With all the news I read about Windows 8 laptop/tablet hybrid, I decided to do a little research about them. After gathering some information about few models I might be interested in, I walked into three different stores yesterday and played around with demo units for few hours.
So basically there are 3 different version of Windows 8: Windows 8 RT, Windows 8 (standard) and Windows 8 Pro.
Windows RT is basically Microsoft’s version of tablet OS. It runs the similar looking Windows 8 new start menu, but it can only run apps designed specifically for Windows 8 RT. Means, if you have any applications from older Windows (XP, Vista or 7), the simply will not work, at all. That’s a huge downside, and a serious deal-breaker for me. The good side, tablets for Windows RT are usually cheaper, because it can run with “lower level” processors.
Windows 8 (standard) and Windows 8 Pro can run new applications designed for Windows 8, and can run all our “old” software from the previous Windows. Means you will be able to do anything you usually can do in Windows, plus a little bit more. For the rest of this article, when I refer to “Windows 8”, it means the standard or pro version, not the RT version.
In general, laptops (or ultrabooks) running Windows 8 can be categorized into “low-end” (running Intel Atom or Celeron processors) and “high-end” (running Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor). The low-end are suitable for most casual users with “light” tasks like internet browsing, typing document in Microsoft Office, enjoying photos or music. For heavier tasks like photo or video editing or even gaming, you should probably consider the high-end version.
Now getting to the real deal. Since my interest was particularly on laptop/tablet hybrid, here are some models that caught my interest while doing some “tests” on demo units yesterday. As this is a casual review about my candid impression playing around with the units, don’t expect full specs or other detail here. I am sure you can easily find the specs etc just by a quick googling.
Asus Taichi is a unique laptop with two displays. One is located in the inner side of the laptop lid (the usual position of display) and the other one located on the outer side of the lid. When you close down the laptop lid (clamshell mode), you can use the laptop as a tablet with touch screen. This unit attracted my attention since I entered the store. It looked very sleek and stylish. The “inner” screen is a bit matte, and it’s not touch enabled. The “outer” screen is glossy, very glossy, and I can see reflection on it.
The weight is ok. The thickness is desirable.
During the test I find that the utility provided by Asus to control the dual screen display is a bit confusing. I don’t know whether it’s actually buggy, or it’s just not intuitive. I couldn’t figure it out after playing with it for a while. When the laptop is closed and the outer screen is off, marks of fingerprints are very visible, making the laptop looked nasty. I mean, I understand that every touch screen will always have fingerprint marks. That’s normal. But this one clearly picked up more than others.
Dell XPS 12 has only one screen. But as you can see from the picture, the screen can be “flipped” using a frame. This allows XPS 12 to be used as a laptop or a tablet. To prevent the screen from keep rotating freely, some magnetic mechanism is applied. Interesting idea. When I try to actually do the flip few times, turned out it was not very practical, at least for me.
Call me old fashioned, but I am not comfortable with this kind of design. If I buy one, I can’t help but worrying that the frame might break anytime.
To my taste, this unit looks a bit thick. Maybe because of the design, or maybe it’s really thick. And the weight is kinda heavier that what I expected. Especially with their premium price tag, people would expect to get something of high value in everything, including weight.
HP Envy X2 has a detachable screen. When the screen is separated from its keyboard, it becomes a tablet. I was impressed with how easy they make the detaching mechanism, yet it felt firm and reasonably strong.
I had serious issue with the unit’s temperature. The back side of the screen is hot, almost not comfortable to hold as tablet. Not sure if it’s really general characteristic, or maybe the demo unit I played with was already on for quite some time.
Samsung ATV Smart PC Pro has almost similar form factor with HP Envy X2. The screen is detachable, with slightly different mechanism. This unit was my primary target from the price/spec/form comparison. The outer body is made from some plastic material. The color is a bit dark and a quick glimpse might give people the impression that it’s metal, but I kinda sure that it’s not. On the back, there are some small holes for heat to come out. In my playing session with the demo unit, the temperature only got to “warm” level, so it stayed comfortable in my hand.
The inclusion of Samsung S-Pen should be something interesting to try. Too bad they removed the stylus from the demo unit (or somebody might already took it away). So I tested the handwriting recognition using my finger-nail. It was good. Much better than my past experience playing with Galaxy Note.
Sony Vaio Duo 11 has another unique concept. The tablet screen can slide, showing physical keyboard, turning it into laptop mode. Nice concept. But I don’t really like how it looks. The absence of place to rest our wrist made my typing test uncomfortable. Plus, if you’re not careful, sliding the screen can hurt your finger. It happened to me.
Surface is Microsoft’s flagship product for Windows 8. Actually I wanted to try Surface Pro, which run “real” Windows 8. But since Pro is not yet available, I played around with Surface RT (as the name suggests, it runs Windows RT).
The build felt solid. I like the metal finishing, making it looked very professional. However, the design makes it almost impossible to use it comfortably on our lap in laptop mode. Maybe it is okay on a table.
I tried both touch cover and type cover. While touch cover is certainly usable, I would prefer type cover for some serious work. The absence of tactile feedback made me do lots of typos with touch cover.
Windows 8 with its touch feature offers a new type of hardware: laptop/tablet hybrid. Most of the models with “decent” hardware spec costs more than $1300 (AUD). I just couldn’t justify myself to spend that much on a Windows device. During my “play” sessions with demo units, I managed to crashed 3 machines. 2 of them restarted (and took long time when restarting from a crash) and one of them showing a fatal error screen. Well, it’s Windows and its usual buggy system. It reminded me about some basic weakness of all the laptops I tested yesterday: they don’t run OSX. And that alone makes it not worthy the heavy price-tag.
Yes Windows 8 looks pretty with its new start menu. But is it worth spending more than a grand? I don’t think so.
In the end, I decided not to buy a new Windows hardware this year. The only thing I bought was a box of Windows 8 Pro upgrade. Then I went home and installed it on my old Dell laptop. That should be enough for me to explore Windows 8.
So should you buy a new hardware for Windows 8? If your current hardware is old and already considered “slow”, then you might consider buying a new one. If your current hardware is still working fine and you want to see what Windows 8 looks like, a simple upgrade would do. In most hardware (which fulfill the minimum requirements of Windows 8) will perform better on Microsoft’s latest OS compared to Windows 7 or Vista or XP.