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Posted on December 5th, 2012 by David Bayon

Does the Windows 8 hybrid overcomplicate a simple problem?

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT

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.

Gigabyte hybrid

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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Posted in: Hardware, Windows 8

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33 Responses to “ Does the Windows 8 hybrid overcomplicate a simple problem? ”

  1. Paul Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I totally agree. Its cool and new vs practicality and ergonomics.

    Its possible one day the materials will be available to make a pocket friendly 500g laptop/tablet all in one with a brilliant keyboard and smooth working OS. And it’ll sell like hotcakes.

    In the meantime a separate laptop / tablet combination works best.

     
  2. JohnAHind Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 10:26 am

    I do not understand the obsession with having a single unit – even the two-part devices couple together mechanically. Years ago we discovered that a separate keyboard and screen was best for desktop computers. I’m convinced that eventually tablets and separate wireless keyboards will supplant laptops in the market place. If you WANT them to couple together just get a portfolio case which holds the tablet on one cover and the keyboard on the other. Keep it simple and stop over-engineering things!

     
  3. TheoB Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Totally agree, and I also think individual user preferences are very important. I bought an iPad beginning of this year and for some things it’s great, but in practice I just use my laptop for everything while my wife uses our iPad (she doesn’t care about managing our small NAS). While a laptop may sometimes feel a bit clunky, the iPad often feels limited enough that I reach for my MacBook Pro anyway.

    Maybe such devices are more suited for use on the road? For home use, what’s wrong with an actual laptop? And I have a MacBook Pro 13″, so it’s not as if I don’t like gadgets…

     
  4. David Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I do agree, and I think they’ve come about because Microsoft has released this new OS which is supposedly great on tablet and conventional computers, and the hardware manufacturers feel that they have to make a device to use these capabilities.

     
  5. JimmyN Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Here’s the problem: what I want is an 11 inch Windows 8 tablet, weighing just more than an iPad, with detachable keyboard, and a Core i5 processor. But it can’t – yet – be done.

    Here’s the current problem:
    - unless you really want Windows 8, you’ll go with an iPad. (Or, perhaps, a 7 or 10 inch Android tablet).
    - those who know they want Windows 8 probably know they don’t want an Atom. If you’re after Windows 8, it’s for a reason – you want to do something which requires horsepower. A netbook-power device won’t do.
    - you simply can’t put a Core i5 in a tablet and keep it thin & light enough & with decent battery life.
    - Windows RT (e.g. Surface) may have a very limited market, among those who want to use Office but know they’ll never want more than that.

    I looked at the ATIV Pro at a trade fair, and it seemed heavy. I think ASUS had something lighter – they have the Transformer heritage to draw on – but I’m not sure it’s seen the light of day. Meanwhile, we’re left with compromises all round.

     
  6. Attig Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Maybe I am just of the old generation. But what is wrong with the traditional convertible Tablet PC? I used to have the HP tc440, which if I remember right, was recommended by this very magazine.

    It was the same size as other laptops, swiveled around, and you could poke it with a pen when you felt like it. I remember finding myself typing with the pen still in my hand as using it straight on the screen was easier than using the trackpad. And to watch a movie, I could just turn the screen around and watch it in cramped places without needing a stand (but need a table, or a lap…)

    What I want, is a 13inch i7 proper laptop (with a GPU inside) that can do everything that my Sony S does within the same size but with a touchscreen that swivels around. At least I won’t have to type with the pen in hand. With all its foibles, I think Wondows 8 could be the ideal OS for that kind of use.

     
  7. Steve Millar Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    I have to say I’m very pleased with my Surface. I’ve got a device that’s light, lasts all day, powerful enough for what I need it for and I’ve got the Type keyboard for when I need it.

    Obviously I understand the restrictions of RT, but I’ve got an i5 laptop running Windows 7 & 8 for when the Surface isn’t enough.

    Once they get a proper Skydrive app and/or a working 3G dongle, I’m made up!

     
  8. Mike Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    I have come to the same conclusion; I don’t need a Windows 8 Hybrid!

    In most cases you may as well have a light tablet (iPad etc) and a standard Ultrabook. This will cover all your needs for less money and with fewer compromises.

    Windows 8 RT is just noise in an already cluttered market so I can’t see how it will gain traction. It is telling that Apple have not tried to bring out a hybrid device as I suspect they worked out, with current technology, it is just not good enough!

