Does the Windows 8 hybrid overcomplicate a simple problem?

5 Dec 2012

I'm not sure exactly when I lost patience with Microsoft and Windows 8 -- most likely when using the Surface for the first time. It's always been an OS with a split personality, but from the start we were promised the hardware would make it all seem natural. It would innovate, the OS ushering in a new era of mobile computing.

With a few exceptions - touchscreen Ultrabooks are undoubtedly cool - the new era hasn't started well.

"It's definitely as good as a hybrid gets right now," proclaims one of our reviews team, of a Dell hybrid laptop with a screen that swivels round within its bezel. The comment was meant as a positive, but it's hard not to see it as summing up the first wave of hybrids.

Don't see what I mean? Here's the latest release from Gigabyte, looking every bit like it's fresh out of 2004.

What is a hybrid device, really? It can be used as a laptop, but it's invariably fatter and heavier than a standard laptop; it can be used as a tablet, but it's invariably... fatter and heavier than a standard tablet. We're even seeing 13in hybrids, where flipping to tablet mode gives you a bloated brick of a device that would have any arm aching within minutes. The hybrid compromises in both directions, and at prices that look ridiculous next to the competition.

For consumers, Microsoft gave it a good crack with the Surface, even if the final product didn't exactly have me whipping out my wallet. The key point is that the Surface is a detachable hybrid, a thin, light and portable tablet with bonus thin, light and portable keyboard. There's a good reason why the Asus Transformer range is pretty much the only Android hybrid that's sold in numbers: detachable is the format that - for me at least - just about works.

But the big problem with this wave is the focus. Microsoft wants Windows 8 to appeal to consumers, but I can't get past the conclusion that hybrid devices are for business. Businesses are the only ones who were buying those ghastly Windows 7 slates for years, and businesses are the group of users that routinely needs the twin delights of a hybrid device.

For the average high street shopper, a £400 laptop and a £169 Nexus 7 will do everything a hybrid can do for half the price - and most probably at a lower weight. Failing that, buy a touchscreen laptop and see how often you even miss tablet mode.

Am I wrong? Is there a type of consumer that's just been waiting for a convertible device that will do everything? Or will we look back in a year's time and wonder what on earth all those crazy hybrids were about?

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