5 min read.Updated: 18 Jan 2014, 12:31 AM ISTGopal Sathe
Two new devices are taking different routes to make portability work for Windows
It’s safe to say we live in a post-PC world. Laptops, even ultrabooks, don’t make news any more, and most new developments are taking place in the mobility space. Microsoft has been trying hard to play catch- up, but Windows 8 didn’t really set the world on fire. Windows RT, which was meant for tablets, was pretty much dead on arrival. The original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have been trying to figure out how they can make Windows machines with mass-market appeal, but most efforts are still falling flat.
Two new devices—the Acer Iconia W4 and the Asus Transformer Book Trio—take different routes to meet this challenge. Acer’s latest is a full-fledged Windows 8 computer, with the form factor of a tablet, while Asus now offers you a tablet, a laptop, and also a dock which can be used with any monitor. Asus is breaking new ground by giving you a full Android tablet built into your PC, but ultimately Acer’s design allows a more economical and easy-to-use device.
If you’re looking for a new laptop, should you consider either of these machines? Our view:
Acer Iconia W4-820
Running on a 1.33 GHz quad-core Intel Atom processor, with 2 GB of RAM, this Windows 8.1 machine looks great, but performance is mixed. It’s a big step up from the CPU used in the W3, but the limitations remain very similar.
When you’re doing just one thing at a time—using it like a tablet—then it is fine. But if you’re working on a Word file, while also browsing with several tabs open, and running a music player in the background, things can get a little sluggish. The problem seems to be worse when you connect the tablet to a big screen using the HDMI cable.
The 8-inch screen looks good—the touch screen is responsive and 1,280x800 is a perfectly reasonable resolution for a screen this size. What’s not so good is the viewing angles—the screen loses clarity if you’re not viewing it straight on, which can be a problem, particularly if you’re using it as a tablet at night, and are trying to read a book.
Since you can easily connect a Bluetooth keyboard and plug in a monitor via HDMI, there’s no denying that the W4 has a lot of potential, seamlessly switching from being a portable tablet in your bag, to one where you can plug into the keyboard and screen in your office or home.
But while it feels like a step forward from the W3, Acer hasn’t gone far enough yet. Using Windows in desktop mode with just your fingers remains as difficult as ever—you’re going to want to dock in some peripherals when you want to use the desktop.
Full browsers and other desktop programs don’t multitask well on the machine either—it still runs like a netbook. Today, Chromebooks, even tablets, are offering much better user experience, with an equally wide variety of software support.
Like the W3 before it, the Acer Iconia W4 is a good option if you don’t want to buy a basic laptop for work, and a tablet for when you travel. It falls short on both counts, but buying a laptop and a tablet will still cost you at least ₹ 10,000 more. So if you don’t mind the compromise, it’s a good option.
Asus Transformer Book Trio
Asus is no stranger to Frankenstein devices which can go from being a phone to being a full computer. The Transformer Book Trio continues in this proud tradition with three operational modes—a full ultrabook, a desktop console, and a tablet. The company manages to pull this off without any major compromise either, using a strategy that might sound a little crazy—instead of using the same internals for Android and Windows, the Trio has two sets of motherboards, processors, RAM, etc.
It is not, in fact, an alternative to buying a laptop and a tablet. It is a laptop and a tablet, in one easy-to-carry body.
The tablet’s processors reside inside the 11.6 inch screen, while the Windows processing happens under the keyboard, the way it does in typical laptops. The same is true for the batteries. This means that when you don’t want to use it like a laptop, you can press a button just under the screen to separate the two halves, and the screen automatically switches to being an Android tablet. Since the lower half has all the processors, it’s more than just a dock—it still remains a functional Windows machine, and even when you’re using the tablet, you can plug a monitor into the keyboard with an HDMI cable, and use it at the same time.
The Windows half is running on an Intel Core CPU, with an Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU, and 4 GB of RAM. It comes with a 500 GB HDD as well. The Android half has an Intel Atom processor, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage (more expensive variants are available with more storage). This means that both parts are powerful and able to take on any task with ease.
A “Trio" button on the keyboard switches between Windows and Android while the keyboard is attached—you can’t multitask between the two modes, but you can use your Android apps without necessarily disconnecting the two parts.
Switching from Windows to Android is practically instantaneous. The reverse takes a little time, however, and doesn’t give any indication that the switch is taking place either. It can be a little annoying as you press the Trio button and hope that something will happen.
Aside from that, the other quibble with the Trio is the screen size—11.6 inches is a little small for a high-end laptop. If you’re looking to do a fair amount of work on this machine or even play some high-end PC games, the small display, the keyboard and mouse feel cramped. Ironically, 11.6 inches also seems to be a little too big when you are using the device as a tablet. It’s a larger than an iPad, and more than double the total size of most 7-inch tablets.
It’s hard to justify buying a Trio over the combination of a MacBook Air and an iPad Air. It’s a great idea, but Android, especially at that size, isn’t the best experience yet. For now though, there’s no denying that the Transformer Book Trio is probably the best hybrid device on the market.