     
  9. Simon Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Yep, you’re wrong … I want one and, if I can find a good one, I’ll pay a premium price if necessary. That doesn’t mean that a lack of overall demand won’t kill off this line of devices though, it just means that there’s at least one person (me) who really wants a good hybrid device.

    Also, what’s the real problem with Windows 8? I don’t get it … so much negative comment but most of it is emotional comment which can usually be translated into, “I don’t like it.” Not enough of the, “You can’t run program x or there’s no native IMAP client.” The IMAP thingy is my only gripe. Beyond that I now work faster and smarter than ever before.

    I’m not claiming that it’s not the disaster that so many folks claim/wish, I just want to know why because I haven’t noticed the problem yet.

     
  10. Bill Maslen Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    As one who uses an iPad with a (Logitech) keyboard almost all the time, I have to agree with Paul that a bit of lateral thinking is required. I love the idea of the Asus S200 with its touch screen – if you already use a tablet, any reservations about touch screens on keyboard-toting laptops tend to melt away very swiftly as you find yourself dabbing hopelessly at your non-touch notebook screen. On the other hand I hate the idea of a notebook with a rotating screen – as you say, heavy, bulky: so pre-2004. Best of both worlds, perhaps: touch-screen notebook alongside tablet, would be my dream team. Plus a gigantic 27″ monitor with more-than-HD resolution (difficult to find!). Perfick!

     
  11. Peter Stacey Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    As a recent convert to using a tablet (Nexus 7) I’ve come to realise that tablets and laptops serve different purposes. The tablet’s main usefulness is it’s extreme portability. It is mainly useful for ‘consuming media’ and for quickly carrying out simple tasks.
    A laptop is much better for doing real work. I like to have both, but I don’t want to have them tied to each other!

    By the way does anyone remember the Microsoft tablet PC from 2006? (thought not!)

     
  12. Mike Baldwinb Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    They all need a new concept.
    Try this instead.
    Take 1no laser holoprojector.
    see (http://lightblueoptics.com) for reference.
    add 1no small computer the size of the forthcoming ouya game console.
    add 1 ssd and blend :-)
    The device would project win8 onto any surface be it big or small…maybe even use the family cat or dog, providing you could get it to sit still for long enough.

     
  13. Damian Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    “’m not sure exactly when I lost patience with Microsoft and Windows 8 — most likely when using the Surface for the first time”

    - I stopped reading there. If my girlfriend, who dislikes most techie things, can easily use the Surface then what on earth is the issue here?

    P.s. I’ve owned a whole load of convertibles and seeing my boss with his iPad cracks me up every single time… He’s also got one of those add-on iPad keyboards. Oh the irony

     
  14. Damian Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    P.s. “Surface is a detachable hybrid” – Then so are ALL Android tablets along with the iPad. The moment you add a keyboard… .

    http://www.logitech.com/en-gb/product/solar-keyboard-folio?crid=1325

     
  15. gavmeister Says:
    December 5th, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    showing a picture of the *worst* hybrid on the market doesn’t prove anything. there are always useless examples of every form factor. what matters is whether best one works.

     
  16. gavmeister Says:
    December 6th, 2012 at 12:23 am

    I agree with Bayon that you don’t need hybrid, you just need a touchscreen laptop where you don’t touch the screen a huge amount – so have a decent gesture trackpad as well. Apple are wrong. you heard it here first.

    The Verge (the US’s new PC Pro usurper!) agrees:
    http://www.theverge.com/2012/11/30/3710900/gorilla-arm-touchscreen-laptop-windows-8-apple

     
  17. winniethewoo Says:
    December 6th, 2012 at 10:21 am

    I agree that hybrids are useless. I ran a windows tablet (lenovo x41t) back in the day as a consumer because it sounded cool. It was used as a laptop 95% of the time.. The tablet functionality as a consumer emailing / websurfing / doing the occasional spread sheet was worthless.

    I now use an IPad and regular laptop and find this combination to be extremely useful. When working, I now have a seperate screen to read documents or how to guides on the net when fixing the laptop. As the ipad is so thin and light it gets used for 90% of my leisure computing (watching bbc iplayer, random surfing in the toilet, bedtime reading on kindle etc), with my laptop becoming mainly a work machine.

    MS at least understand this and are trying to push convertible products that will do both successfully (surface and detachable keyboard) Frankly as a consumer I havent come across a situation where I needed the functionality of both in one machine.

