The latest in laptop hybrids

After the childlike enthusiasm emanating around the office on the Surface RT’s launch back in October last year, things have gone a little flat. We knew it was a really good form factor that declared itself as a genuine productivity tool; it just needed to be able to run some core applications such as Outlook, Sage, and our CRM client. Being able to bind it to a domain would also mean that the fundamental compromise of using a tablet to date would be removed.

So by now I was hoping to have inflicted the Surface Pro on our more mobile staff in Sales and Account Management. Ignoring the terrible battery life, this seems endemic of all mobile technology at the moment, I truly believe that for an individual wanting a tablet instead of a traditional notebook and wants to do more than browse the internet and read emails on the go or play Happy Street, then Microsoft’s premium tablet is the one. But where is it? December brought the RT to the UK but no Pro. Christmas came and went with Microsoft announcing that the Pro’s European release would be postponed until February. That deadline came and went too. We are now at the end of March and it is still “Coming soon”. . .

There are reports abound that the Surface Pro is suffering terrible sales figures; only 400,000 since its US launch. It has only been a month and a half since it was released in the US and Canada, and that is a pretty big number in my opinion. But it pales in comparison to the 22,900,000 iPads that were sold in Q4 of 2012. But this is basically me just regurgitating numbers and using you as a means of exorcising my duress and not being able to embrace some techno joy (it is not that I am angry, it is that I am disappointed).

So what are the alternatives to getting a Surface Pro? I am not going to be touching on anything IOS or Android related, these are not alternatives as they simply don’t fulfil that basic necessity to have Outlook (and indeed MS Office in general), be able to run core line of business applications and ideally be bound to a domain. I must stress I haven’t used these, so I am not going to be offering anything other than observation and make no reference to their usability – because I have no personal experience.


Laptop Hybrid

Sony VAIO Duo 11

Operating System: Windows 8 Pro
Display: 11.6inch, 16:9, 1920×1080
Processor: Intel Core i5-3337U @ 1.8GHz
Storage: 256GB
Form Factor: Slider
Battery Life: 6.5 hours
Weight: 1.35kg
RRP: £1272.00 incl. VAT

The VAIO Duo is an ultrabook with an inverted lid where the screen is on the outside. This means that when it is closed it can be used as a tablet. It is nominally lighter than a standard ultraportable notebook, and is, in my opinion, really expensive. VAIO advocates will accept this as par for the course, but the list price above can, with a bumped up processor and hard drive, max out at over £1500, that is nearly double the cost of an HP Elitebook 2570p, which has the same spec but minus the touchscreen. It will look much cooler on a table in your local coffee house however


Laptop Hybrid

Lenovo Yoga 13

Operating System: Windows 8 Pro
Display: 11.6inch, 16:9, 1600×900
Processor: Intel Core i7-3537U @ 2.00GHz
Storage: 256GB
Form Factor: Ultrabook
Battery Life: 8 hours
Weight: 1.47kg
RRP: £999.99 incl. VAT

Now I have no idea why, but in the US this machine has a 13.3inch screen and is 154g, in the UK it has an 11.6inch screen and is 147g. While it is a long held belief that “everything is bigger in America”, I am not sure this extends to products made in China and exported to various regions. Regardless, I love this machine. With a more powerful processor and improved battery performance over the Sony, the Yoga is better spec’d and cheaper.  Its party trick is that it is in essence a traditional ultrabook, however the screen can flip 360degrees thus turning it into a tablet. And you can get it in orange. I am not entirely convinced at the prospect of leaving the keyboard exposed on the underside, but it is certainly a unique approach to the hybrid challenge. And you can get it in orange.


Laptop Hybrid

HP Envy X2

Operating System: Windows 8
Display: 11.6inch, 16:9, 1366×768
Processor: Intel Atom Z2760 @1.8Ghz
Storage: 64GB
Form Factor: Hybrid Tablet
Battery Life: 14 hours (slate mode 4.5)
Weight: 1.41kg (Slate mode 0.71kg)
RRP: £799 incl. VAT

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and to look at, Apple must be so appreciative of how much time HP has invested in making what looks like a MacBook Air clone. But this is no MacBook. The Envy X2 positions itself as a tablet (or in HP’s case “a Slate”), rather than a notebook. The reason for this becomes apparent when you look at the specs; one would be insane to spend £800 for a mediocre notebook, but as Apple has proven, insanity never stopped people spending nearly that much on a tablet. It only comes with the Home version of Windows 8, and while conceptually you could upgrade it to the professional version, there are no official drivers for Pro. It does have an excellent battery life when connected to the keyboard though (thanks largely to the mediocre but efficient processor). And the ability to disconnect the keyboard when you want to use it as a tablet, sorry Slate, yields definite weight benefits. This device is pitched at the more consumer end of the market however.


Laptop Hybrid

Toshiba Satellite U920T

Operating System: Windows 8 Pro
Display: 12.5 inch, 16:9, 1366×768
Processor: Intel Core i5-3317U @ 1.70GHz
Storage: 128GB
Form Factor: Slider
Battery Life: 5 hours (estimated)
Weight: 1.52kg
RRP: £1210.80 incl. VAT

Due to its form factor and price, the U920T is in direct competition to Sony’s Duo. On the face of it, the Duo has to be the winner, it has a better screen, better design aesthetic, it is smaller and lighter and it isn’t brown. However, the build quality of Toshiba’s Satellite range is consistently high quality, something that one cannot really say with a straight face in regards to the VAIO range. 1.52kg is also quite a weight for a tablet. While as a notebook it is perfectly acceptable, as one generally rests a notebook on a flat surface, a tablet needs to be able to be comfortably wielded in one hand leaving your other free to point at the screen while you shout “look what I have got!”

As our MD pointed out in his blog on the Surface RT, one of the selling points is its lack of weight being one of its endearing qualities. The Surface Pro is 910g, and an iPad is about 660g so 1.52kg is a lot to consider.

In Summary

You will notice that none of the devices above are pure Windows 8 Pro tablets. This is simply because there aren’t any on the market. This again is probably a by-product of the delays the Surface Pro is experiencing. If Microsoft can’t release their flagship product you can bet it isn’t going to let its rivals OEM partners release their products. Lenovo has delayed their Thinkpad Helix until the Spring. Dell has updated XPS tablets ready for launch and Samsung’s ATIV could easily handle a Pro version. It is time for Microsoft to get its act together otherwise the Windows 8 tablet market is doomed.


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