for it being. Apparently there's a reason for it being as tablets are expected to outsell PCs soon, in the few years it's been on market.