    Perhaps this concepts day will come when portable chips provide the sleek profiles of todays mobile chips but the power of intel core i5.

     
  18. richierace Says:
    December 6th, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    I think the hybrid is looking to answer a question that doesn’t really exist. Win8 can do two things but trying to do both in one device seems like overkill whilst power computing and portable computing technologies are poles apart. Once there is a divergence and the power computing components are reduced in size and power consumption then maybe it will be plausible but until then I think there is another option worth exploring.

    What they should be looking at doing is creating dual devices that can work together seemlessly, i.e. a tablet and a desktop, laptop or netbook.

    You could use the tablet as an input for the other device in certain ways, i.e. with a stylus for handwriting or gesture control. It would also double up for content consumption, web browsing and having a second (or even third) screen if you didn’t have one.

    Imagine the possibilities of gaming if the desktop/laptop could provide the grunt and the tablet the touch controls or additional screens for inventories, maps or quest objectives.

    I’m not sure how you’d be able to link the two O/S’s or even if just having one device that docked into the other to get more power or battery life would be viable but having seen the Wii U in action I’d hope someone tries to take that concept into the home computing market and with Win8 having both elements it would appear to be the likely place to start with the idea.

    Whether it’s implemented competently is another matter…

     
  19. winniethewoo Says:
    December 6th, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Although I don’t think technology is at the point where hybrid convertibles can be made usefully thin and light, a touch enabled laptop DOES sound like a good idea.

    I would love to be able to zoom in and out of documents and move / resize windows with touch on my laptop. Imagine pinching and zooming a document to the right size rather than clicking VIEW > ZOOM > 75%… then finding that doesn’t work so doing VIEW > ZOOM > 50% and finding that doesn’t work either and having to manually type 64% in a box somewhere. I seem to do this 10 times a day when reading PDF’s and its V irritating.

    I wonder if you can pinch zoom using Windows 8 and Acrobat now?!

     
  20. Vishwamax Says:
    December 7th, 2012 at 5:19 am

    1. For anyone more than a casual user, a hybrid is a dream device. Take my case. I’m a sales manager. I often travel and I like to travel light. On flights and trains, I long for a tablet (Making do with Android phone now a days) but I do not want to carry three gadgets (A 4.5″ phone+A laptop+A tablet). So if I can have a detachable tablet, I’ll be in heaven because I can consume while travelling and appear pro in business pitches. My hybrid needs to do heavy data crunching on Excel and perform decently with CAD while must be light enough to be held for long in one hend while in tablet mode.
    Having said that I do not see enough devices geared to do the job. In the present lot of announced hybrids, only ASUS Transformer Book & Samsung Ativ Pro 700T fit the bill. But one lacks pen support and another has limited disk space & battery. Weight and heating shall be an issue with x86 processor hybrids till the time Haswell SOC is launched.
    Till that time users shall have to chooose between either design and performance.

     
  21. Johny Says:
    December 7th, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    If anyone does not like hybrid devices that’s fine but Windows 8 is a fantastic OS. Its easy to use and fast and can even make low power PCs come back to life.

     
  22. Brian Says:
    December 7th, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    I agree with Johnny that Windows 8 is a fantastic OS and people need to learn how to use it instead of crying about useless lost Start buttons.
    @winniethewoo: Ever heard of zoom to width, zoom to height, zoom to page, etc.? One click and your document fits the width, there is no need for manually entering values.
    I really like the idea of a touchscreen laptop too, until a Windows Surface Pro type device comes along with a decent battery life (min 8hrs). iPads and Android tablets are great for “fun”, but that’s about all.

     
  23. winniethewoo Says:
    December 8th, 2012 at 12:16 am

    @brian…I deal with a lot of graphics rich documents and often to fit a certain amount of a graphic on screen, it needs to be zoomed a precise amount. Sometimes it is sized at A1 or A2 etc. Zoomed at page width, 12 point text on an A1 sized pdf is barely legible. To get that text into a column that fits the width of the screen is also a challenge.

     
  24. Paul Says:
    December 8th, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Does anyone else think that these 11″-14″ ‘ultrabooks’ and ‘hybrids’ are just too small for laptops for doing productive/creative work?

    I’d rather have a laptop that is at least 15.5″ if not bigger(and preferably 16:10). I already have a smartphone and a Nexus 7 for portable media consumption (both could be replaced with a phablet) and can’t see the use for another such small device for productivity.

