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Monday, 19 December 2016 14:53

What excited me in 2016 – hybrids and convertibles

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According to IDC, hybrids — Windows 10, Microsoft Surface-like devices, and convertibles — are experiencing a 91% year-on-year growth while desktops/notebooks have seen 3.5% growth.

iTWire reviewed the Microsoft Surface range and some of the main HP offerings but unfortunately “difficult” review policies from a couple of other manufacturers (namely ASUS and Lenovo) prevented in-depth looks, and some PRs simply chose not to pursue the more knowledgeable IT press, preferring to go for “easier” lifestyle or blogger publications.

A technical review, especially one conducted using established testing and comparison paradigms, is more useful. It enables iTWire readers to get “inside the product” and, via comments, ask more before you consider buying.

Here are the contenders that were reviewed:

hYB bOOKMicrosoft Surface Book  – a big tablet, with big performance and a removable keyboard

I was an early adopter — January 2016 — and, while the concept was brilliant, the execution was flawed. I revisited it in August after a slew of firmware and software updates had addressed the main issues. Overnight this brilliant piece of hardware matured to become my “production” computer and further updates since have made it even better.

It is my standout choice as “PC of the year” for so many reasons.

  • 13.5”, 3000 x 2000, 267ppi, 3:2 ratio, PixelSense, IPS LED screen. The 3:2 ratio is perfect to display two scaled A4 pages side-by-side and that real estate makes is a useful work processor.
  • The screen is also great for displaying movies and TV and audio is first rate.
  • It has a battery in the screen and one in the keyboard giving a solid 10 hours or more of hard work.
  • The notebook keyboard and oversize glass track pad are the best you will find and allows me to be a productive typist.
  • The optional docking station is perfect for using dual screens, adding more USB devices, and powering the Surface Book.

Some will complain that it is expensive, but in comparison to the other Surface-like devices it is unique and has yet to be emulated, like the Surface Pro form factor.

Microsoft has 10% off sale until 25 December meaning the i5/8GB/128GB is $2069.10.

iTWire’s original January review is here and a follow-up in August is here.

There is a new Performance Base coming (same tablet) including an i7 processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M 2GB GPU. Let’s just say it's for higher power users.

HYB ProMicrosoft Surface Pro 4  – the notebook replacement

The Surface Pro 4 became the product you bought if you could not afford the Surface Book. And that is unfair as the original Surface Pro set the scene for the hybrid revolution with its innovative kickstand and detachable keyboard.

There are three models and the Intel Core m3 and 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD (also on sale at $1214.10 plus keyboard) has become a staple of the education market although I am told the Intel Core i5/8GB/256GB is the top selling consumer model.

Advantages of the Surface range include the 12.3”, 2736 x 1824, 3:2 ratio screen (again great for productivity, good battery life (I regularly get 6+ hours use), full size USB 3.0 port (major importance), microSD card, Mini Display port (important) and a separate Surface Connect port.

At 786g plus keyboard it's small and light – my wife has one and it fits in her everyday handbag.

It also uses the Surface Dock and the same charger as the Surface Book.

iTWire’s review is here.

HYB TabSamsung TabPro S  – an amazing 12” AMOLED screen

This could have been a Surface killer except for two things. First, it does not have a kickstand but relies on the magnetic snap on keyboard cover. Second, it only has a single USB-C port for data and charge and expansion requires either the $139 Multiport adaptor or the use of a USB-C charging dock like the excellent Kensington SD4600P (review here).

The AMOLED screen has to be seen to be believed – it is beautiful with true black, stunning colour and its battery sipping characteristics gets over 10 hours use on a 2-hour fast charge. Samsung has also introduced a Cat 6 LTE 4G model that is very popular with road warriors. It is 693g (plus keyboard) and 6.3mm thin.

Recommended retail price for the Intel Core M3-6Y30, 2.2GHz, 4GB/128GB is $1349 including the keyboard and $150 more for the 4G model but astute shoppers will find on sales for $999 at JB Hi-Fi. That alone makes it the pick for students!

iTWire’s review is here.

HYB X2HP Elite x2 1012 tablet for commercial use

HP took the Surface Pro and improved on it in some major ways – first giving it a better kickstand and adding everything that commercial customers wanted like biometric security, HP Sure Start bios, Mil STD 810G durability, three-year warranty, and a starting price from $1572. But don’t expect to find this on a retailer’s shelves – this is reserved for enterprise clients.

Like the Surface it has a 3:2 ratio screen, but unlike the Surface it is HD. It comes with a digitiser pen (and replacement tips), the keyboard/cover, and a USB-C to HDMI adaptor. It has a choice of Intel Core m3 or m5 and up to 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD.

iTWire’s review is here.

HYB x21 spectreBut wait there's more – HP also do this in its Spectre grade (one down from Elite and meant for consumers) and it is spectacular. The HP Spectre x2 12-a001tu sells for $1399 and has the Core m5, 8GB/128GB and includes the keyboard and pen. You will find this at retailers and now is the time to twist arms.

And the x360 tents

I am going to include most known 360° convertibles in this end-of-year-round-up as well as HP with its x360, Lenovo with its Yoga, and others are also seeing growth in this Windows 10 segment.

HYB x360 specreHP Spectre Pro x360  – when a touch tent is all you need.

HP loaned me the top of the range 13” Spectre Pro x360 in January and while that was “last year’s model” the amazing 360° hinge turned out to be almost as useful as the Surface Book – all it could not do was the “flip”.

I was impressed at the build quality, and everything about it said well-made and long lasting. The keyboard was excellent. In fact my wife bought the new model in rose gold and bronze tones and it is her pride and joy.

iTWire’s review is here.

So that ends the reviewed units. There are others and this list is not exhaustive.

ASUS Transformer 3 Pro

ASUS Zen UX360UA

Dell Inspiron 7000 (360)

Lenovo 900

Lenovo Miix 510

Acer Spin 7  

Comment

This article is not about macOS but I leave you with a quote from Microsoft – worth a read.

Our trade-in program for MacBooks was our best ever, and the combination of excitement for the innovation of Surface coupled with the disappointment of the new MacBook Pro – especially among professionals – is leading more and more people to make the switch to Surface, like this. It seems like a new review recommending Surface over MacBook comes out daily. This makes our team so proud, because it means we’re doing good work.

So there it is

  • Surface Book – it is so far ahead of the crowd.
  • Surface Pro 4 – what you buy if you can’t afford the Book.
  • Samsung TabPro S – an ideal travel companion.
  • HP x2 Elite – for heavy duty commercial use but the x2 Spectre is damned good too.
  • HP x360 Pro or Spectre – when a touch screen tent will do.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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