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Microsoft's Surface wasn't an instant hit when the first version launched back in 2012. But the company was soon able to crow 'I told you so' as the sheer convenience of a device that used a detachable keyboard to instantly switch between tablet and laptop modes proved hard to resist for many users.
The entire PC industry jumped on the bandwagon, with all of the top-tier manufacturers releasing their own detachable Surface clones. Even Apple executed a screeching U-turn as it released the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in direct response to the success of the Surface.
In recent years, Microsoft has continued to extend the Surface range, so that it now encompasses the affordable Surface Laptop for home and education users, the Surface Pro for general productivity apps, and the high-end Surface Book that delivers serious performance for professional design and graphics work. So, as Microsoft launches the new Surface Book 2 in the UK, here's our guide to the current contenders for the detachable tablet throne.
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As the 'Alpha' name suggests, the Switch Alpha 12 is Acer's top-dog detachable. It's still competitively priced, though, starting at around £600 for a model with a Core i3 processor.
Even the high-end model shown here costs less than £1000 ($800) with a dual-core Core i7-6500U processor running at 2.5GHz (3.1GHz with TurboBoost), 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. The 12-inch display provides 2,160 by 1,440 resolution (216.33ppi), while the compact design means that the Switch Alpha 12 measures just 16mm thick, and weighs only 1.25kg with its keyboard attached.
Despite its powerful processor, the Switch Alpha 12 runs cool and quiet, thanks to its fan-less design, which uses a liquid cooling system to disperse heat via a 'liquid loop' that runs around the base of the unit.
The low cost does involve some compromises, though, with Acer only quoting a maximum of eight hours battery life. Connectivity isn't great either, with just one USB 3.0 and one USB-C port, and a MicroSD card slot.
Strictly speaking, the iPad Pro is a tablet rather than a detachable device, as it's sold on its own, with Apple's Smart Keyboard stinging you for £169 ($169) extra. Even so, this 12.9-inch model is a good option for users who are already using other Apple devices, and services such as iCloud for backup and file synchronisation.
Prices start at around £800 ($800) for a model with 64GB of storage, although we'd recommend the mid-range model, which provides 256GB for £765.83 (ex. VAT; £919 inc. VAT, or $949).
The 12.9-inch tablet measures just 7mm thick and weighs 0.67kg (or 1kg with the Smart Keyboard), so it's certainly light enough to carry around easily when travelling. The 2,732 by 2,048 (264ppi) display is extremely bright and clear, and Apple's A10X processor packs enough power to handle even demanding tasks such as graphics and video-editing, along with productivity tools such as the iOS version of Microsoft Office.
The iPad Pro's 10-hour battery life is welcome but, as always with Apple, expansion and connectivity is poor, being limited to just the proprietary Lightning connector.
£765.83 (ex. VAT; £919 inc. VAT) / iPad with 256GB
$949 / iPad with 256GB
Dell sells its Latitude tablets on their own, or in bundled packages that include both a keyboard and stylus. And, following some recent price cuts, Dell UK is offering this mid-range Latitude 5290 bundle comprising a 12.3-inch tablet equipped with a quad-core Core i5-8350U running at 1.7GHz (up to 3.6GHz with TurboBoost), 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive for £1,389 (ex. VAT).
The display is relatively modest, though, offering just 1,920 by 1,280 resolution (187.6ppi); it's also bigger and heavier than the slimline Latitude 7285, weighing in at 0.86kg and 10.6mm thick just for the tablet alone (and 1.2kg with the bundled keyboard). The Latitude 5290 also packs a more powerful 42Wh battery that Dell claims will last for up to 19 hours.
However, the key feature of the Latitude 5290 for business users is its comprehensive range of security features. Indeed, Dell proclaims it as "the world's most secure detachable". As well as supporting Intel's VPro technology, the Latitude 5290 supports the US government FIPS 140-2 cryptography standard, TPM 2.0, and Dell's own ControlVault authentication system.
