All it takes is a detachable keyboard, a familiar OS and a standard office suite, for that tablet to feel like a laptop
Let's face it, many of us are challenged by the steadily shrinking size of so-called computing platforms like tablet PCs. We applaud developments like phone-tablets or phablets, but in private we believe, a PC is a PC, a phone is a phone -- and the twain shall not never meet, at least if our wallets have any say in the matter.
But if we need to travel regularly, there is something to be said if your connected work companion weighs in, at well below half a kg. The so-called virtual keyboard that we are forced to use when working with a tablet's touch screen is not for those of us we need a tactile 'kickback' to know we have hit the right key. And you and I are not a paid PR agents of Microsoft, just because we dare to actually like the Windows home screen and the tools that go with it. Like Prof. Higgins, I've grown accustomed to her face -- I mean Miss Eliza Office Suite.
On the sound principle that our pain is their gain, tablet makers see a small but lucrative line of business in wrapping the bare-boned tablet with livery that makes it look and feel like a laptop. This is mainly a keyboard, connected either through a hinge -- or in the pricier models, wirelessly via Bluetooth. The keyboard usually includes a touch pad that mimics a mouse.
Intel is one company that has been promoting what are being known as 2-in-1s, that is tablets with detachable keyboards. When you want to work as you would with a laptop, you snap on the keyboard and click away productively -- the tablet will have provided an office suite, from Microsoft if the operating system is a Windows flavour, probably Windows 8.1 these days; or one of a dozen Open Source clones if it is an Android machine.
And when it is playtime for you, you discard the keyboard and hold up the tablet in whatever posture is your way of relaxing, to view a movie, see some pictures or browse the social media.
Among the more affordable tablet 2-in-1s are HP's Slatebook X2 which runs on Android, fueled by an NVIDIA Tegra mobile chip, 2 GB of RAM and 64 GB on onboard storage. With two cameras and a 10 inch full HD screen, the X2 is among the most affordable among double-duty tablets from a mainstream international maker at a street price of Rs 25,000.
Also with a 10 inch screen, the ASUS Transformer Book T100 costs just a bit more at Rs 28,500, but comes with a Windows 8.1 OS and is powered by a quad core Intel Atom processor. It has less storage at 32 GB and the same RAM as the HP Slatebook -- 2 GB. It comes with a single 1.2 MP camera -- but for my money, it has one huge advantage -- a USB 3.0 port .. among the first devices to come with the higher speed standard, twice as fast as USB 2.
Samsung has a product in this class -- the ATIV Smart PC which is now into its third generation. This is a Windows 8.1 machine with a more powerful Intel Core i5 processor; the screen is among the largest for tablet 2-in-1s -- 11.6 inch -- and the on-board storage is 128 GB. These are very generous specs for a tablet -- and the asking price also demands a generous spirit -- Rs 70,000.
Dell has a whole family called the Venue 11 series of Windows 8.1 tablets, powered by different Intel processors and offering a choice of memory and storage. The price ranges from Rs 45,000 to Rs 65,000 but I would not class them as true 2-in-1s because the keyboard is not an integral part -- it is one among a host of accessories like docking stations, lean-to stands etc that you have to order extra.
All these tablets are WiFi-enabled, but none of them have thought to include a 3G SIM for direct Net connectivity. I'm guessing, they will be forced to add this feature, kicking and screaming, once the Chinese and Indian brands begin to compete in this category, with dual SIMs and all.
Finally last week, Intel released a model of its own -- albeit only a reference design for a 2-in-1 Windows 8.1 tablet called 'Intel Education', targeting students -- with a 10 inch screen, 2 cameras, 32 to 64 GB of storage, connectivity through WiFi or 3G LTE -- and interestingly an NFC or Near Field Communication chip which is truly futuristic. And yes it is student proof -- you can drop it from 70 cms without risk of damage! We have to wait for commercial rollout by OEMs but if the price is anywhere near Rs 25,000 that is being whispered, I might go back to school just to qualify for one!--Anand Parthasarathy July 6 2014