The problem with hybrids -- it's the tablet

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
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.

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