Updated 19 May, 2013, 5:16 pm IST
Sliders, Twisters and Swivels: The Many Faces of Windows 8
| by Jamshed Avari
It’s becoming a lot more difficult to buy laptops these days. In addition to worrying about the usual specifications, users now have to decide whether they want touchscreens, Ultrabooks or maybe even hybrid convertibles. In fact, it’s becoming difficult to define what a laptop is, and where the line between laptops and tablets is drawn, since manufacturers seem intent on producing devices that can fill both roles. Luckily, we’ve had the chance to test all these new devices in our lab over the past few weeks and we’ve been able to discover what each one is best suited for. All these new products have obvious strengths and weaknesses, and are meant for different people who will use them in different situations. So if you’re out shopping for a laptop or (Windows-based) tablet at the moment, here’s a sampling of what you’ll find out there.
This form factor is best exemplified by Microsoft’s Surface and Surface Pro, which aren’t available in India yet. However, we do have other options, including the Dell Latitude 10. We might also see the Acer Iconia W7 and Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2 launching soon. The main advantage here seems to be cost: simple rectangles are relatively easy to manufacture and there are no keyboards, touchpads or other extras to factor in. They’re also highly portable and tend to have active digitisers so you can use a stylus for handwriting recognition and precise cursor tracking. On the downside, they’re usually larger and heavier, and their batteries don’t last half as long. Third-party wired or wireless keyboards will be available, and there’s always Bluetooth. Dock accessories tend to be nothing more than simple stands with maybe a few full-sized ports to let you plug peripherals in.
Dell's Latitude 10 tablet is full-fledged Windows 8 computer and is relatively affordable too
When compared to non-Windows tablets such as the iPad line and Android models, you have the advantages of being able to run common desktop software in addition to apps, plug in any USB device and manage files the way you’re used to. When compared to laptops or hybrids, they are potentially cheaper but less powerful and less comfortable to use.
Tablets with keyboard docks
Representing the first step towards convergence, these tablets work with keyboard docks and can usually be folded into a laptop-like shape when required to. The docks aren’t necessarily sold with the tablets, so costs will vary from model to model. These tablets can be used perfectly well without the keyboard docks so you can choose to prioritise weight over typing comfort when travelling. Since the motherboard, processor and battery are all in the tablet unit rather than the base, these devices can be top-heavy. Reaching over to tap the screen will make the entire unit wobble despite having a tough hinge. The base might include a few more expansion ports and an additional battery.
You can leave the keyboard base behind when you don't need the extra ports and battery capacity
Obviously a clamshell will add to a tablet’s weight and bulk, but there’s nothing quite like the comfort of a full physical keyboard. Since the tablet can be used independently, users have greater flexibility. It’s also worth noting that there is no industry-wide standard for connecting such tablets and docks, and even manufacturers aren’t sticking to the same clasps and connectors from model to model. The two halves of a device are designed to be used only with each other, so today’s accessory won’t necessarily work with next year’s tablet, and vice versa.
Examples of these products are Samsung’s Ativ line, Asus’ VivoTab series, HP’s Envy x2 etc. We’re particularly looking forward to Lenovo’s ThinkPad Helix, which can be docked into its keyboard shell facing either way. Both Windows 8 and Windows RT devices are available in such avatars.
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