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Tablet-laptops

My current computer is a laptop from Sager. It’s fairly large. I’ve taken it on trips home to Kentucky, and I even lugged it to a web convention once, but given its size I prefer to use it at home, with speakers, a mouse, and a keyboard plugged into it. The screen is nice and big and I use the keyboard and mouse to sit a respectable distance back from it. The speakers add to the desktop feel. This is not a computer I really like taking places; I have to detach everything, crawl under my desks to unplug and slip out cords, and then pack it all up in a large laptop bag. It’s very heavy.

For some time now I’ve dreamed of owning a tiny laptop, perhaps a netbook, something I could use for the general mobile computing currently achieved through my iPhone. While the phone is very convenient for things like Twitter and Facebook and even email, I hate browsing the web or writing documents on it. After using the phone for extended periods, I sorely miss having a keyboard.

I’ve never particularly wanted a tablet. They’ve always seemed inconvenient to me; you have to hold them, typically, unless you have a stand, and the stands generally aren’t as adjustable as I’d like. I usually watch movies and such on my laptop or TV, and I do most of my digital reading on my iPhone. (In fact, though I own a Kindle, I’ve read most of my Kindle books on the iPhone Kindle app.) The only thing I’ve ever wanted a tablet for is cooking: I’ll pull up a recipe on my phone sometimes, but the screen is small and shuts off automatically, and as I don’t feel like adjusting settings every time I cook, I end up having to unlock the phone multiple times throughout the cooking process. A tablet, I’ve thought, would be nicer, something I could mount in the kitchen, something with a larger screen that would stay on and be easy to read. But since that would pretty much be the only thing I’d use it for, I could hardly see how that would be a worthwhile purchase. It would be better, I thought, to get that tiny laptop.

I haven’t spent a lot of time looking for something, though. Ultimately I figured I could just deal with the hassle of moving my giant laptop when the situation warranted it. I had no pressing need for a spare laptop, anyway.

But then I was at Fry’s with friends last month and I saw the Acer Iconia W5.

Acer W510Look at that thing.

It is gorgeous.

It’s a touchscreen Windows tablet with a keyboard dock. You can bend the screen back at any angle, twist it around, flip the keyboard to serve as an adjustable stand for tablet display and use. You can undock the tablet and just use it by itself. The keyboard layout is great, and the touchscreen means there’s no need for a mouse.

It’s tiny. It’s light. It would fit in a small bag. The display, at least to me, looks great.

Upon sighting this extraordinary creation I was filled with a technological longing I haven’t experienced in perhaps a decade. Sure, I like new things, but for the most part I’m pragmatic about gadgets. I view everything with a healthy dose of do I really need that?

But this. This would do everything.

I could stand it up in the kitchen for recipes. I could take it to Kentucky instead of lugging my huge laptop. I could bring it to conferences and not take up egregious amounts of space. Heck, I could take it to coffee shops. I could run regular desktop applications, not just apps. I could install programs.

Sean has no problem budgeting for something like this, but he said I should look into other options to make sure we find the best one. Since then I’ve done a little poking around here and there, and I’m not really finding anything like the W5. There are plenty of tablets with stands, and some that come with keyboards, and some that have keyboards built into their covers, but nothing quite like this. No adjustable hinge for the screen. No built-in keyboard with standard layout (and extra battery).

Ars Technica’s review of the W5 isn’t exactly glowing, however. There are concerns about the hardware not supporting 64-bit Windows, and the plastic construction. The performance apparently isn’t as great as tablets with Intel’s Ivy Bridge processor.

I read a review of the Windows Surface Pro by Gabriel from Penny Arcade, and he says that device is great for hand-drawing and gaming, something I’m not sure the W5 can do. Then again, I don’t do either of those things. (Ars has some issues with the Surface Pro, and it doesn’t have a keyboard dock, just a case with a kickstand.)

The Asus VivoTab RT has a keyboard dock, and its construction seems to be much better than that of the W5, but it’s a Windows RT machine, meaning it runs apps, not full programs.

This brief rundown of upcoming tablets seems to indicate that there are or will be plenty of these “hybrids”, which the author says can be classified as tablets with keyboard docks or as laptops with removable screens.

At this point I’m not sure there’s anything else out there that would give me what the W5 offers. But it seems like this trend of hybrids is only beginning, so perhaps I should wait until more products are on the market.

Based on my research, I can at least conclude that I want the following features:

  • Touchscreen tablet
  • Keyboard dock
  • Form factor adjustments better than a simple kickstand; a stiff hinge is necessary, and the option to swivel and/or present the screen differently would be a bonus
  • Windows 8 full (not RT)

3 replies on “Tablet-laptops”

Dell has a similar hybrid with detachable keyboard that looks great, but only runs Windows RT. They have another tablet that does have Windows 8, but does not have a keyboard dock available. So for now, I’ll keep my old and relatively heavy Dell Duo. It works great as a netbook, I have an external DVD-ROM player for it, and I can flip the screen to use it in tablet mode if I want to, although it’s really too heavy to be a practical tablet. Hopefully they will eventually come out with a product I like a lot to upgrade to – otherwise I’ll have to switch manufacturers I guess.

I don’t get new computers that often so I couldn’t really answer your question definitively – both of my Dells are not hot off the presses. I have had no issues with build quality in either my (rather old now) desktop or my Duo – but my Duo is over two years old at this point. It does seem that having an old-school hard drive gives me more storage capacity than the new tablets have, but I also don’t have an ultra-long battery life…couple hours at best. That is the only major design flaw I have with the Duo – for space purposes Dell used a 4-cell rather than a 6-cell battery, I heard, and it dropped the standalone time from their old Mini 10 netbook by quite a bit.

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