Windows 8 brought with it a focus on a new type of device: the laptop-tablet hybrid. These “convertibles” could loosely be described as tablets with a keyboard dock. Unlike an iPad though, these hybrids run full-fledged Windows just like you would on any notebook PC.
The concept itself is quite cool and one that I believe will be the future of computing. A single operating system for your computer, which can switch back and forth between being a proper desktop OS when used with a keyboard/trackpad combo and a touch-friendly mobile OS when used as a standalone tablet.
In the recent past, I’ve tested hybrids running Android, Windows 8, as well as dual-booting between Windows and Android. The HP Pavilion 11 x2 is the latest on the block and while it’s a cool device, I can’t help but feel that the current crop of these hybrids falls short of the mark.
As I have previously noted, Windows 8 isn’t yet ready for a touchscreen interface, so the “tablet” functionality of a hybrid is limited. Android isn’t yet ready to be as robust a desktop operating system as Windows, so the “notebook” functionality of the hybrid is limited. And dual-booting between Windows and Android is the proverbial Jack of all trades, master of none. The problem isn’t just software though.
To make a great hybrid, it should work perfectly as a tablet and as a notebook. However, hybrid PCs at the moment usually have chunky and large tablets (over 11 inches screen size, minimum) and thick keyboard bases. So the “notebook” unit feels heavy, while the tablet is a bit thicker than one would like. The combination isn’t bad, but it’s nowhere near as good as having a great tablet or a great notebook. Plus, Intel’s mobile processors for these tablets have not yet struck the right balance between good battery life and good performance—you only get one of the two. It’s a middling compromise.
Usually there is nothing wrong with a compromise, but here, there is one factor: price. At the moment, decent hybrid computers don’t come for less than Rs 40,000. For that price, you could pick up a decent laptop and a decent tablet separately, which will both do a better job as individual devices than the hybrid’s convertible promise.
That “2 for the price of 1” promise, though, makes a lot of sense and is the direction both hardware and software companies seem to be headed. Software guys are increasingly looking at a “one platform to rule them all” solution, like Microsoft’s Windows 8. It hasn’t yet delivered, but the idea is right. Similarly, Apple seems to be converging on the hardware front, as the iPad Air treads on the MacBook’s toes.
Right now, the hybrid PC doesn’t make much sense to buy because you are better served by a dedicated tablet and another dedicated laptop. But in the near future, as hardware and software gets better, you’ll wonder why you ever had two different gadgets.