I am looking for a portable laptop/tablet hybrid with a screen that is a reasonable size for working from home (larger than 10 inches), and fairly good performance, as my partner wants to edit photos. I know the Surface Pro 3 is probably the safest bet, but I have seen a few far cheaper alternatives. They seem to have mixed reviews, though, and every time I look, different models appear. Patrick
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 meets your needs, and the 12in screen is excellent for work and for editing and showing photographs. It’s very well made, and it also comes with a stylus/pen/pencil so that you can make handwritten notes in OneNote and annotate documents and webpages. (See my review.)
It is relatively expensive by Windows standards. Prices range from £639 (with an Intel Core i3 processor. 4GB of memory, and 64GB of storage) to £1,549 (Core i7, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD). It includes a stylus/pen, but the Type Cover keyboard adds another £109.99.
However, at this stage it may be better to wait for the rumoured Surface Pro 4 with, perhaps, an Intel Core M or next-generation Skylake processor. If that happens, older models may be sold at a discount.
Either way, the Surface Pro 3’s success is enabling Microsoft to expand its distribution. Dell is going to sell Surfaces from its website, while Dell, HP, Accenture and Avanade will be making volume sales to large businesses. We should also see “clones” from other PC suppliers, with Lenovo’s IdeaPad Miix 700 being the first example.
Microsoft has also launched a cheaper version: the Surface 3. This has a 10.8in touch screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1280 pixels. A Surface 3 with quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor, 2GB of memory and 64GB of storage costs £419, while one with 4GB of memory and 128GB of storage costs £499. Those prices do not include a pen or a Type Cover keyboard, so they’re still quite high by Windows standards. Another two models with 4G LTE mobile connections are on the way.
The 1.6GHz Atom x7-Z8700 is a good processor, though perhaps not quite as snappy as my favourite cheap chip, the 2.16GHz dual-core Pentium N3540. Both are some way behind the 1.5GHz Intel Core i3-4020Y used in the cheapest Surface Pro 3.
Two approaches to hybrids
Dozens of companies now offer 2-in-1 Windows machines that are basically tablets with detachable keyboard docks. As with other tablets, all the electronics are behind the screen, which means some have a tendency to tip over. (Hence kickstands.)
These 2-in-1s are generally cheap, but they have limited specifications. Usually they have Atom based (but Celeron- or Pentium-branded) processors, 2GB of memory and only 32GB of storage in the form of an eMMC (Flash memory) chip. They are great for tablet-style uses such as browsing the web, YouTube, email and social networking. They can also run Microsoft Office, so they can do real work, and they can edit photos. However, I’d hesitate to choose one as a main PC.
The alternative approach is to stick to a traditional clamshell design, with the electronics under the keyboard, but fit a screen that can swivel 180 degrees or rotate through 360 degrees. The disadvantage is that you can’t remove the keyboard, so you have to bear the full weight of the laptop even in tablet mode.
A 2-in-1 shortlist
Asus pioneered 2-in-1s in 2011 with the Transformer T101 running Android, and in 2013, made a big impact with the Transformer Book T100 running Windows 8. The latest 10.1in T100TAF is still a good buy at £199.95, which is well below the original price. There are also two new, better-constructed models: the T100 Chi and T300 Chi.
The Transformer T300 Chi has a 12.5in screen, an Intel Core M processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB SSD (solid state disk), so it is a reasonable alternative to the Surface Pro 3. On the downside, you lose the pen, it has worse battery life, and it’s not that much cheaper at £599.95. (Shop around for prices, which change often.)
There are lots of similar 11.6in 2-in-1s from other companies including Acer, Lenovo and Toshiba, but this year’s HP Pavilion x2 is worth a look. The Pavilion x2 10-n055na has a decent keyboard and 1280 x 800 pixel screen for £249 (with 32GB of storage) or £279.99 (with 64GB). There’s also the HP Pavilion 11-K000na or 11-K007na for £329.95. This wins by having 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage, but loses by having a Celeron N3050 processor, which is a little slower than the Atom Z3736F in the cheaper model.
Lenovo pioneered the 360-degree rotating screen approach with its Yoga range of laptops, but now HP and many others make similar machines. Lenovo’s latest entry-level model is the Yoga 300 with an 11.6in screen for £249, but it would be better to go for the £329.95 version with a quad-core Intel Pentium N3540, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive. This may be your best economically priced option, but a bit more money would get you into Surface Pro 3 country. For example, you could get a Yoga 3 with a Core M processor, 8GB, and a 128GB SSD for £499.95.
The rotating equivalent of the HP x2 2-in-1 is the HP Pavilion x360 11-k063na at £329.99 (Celeron N3050, 4GB, 500GB HD) but there’s a faster 11-k057na version with a terabyte drive for £379.99. However, HP’s current “hero product” is the Core i5-based 13.3in Spectre x360 at around £799.95 (128GB SSD) to £899.95 (256GB SSD), which is very competitive with the Surface Pro 3.
As mentioned, these machines convert into rather large tablets, and I’ve never owned one, so I don’t know how the hinges survive five years of use. The best you can do is visit a PC Warehouse, John Lewis or good computer store, wiggle a few, and see what you think.
Windows 10 updates
All of these machines should get an immediate free upgrade to Windows 10, if it’s not pre-installed. However, models with only 32GB of storage can run out of space. The solution is to plug in an SD card, USB thumb drive or external hard drive for Windows Update to use as temporary storage, so have one ready. You will need to plug in same temporary storage if you want to revert to Windows 8.1.
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