Like Dell's Latitude 5290, the Latitude 7285 can be bought on its own, or with a keyboard -- although in this case, Dell's Productivity Keyboard costs a hefty £240 ($250) as it also includes its own internal battery that can be used to extend the tablet's battery life.
At the time of this review, Dell UK had just cut the cost of the entry-level Latitude 7285 and was offering a bundled package along with the keyboard and a stylus for £1,193.71 (ex. VAT; £1,432.45 inc. VAT -- this configuration isn't currently available in the US).
Dell also claims that the Latitude 7285 is "the world's thinnest and lightest 12-inch" Windows device for business users. The 12.3-inch tablet certainly seems to live up to that claim, weighing just 0.68kg and measuring 7.25mm thick (although the keyboard doubles that weight to 1.36kg).
Despite its compact and slimline design, the Latitude 7285 packs in a dual-core Core i5-7Y54 running at 1.2GHz (up to 3.2GHz TurboBoost), along with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive. The 12.3-inch display provides an impressive 2,880 by 1,920 resolution (281.4ppi), and the tablet section houses two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports for expansion and connectivity.
The tablet's 34Wh battery only lasts for about eight hours, according to Dell, but the 22Wh battery in the keyboard should extend that well past 10 hours.
There are two entry-level models in HP's Elite x2 range, both priced at around £1100 ($1,149) with either Core M or i3 processors. However, the main offering for business users in the UK is a top-of-the-range Core i7 model, which costs £1,479 (ex. VAT; £1,774.80 inc. VAT) in the UK, but isn't currently available in the US.
The Core i7 model is designed to provide desktop levels of performance, with a dual-core Core i7-7600U running at 2.8GHz (up to 3.9GHz with TurboBoost), backed up by an healthy 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid-state drive, as well as 10-hour battery life.
The 12.3-inch display provides 2,736 by 1,824 resolution (267.3ppi), along with stereo speakers designed by Bang & Olufsen. Connectivity is good too, with one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port, one USB 3.0, a MicroSD slot, and a SIM slot for mobile broadband.
HP has managed to squeeze all these features and performance into an ultra-portable design that weighs just 0.8kg for the tablet alone, and only 1.2kg with the keyboard attached.
The latest addition to HP's range of high-end detachables is the ZBook x2, which it proudly proclaims to be the "world's most powerful detachable PC". And, if HP's website is any indication, this 2-in-1 device is aimed squarely at users of Adobe's Creative Cloud software.
The four configurations on HP's US website are specifically aimed at workstation-level tasks such as photography, digital illustration and video editing, with prices starting at $2,279 for the 'entry-level' model, which includes a dual-core Core i7-7500U running at 2.7GHz (up to 3.5GHz with TurboBoost), 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. The 14-inch DreamColor display provides full 4K resolution (3,840 by 2,160, 314.7ppi), and is powered by a discrete nVidia Quadro M620 GPU with 2GB dedicated VRAM.
The large display and high-end hardware mean that the ZBook x2 measures 14.6mm thick and weighs a full 1.65kg in tablet mode, stepping up to 20mm and 2.17kg in laptop mode with the keyboard attached. Even so, that's still a remarkably portable design for a device that offers workstation levels of performance. The size of the unit also means that there's room for a battery that lasts for up to 11 hours.
If you're on a tight budget, then Lenovo's 10-inch, Atom-based Miix 320 starts at less than £300 with Windows 10 Pro, but it's the 12.2-inch Miix 510 that will have most appeal for business users. The Miix 510 is a little heavier than some of its detachable rivals, with the tablet section weighing in at 0.9kg on its own, although the bundled keyboard only brings that up to 1.25kg.
It's well equipped, though, boasting a dual-core Core i7-6500U processor running at 2.5GHz (up to 3.1GHz with TurboBoost), along with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state drive for £957.50 (ex. VAT; £1,149.00 inc. VAT, or $900 in the US, with a Core i5-7200U)
The 12.2-inch display provides 2,160 by 1,440 resolution (212.8ppi), and there are USB-C and USB 3.0 ports, plus a SIM slot for mobile broadband. The only minor disappointment is the relatively modest 7.5 hours of life from the 39Wh battery. Lenovo did demonstrate an updated Miix 630 model at CES, but hasn't announced a released date yet.
