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Should you get a hybrid laptop? A user report card

Rick Broida | March 21, 2014
Hybrids -- laptops whose displays detach to become tablets -- were designed to allow users to have one device with many uses. But do they work as advertised? We talked to some users to find out.

The hybrid PC is all about promise. It's a laptop and it's a tablet. It meets your business needs and it meets your media-consumption needs. It supplies a keyboard when you want it and leaves behind that added bulk when you don't. It's two, two, two devices in one.

But what's the reality? Does this kind of configuration really hold up in everyday use? Is this jack-of-all-trades design a master of only some?

hybrid laptop
Hybrids such as the Asus VivoTab RT allow users to work with the device as either a tablet or a laptop.

To find out, I spoke with former laptop users who decided to try a hybrid and then asked them to assess their new machines' features. The responses were both surprising and enlightening, and may just change your mind about what kind of computer to buy next.

For purposes of this story, I focused specifically on Windows-powered hybrids that offer a display with a removable keyboard dock (or, if you prefer, a keyboard with a removable display). Keep in mind that I'm not talking about convertibles, which are basically laptops with hinged touch displays that can fold back onto the keyboards. These tend to be heavier and harder to wield when used in tablet mode.

The idea here is to see if a fully separable design affords greater benefits.

Why a hybrid?
With so many hardware options to choose from — convertibles, tablets, traditional laptops, etc. — what drove these folks to a hybrid? Among the top motivators: Convenience and flexibility.

"I liked the idea of the flexibility of using the screen separate from the keyboard, which could theoretically address iPad envy and the need for a new laptop at the same time," says Rabbi Adam Chalom of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in Chicago. He adopted an Asus VivoTab to replace both an office desktop and an aging HP laptop.

Hybrids such as the Asus VivoTab RT allow users to work with the device as either a tablet or a laptop.

Network engineer Harold Gale, owner of Quakertown Computers in Quakertown, Pa., wasn't necessarily looking to replace his laptop, but did want "something more convenient and portable" to read e-books, watch streaming TV, browse the Web and check email. He chose an Acer Iconia W510 with the optional keyboard dock, and ultimately found he was using it instead of his laptop for a lot of day-to-day business.

For Detroit-based WJR 760AM radio host Foster Braun, who opted for a Microsoft Surface Pro and Type Cover keyboard, the allure was an "in-between" device that wouldn't necessarily tie him to his desk, but that offered a much larger screen than his phone. Braun suffers from various health issues that restrict him to a recliner for much of his day and the Surface "allows me to transfer a lot of middle-level work there," he says — tasks like email, blogging, Web browsing and light image editing.

 

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