Saturday 20 December 2014

Four of the best hybrid laptop-tablets for work

Published 11/05/2014 | 02:30

Sony Vaio Duo 13
HP Spectre 13 X2
Microsoft Surface Pro 2

AS tablets start to fade from the workplace (iPad and Amazon Kindle sales are slumping due to the advent of large phones), a newish breed of machine aims to replace them.

Some call them convertibles. Others refer to detachables. Others still, call them hybrids. They are laptops that become tablets with the tug of a keyboard.

Or vice versa: tablets that revert to full laptop mode once a keyboard is attached.

Personally, I've used lots of them and rarely find the tablet mode adds much work-efficiency when a keyboard is attached. Nevertheless, if you think you'd like a laptop-tablet in one, here are four machines to look at.

HP Spectre 13 X2 from €1,150

The HP Spectre 13 X2 is a full-blooded business laptop that wants to give its users a flavour of tablet life.

It does this by allowing the 13-inch screen to detach from the keyboard, thus becoming a standalone Windows tablet. (There's a non-detachable Spectre 13 model, which is pretty good in its own right.) The X2 goes toe-to-toe with most similarly priced laptop rivals for power and speed, with a decent Intel i5 processor, 4GB of Ram and 128GB of solid state memory. Battery life is fine, too, at around six (reliable) hours. This isn't the slickest-looking device in the world, with a clunky detachment button and a fairly heavy overall form factor. I'm also sceptical about the 'tablet' functionality of a 13-inch screen. But within the genre, this is a well-priced option.

Sony Vaio Duo 13 from €1,600

Operating at the top end of the market, Sony's 13-inch touchscreen Windows laptop doesn't quite allow its screen and keyboard to separate, opting instead for a smooth slide-out mechanism.

On first impression, the device is gorgeous: a sleekly designed machine that reeks of premium build-quality. Using it regularly is a slightly more nuanced affair. The machine itself is fully specced and, with an Intel Core i7 chip and 8GB of Ram, is lightning fast. The keyboard is also a pleasure to use. One advantage is that even if you don't use the machine as a touchscreen tablet (and I wonder whether most people will), the Vaio Duo 13 is still one of the most powerful 'Ultrabook' laptops you can buy. But the premium you're paying is considerable.

Dell XPS 12 Touch from €1,200

Dell's XPS 12 Touch has a 12-inch screen that flips and rotates to make it into a standalone (Windows 8.1) tablet.

Dell hasn't skimped on materials – the XPS 12's screen is a genuinely high resolution, 1080p affair. And it's stuffed with high-end engine parts, such as a Core i7 processor, 8GB of Ram and 256GB of solid state storage memory.

While the machine's battery life isn't as good as a tablet, you'll easily get seven hours' usage. Its styling is acceptable rather than gorgeous, but the machine is offered for considerably less than some of its hybrid rivals.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

€1,030 (64GB with detachable keyboard)

Microsoft originally positioned its 11-inch Surface Pro as a tablet that turns into a laptop. But the Pro 2 is definitely a laptop that goes the other way around.

Unlike previously limited Surface 'RT' models, you can load any software you like onto it, via its various ports. The Surface Pro 2 easily matches most laptops for power and speed, with 4GB (or 8GB) of Ram supporting an Intel i5 processor and an SSD drive configurable up to a whopping 512GB. It's also very light and, with its accessory keyboard (which should be the 'Type' model, not the awkward 'Touch' model), is far more compact than most of its rivals. The only downside is that the detachable keyboard is not quite as fast to use as a regular laptop keyboard.

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