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Debating the tablet vs laptop dilemma

If owning an iPad made you feel that you don't need a laptop, think again. iPads came when smartphone screens were still small and most laptops were either big (with terrible battery life) or were netbooks with small screens and underpowered, writes Rajiv Makhni.

brunch Updated: Jun 01, 2014 10:07 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times

This is a startling statement, and coming from Microsoft vice-president Panos Panay has a lot of weightage too. Even if I was to further drill it down to maybe 96 per cent of iPad-owning households owning a laptop too, it's still a pretty damaging statistic against the use case of tablets in general and iPads specifically.

What is a tablet for?
When the iPad was first introduced, the exact need and what it would be used for was quite foggy. Yet this was a time when smartphone screens were still very small and most laptops were either thick and big (and had terrible battery life) or were super-small netbooks (with terribly small screens and underpowered). Thus, tablets did actually fill a demand for an instant consumption device, where picking one up and starting to use it instantly to browse the Net, read a book or watch a movie became like second nature. That, unfortunately, isn't the case anymore.

Smartphones can actually go as big as 6.5 inches with terrific screens and battery life too. And laptops like the Macbook Air and the Lenovo Yoga, are actually more handy than a tablet while being almost similar in size. Tablets have thus further eroded their use case scenario. And, smack bang in the middle of this comes Microsoft with its Surface Pro 3, and calls it the best Tablet that doesn't need you to own a laptop too. Could that be true? Could the era of owning both as a necessity finally be drawing to a close?

Read:The start of the end for tablets?

Money matters: Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 does set new standards, but is too highly priced; A better option: A laptop like Lenovo Yoga is actually more handy than a tablet despite the same size.

On the surface
Let's first make sure that we know what we are talking about. This is Microsoft, the software giant who has always made truly sucky PC hardware whenever it has tried it (not counting the mouse and keyboard and other accessories they make).
The original Surface, the Surface Pro 2 and all other derivations in between have all swung between being a total disaster to just about okay. Sales have thus been weak and most of us in this country haven't even seen one. All of a sudden, rumours of an 8-inch Surface Mini started to well, surface. At the event though, out popped this big damaging statement about the iPad, how it had failed to be a laptop replacement totally, and how Microsoft was now going to play rescuer with its all-new Surface Pro 3. A Tablet that has been rebuilt from the ground up to move effortlessly between doing duty as a slate and then morphing into a laptop when needed.

The Pro 3
This is astounding hardware and truly does set new standards. It's big and beautiful, yet thin and light. It's a stunning silver magnesium alloy body that houses a 12-inch screen with an outstanding resolution of 2160x1440. And, even though it's got a screen as big as that, the entire slate is just 9.1mm thick and weighs just 0.800kg. Multiple processor options abound as you can pick one up with a Haswell Core i3, i5 or i7. And unsurprisingly, it does have a fan inside to cool them down. Battery life clocks in at around nine hours. It comes with a 'use it at any angle' built in kickstand that makes sure you can prop it up as you like. Also included is a state-of-the-art digitiser level pen that does some exceptional duties including note-taking even if the Pro 3 is locked, and can help the artist in you too.

Add to that the bigger
Keys-type keyboard that does double duty as a cover for the screen too. While the keys are built into the cover itself, and are thin, they still somehow give the illusion of depth when you start typing. Then, there are some pretty good cameras built into the device. Both the front and rear cameras are 5.0- megapixel, and each has its own outward facing microphone built right in. A single USB 3.0 port adorns the side. So, all in all, sounds like the perfect hybrid tablet-cum-laptop machine. Could Microsoft have actually got it right?

Once you scratch the surface
Nope! It's Microsoft, so they are going to screw up a good thing. First of all, a true laptop-level replacement Surface Pro 3 with an i7 is priced more than a top-of-the-line laptop AND a tablet! Then, for some strange reason, the Pro 3, that is supposedly a laptop replacement doesn't have the all-important Touch Keyboard cover in the box. You pay for it separately! Put it all together and you are going to spend about $1,549 to $1,949 for the Pro 3 and an additional $130 for the keyboard cover. That, in itself, is game over for the Pro 3! Add to that the fact that Windows 8.1 as a pure tablet OS still has few takers as it just cannot do true double duty. Since there is just one USB port, the ergonomic problem is that a kickstand with a cover keyboard doesn't sit perfectly on a lap while typing. And, the final Achilles heel is that the touchpad on the Type keyboard cover is mediocre at best, forcing you to use the touch screen for most things.

With the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft took on a big challenge and also threw down a huge gauntlet. Unfortunately, the ridiculous pricing and some niggling form factor issues have made sure that the challenge is over even before it started.
Till then, 96 per cent of you who have an iPad better go buy a laptop, as the Pro 3 isn't going to change that statistic by much. Maybe the Pro 4...

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, June 1
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