$899.99 (with Core i5-7200U)
Microsoft is continuing to set the pace, showing the way for its OEM partners in the detachables market with the latest update to the Surface Book range. The 13.5-inch entry-level Surface Book 2 is relatively conventional, with many rivals -- including the more affordable Surface Pro -- that offer similar specifications. However, it's the new 15-inch model, currently on pre-order here in the UK, that really raises the bar.
The large display is particularly eye-catching, with 3,240 by 2,160 resolution (260ppi) that's ideal for graphics and design work, or mobile presentations. It's backed up by plenty of power too: the three standard 15-inch configurations all share the same quad-core Core i7-8650U processor running at 1.9GHz (up to 4.2GHz with TurboBoost), along with 16GB of RAM, and a powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM for graphics and virtual reality applications. That configuration costs £1,957.50 (ex. VAT; £2,349 inc. VAT or $2,499) with 256GB of solid-state storage. The other two configurations simply increase storage to 512GB or 1TB. However, with two USB 3.1 ports and one USB-C available, it's probably cheaper to opt for an external drive when required.
The size of the screen and the use of a discrete GPU push the weight of this 15-inch model up to 1.9kg, but that's still lighter than many conventional 15-inch laptops. And, with 90Wh of battery capacity (23Wh in the tablet, 67Wh in the keyboard) delivering up to 17 hours of (claimed) battery life, the Surface Book 2 will certainly earn its keep on the road.
If you don't need the 'powerhouse performance' of the Surface Book 2, then the 12.3-inch Surface Pro is a more affordable option for business users who still need to run Windows 10 Pro.
The entry-level model version of the Surface Pro starts at around £800 (inc. VAT), although its Core m3 processor and 4GB of RAM are a little underpowered, so it's worth stepping up to this Core i5 model, priced at £982.50 (ex. VAT; £1,179 inc. VAT, or $1,100). Microsoft doesn't specify the exact processor, but it appears to be a dual-core Core i5-7300U running at 2.6GHz (up to 3.5GHz with TurboBoost), backed up with 8GB memory and 256GB solid-state drive.
That price doesn't include Microsoft's Signature Type keyboard/cover, which costs a hefty £125 (ex. VAT; £150 inc. VAT, or $160), but Microsoft's UK store does run regular offers allowing you to make some modest savings if you select a bundle containing the keyboard, mouse or other accessories.
The slimline design is highly portable, with the tablet section measuring just 8.5mm and weighing 0.7kg on its own. The 2,736 by 1,824 (267ppi) display is bright and colourful, and well suited to graphics work or presentations, and this Core i5 model uses a fan-less cooling system that allows it to run cool and quiet at all times. Battery life is good too, with Microsoft claiming up to 13.5 hours from the 45Wh battery.
Samsung is, of course, the leader in Android smartphones, and it brings some of that expertise to the Windows-based Galaxy Book. The basic specification of the tablet is fairly conventional, with the 12-inch unit measuring 7.4mm thick and weighing 0.72kg when detached from the keyboard. The tablet section houses a dual-core Core i5-7200U running at 2.5GHz (up to 3.1GHz with TurboBoost), with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive.
Samsung's US website only seems to offer configurations running Windows 10 Home, but in the UK you can get a high-end model with Windows 10 Pro and both wi-fi and 4G connectivity for £1,199 (ex. VAT; £1,439 inc. VAT). That price also includes Samsung's S Pen stylus for note-taking and sketching.
There are no surprises here, but the Galaxy Book does share the high-quality display of its smartphone siblings, with an impressively bright and colourful sAMOLED display with 2,160 by 1,440 resolution (216.3ppi). Another key feature is the Samsung Flow app, which syncs files between the Galaxy Book and Samsung smartphones, and makes it an attractive option for business users who are already in the Samsung camp. Battery life for the 12-inch Galaxy Book is around 11 hours.