by January 29, 2013 0 comments

The latest trend to hit end-user computing is the onslaught of hybrid or convertible PCs. Being multi-mode devices, they can function either as a tablet or as a laptop. It's easy to imagine the benefits such a device brings to the table. Use it as a tablet when you need to simply check your mail, watch a movie, do some casual surfing, etc. Use it as a laptop when you have to do some more serious work like creating a presentation, do heavy duty emailing, typing long documents, etc. These devices save you the trouble of juggling between two devices every time you want to create or consume content.


The concept and the benefits it promises definitely sounds very exciting. In a quick poll we ran on our Facebook page to gauge people's interest in these devices, we got some very encouraging results. About 48% of respondents definitely look forward to buying such a device. Another 30% are in a wait and watch situation, and might buy if the prices become more affordable. 19% plan to stick to keeping these two devices separate, and the remaining 4% are waiting for Android/iOS based hybrids and convertibles to appear in the market.

But besides the polls, are the current crop of hybrids and convertibles out there really worth buying? This requires a more careful scan of the what's currently available in the market and the capabilities they offer, which is what our whole story is all about. To start off, here are a few facts and figures of what's currently out there.

Hybrid vs Convertible: What's the difference?

A major challenge we faced while covering these devices was that there doesn't seem to be any clear definition for these multi-mode devices. We've seen wild swings in their definitions, ranging from ultrabook convertibles, to hybrids, to convertible tablets, to convertible laptops, and so on. So to put things in perspective, we'll use the term convertible laptops or convertibles for devices with non-detachable screens, and hybrids for those with removable screens.

All convertibles/hybrids are Windows 8/RT based: The whole reason behind the existence of these devices is the new OS from MS, which is capable of running in both multi-touch as well as traditional 'mouse and keyboard' modes. While the architecture of Windows 8 based devices is Intel x86 based, that of Windows RT is ARM based. There are currently no iOS or Android based convertible laptops.

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Convertibles are more expensive than hybrids: This is largely because convertibles that are currently out there have non-detachable screens and are based on Intel's Core series of CPUs. Hybrids on the other hand, are mostly based on Tegra or Intel Atom processors. The former can therefore have more RAM, storage, and larger screen sizes. As a result, their battery life is also comparatively lower. But being more powerful, they can be used more as laptops than tablets. This makes them a good choice for a corporate environments, provided you can afford them. As of now, the average starting price of such convertibles is Rs. 60,000.

Convertibles are fatter/thicker than hybrids as well as tablets: Since the keyboard is built into them, convertibles are bound to be thicker, and in most cases, heavier than hybrids. This makes it more difficult to use them as tablets, as your arm would tire out faster than when you were using lightweight tablets. Hybrids on the other hand, let you remove the screen and use it as a tablet, thereby making them more lightweight and provide greater battery life.

Hybrids are like netbooks with multi-touch: Most hybrids are based either on Intel's Atom or nVidia's Tegra processors. So even though Intel has introduced the next generation of Atom processors code-named Clover Trail, which are far more powerful and consume lesser power than the earlier generation, they're still not as good as the Core series of CPUs. So being Atom based makes hybrids far less powerful than Intel's Core based convertible devices. So in a way, the Atom based hybrids are like netbooks with multi-touch capability! You can do basic productivity work on them, but don't expect to run Photoshop or other processor intensive apps on them.

By the looks of things, hybrids and convertibles are definitely the way forward for end-user computing devices. But, does that mean you should pick up one of these devices instead of buying a separate laptop and tablet? Or will there continue to be a market for individual devices? On the other hand, can a tablet act as a replacement for a desktop or laptop? Expert View: Can Tablets Replace PCs? gives you expert opinions to answer the above questions.  Plus, here are other articles that talk more about the hybrid/Convertible PCs.

Can Hybrids Replace Laptops and Tablets?

Hybrid/Convertible Devices Available in India


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