    If it could be made thin and light enough I could see a 15.5″ hybrid being actually quite useful for creative and graphics work when combined with digitizer.

     
  25. Jack Says:
    December 9th, 2012 at 10:26 am

    I agree – hybrids are largely useless.

    For pure slate use, the Surface RT offers a good compromise. 95% slate but add a keyboard.

    For higher end, take the Surface Pro but you lose battery life.

    For everything else – touch screen ultrabook or touch screen all in one.

    This comment typed on my Surface RT using the type cover – lot quicker than typing on the screen and doesn’t make 50% of the screen real estate disappear.

     
  26. mex Says:
    December 10th, 2012 at 5:46 am

    Many of you don’t know that this new Atom is more than two times better than the old Atom.
    And for 90% of Windows user , hybrids with the new Atom will be more than enough, to trow away their laptops and tablets, and have one devise.
    Atom hybrids have same battery life as iOS and Android devices, but can also x86. And most of them have Wacom input.

     
  27. HairyFool Says:
    December 12th, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I have both a Surface and a touch enabled PC upgraded to Windows 8. I started with the PC and came to the conclusion that touch is an irrelevance on the PC apart from occasional use. Because of that I was developing the feeling that Windows 8 was an irrelivance. Now I have the Surface it makes sense, what I can’t envisage is having anything heavier in my hand so to me the hybrid is not going to fill that role and it will just be a laptop with a clever trick. Now I have to decide if it worth upgrading my main PC to 8 from Windows 7, probably not.

     
  28. Lawrence Says:
    December 13th, 2012 at 8:42 am

    You have to ask, if there is supposedly a requirement for hybrids, then why hasn’t Apple done it giving they have all the capability and experience in how do it?

     
  29. Rick Says:
    December 13th, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    @richierace, have a look at the Acer W710, a bit big as a tablet. But docked to a bigger screen and a Bluetooth Keyboard you have a desktop with touch (mirror screens) or extend the desktop and use the tablet to keep email twitter etc open alongside work. (OK it could do with a stand so that I can use it with a BT Keyboard when on the go)

     
  30. Aden Says:
    December 15th, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    I think the comment about the Atom processor and netbook performance is unfair. The new Atom processor is a completely different animal – much better performance and it can handle “normal” PC tasks – it will happily run Microsoft Office, play video and games. Best of all battery life on my new hybrid is upwards of 9 hours. I am now the proud owner of a hybrid device which runs a full version of Windows 8, has a touch screen, a detachable keyboard and a battery life which can handle a transatlantic flight without missing a beat. Oh and it looks a lot better than the picture of the hybrid in the article.

     
  31. Zwandee Says:
    December 18th, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    A lot of comments here sound myopic. Just because a certain form factor does not appeal to you doesn’t mean it’s entirely useless.
    I love hybrids. I don’t move around much so the weight doesn’t bother. I really like a screen that I can adjust to fit my position instead of the other way round however I’d like a full keyboard when things start to get serious. I also hate managing multiple devices though having multiple devices in one appeals to me. All the hybrids so far fail to appeal to me because I am a gamer and love to dabble with 3D animation/modelling so I’m sort of holding out for the special one. And no, the tablet with the add-on keyboard won’t do because it is almost impossible to have good dedicated graphics on a tablet due to the heat.

     
  32. Seta Says:
    January 3rd, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I fled from Windows to Apple’s OS X when Vista came out and I have no intention of leaving Apple’s eco system.

    But I tried Windows 8, and really like it. Its very fast, amazing start up and shut down times and the interface is novel and interesting – the way I see it, the round start button on the desktop has been replaced (or updated) to the new metro start menu, where everything can be easily accessed.

    I would say though that for the majority of users, people who use laptops or PCs without really knowing what’s going on, like my grandma, this might be a step too far for them from what they are used to. Microsoft really should provide good training, for free, to ease the transition to the new interface. I hope Microsoft don’t back peddle and go back to the old way of doing things.

    Shame I can’t use Win 8 for work as IE 10 doesn’t work with the application tunnelling I need to access corporate servers. Just have to wait for a fix.

     
  33. Sagat Says:
    January 9th, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    I have been playing around with Windows 8 for a while. I think the interface is great but it still feels like Windows 7 with new interface layer bolted on. But i guess you have get use to it and over time you will probably love it. http://www.buildeasypc.com/sw/windows_8/install_windows_8.htm

     

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