When tablets do double duty

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