With the release of Windows 8, there has been a greater emphasis on having a touch enabled screen for the user interface. One of Microsoft's goals with the new software release was to unify the user experience between a desktop, a laptop and a tablet computer system. One way that manufacturers are addressing this is by producing a new style of laptop or tablet called either a hybrid or convertible. So what exactly does this means for consumers?
In essence, a hybrid or convertible laptop is any type of computer system that can essentially function as either a laptop or a tablet computer. They are of course referring to the primary means of data input. With a laptop, this is done through a keyboard and a mouse. On a tablet, everything is done via the touch screen interface and its virtual keyboard.
The most common method to create a convertible laptop is to create a touchscreen display that opens out of a clam shell design like a traditional laptop. To convert the laptop into a tablet, then screen is then either rotated, pivoted or flipped such that it then is back into a closed position but with the screen exposed. Some examples of this include Dell XPS 12, Lenovo Yoga 13, Lenovo ThinkPad Twist and the Toshiba Satellite U920t. Each of these uses a slightly different method for taking the screen and folding, sliding or pivoting the display.
The other method is a dockable or hybrid system. Essentially the primary computer is housed within the display unit. It functions primarily as a tablet but if users want to use it like a laptop, the tablet portion is docked into a keyboard system that would feature a keyboard, mouse, extra battery and extra peripheral ports giving it the appearance of a traditional laptop. Now this design type is not really used with laptops so much yet but it is best exemplified by the ASUS Transformer series of tablets including the VivoTab Smart. One could also argue that the Microsoft Surface Pro with a Type cover could also be such a system but this is more just a keyboard than a major extensions of the tablets features.
These types of computers aren't really new. Back in 2004, Microsoft released their Windows XP Tablet software. This was a variant of the popular Windows XP that was designed to be used with a touchscreen but it didn't really catch on as the touchscreen technology was still relatively expensive and rudimentary and the software not well optimized for the interface. In fact, the most popular XP Tablets sold were actually convertibles that essentially were just laptops with touchscreen displays. Some of them could rotate or fold the screen much the same way that they do today.
There are drawbacks to many of these hybrid laptops. Generally they are best suited as either a laptop or a tablet. In order to do both, there are typically some sacrifices that are made. For instance, laptop based models tend to be much heavier than your tablet systems such that they are hard to hold over long periods of time. Conversely, tablet based hybrids tend to lack the performance of a traditional laptop. The question for buyers is whether these tradeoffs are worth for being able to use the two styles of computing in a single device.