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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 seems to be the answer to that equation," echoes programmer/analyst Michael Nagele, who works for the University of Illinois Foundation in Champaign, Ill. "Small enough to be portable, but big enough to enjoy media consumption or be able to get work done if the need arises." Nagele chose an Asus VivoTab RT because he "wanted to try Windows 8 for myself and see what all the fuss, pro and con, was about."

How they're used
In theory, a hybrid would be split pretty evenly between work and leisure tasks, the keyboard enabling office suite and other software-driven operations, the screen pulling free for book reading, movie watching and Web browsing. But did the scales tip in one direction or another once buyers actually started using the machines?

They did for Rabbi Chalom. "It turns out I use the system almost exclusively as a laptop," he reports. "I prefer to read on a Kindle with e-ink, [and] I can flip through email or play music while doing dishes faster on my phone, so [the hybrid] tends to live in my daily office bag as a laptop." Likewise, Chalom said his VivoTab serves laptop duty almost exclusively while he's traveling.

Nagele initially used his hybrid for media consumption — "Netflix, Hulu Plus, games and Web surfing," he says. But because it came pre-loaded with Office and offered deep integration with Microsoft's OneDrive, "I find myself using it more and more since I can do everything on one machine. [I can] multitask and not worry about the battery running out."

"If I attend meetings, conferences, or generally leave the office, I grab my hybrid," says Harold Gale. "I also use [it as a] tablet when I need to work in wiring closets, as it fits nicely in the tightest of spaces." Gale adds that although he still bounces back to his laptop at times, he relies on the Acer W510 for everything from "general office tasks" to reading to watching training videos.

Overall, most of the users surveyed seem to end up using their hybrids as laptops first and tablets second.

What users like
Just as telling, when asked what they liked most about the systems, users pointed less to the hybrids' trick of separation of screen and keyboard and more to the traditional advantages you might find in an ultrabook or any touchscreen-equipped Windows 8 laptop.

Chalom, for example, loves the combination of a traditional keyboard touchpad and a touch screen. The latter makes it easy to switch back and forth between programs, while the touchpad offers "the precision of a mouse pointer that my stubby fingers don't provide."


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