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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Hybrid PCs take centre stage

Microsoft hopes that the new touchscreen hybrids running on Windows 8 will spark off new love for a whole new generation of hybrid devices.
The Straits Times - September 5, 2012
By: Oo Gin Lee
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Hybrid PCs take centre stage The Toshiba Satellite U920t tablet notebook was one of the many new hybrid devices on show at the IFA tech show in Berlin last week. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

It's a laptop. It’s a tablet. No, it’s a Windows 8 hybrid.

PC makers showed up in full force at the IFA tech show last week in Berlin and unveiled their many different iterations of laptop convertibles and dockable tablets running on the upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

Due to launch at the end of next month, many of these upcoming Windows 8 machines will function as both a laptop and tablet in a single device.

Some existing Android tablets have already tried to do this, adding keyboard docks to tablets to transform themselves into laptops when needed. But Android and the Apple iOS are, at heart, designed for the touchscreen interface and not the mouse and keyboard experience which is the trademark of Windows PCs.

With the introduction of touchscreens and a new Windows 8 user interface which is finger-swiping friendly with large tiles, Microsoft hopes to spread its hegemony in the PC space to the tablet space, where it is embarrassingly almost non-existent right now.

Microsoft hopes that the new touchscreen hybrids running on Windows 8 will spark off new love for a whole new generation of hybrid devices. There are tablets with detachable keyboard docks, such as the HP Envy x2; tablets with a writing stylus, such as the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro; laptops such as the Dell Duo 12, which has a screen that can be flipped over to face the person you are talking to; and even the Asus Taichi – a laptop with two screens.

For tech writers and gadget lovers, these are exciting times. But the challenge is whether the practical Singaporean consumer will part with extra cash to get new hybrids which will cost more than regular tablets or laptops. In price-conscious Singapore, the most popular laptop segment here has consistently been in the sub-$1,000 price range.

A second challenge is bulk. Replacing a normal screen with a touchscreen adds an extra 200 to 500g to the weight of the machine. At a time when ultrabooks are heralding the move to slimmer and lighter models, Windows 8 threatens to reverse the trend  somewhat and PC makers will have to innovate to keep the extra heft in check.

This is less of a problem for users who are getting laptops as desktop replacements but for many who want to tuck their laptops under their arms as they rush off to the next meeting, every extra ounce will make a difference.

Some of the early units I have seen just feel too heavy. It’s not just the extra grams being added to the hybrid. Adding a keyboard dock to a tablet usually creates an unequal distribution of weight in the device, with the hinge side becoming a lot heavier than the other end of the machine.

The one hybrid I have been impressed with, so far, is the Acer S7. Despite having a touchscreen, this 13.3-inch laptop weighs a lithe 1.2kg. More importantly, the screen is still very slim, like a typical thin-and-light laptop and not thick like a tablet.

Acer is also adding new technology which stiffens the hinge when the laptop is opened beyond 100 degrees to prevent the device from tipping over should you poke at the screen with excessive force.

The S7 works for me because it adds the extra touchscreen feature without compromising its primary function as a skinny laptop. And that is what PC makers must not forget as they unleash their innovations into the new world of hybrids.

At the end of the day, the new devices must still be best in their primary role of being a content-creating laptop or a content-consuming tablet.

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