At a time when convertibles and hybrids were novel concepts, there was always a trade-off. If you wanted superb portability (and no, a beefy phablet or a minimalist tablet was not your idea of the office workhorse), you had to compromise on performance for form factor or vice versa. Then the climate changed. With BYOD and businesses-on-the-go making inroads into our life, work has lost its well-defined boundaries and the traditional laptops that IBM had churned out more than two decades ago, need to keep pace with our millennium lifestyle. The chunky clamshells, weighing around four kg, are no longer suitable for the new-found mobility. But as performance becomes the raison d'etre of our survival, new-age computing devices have evolved into great masterpieces - sleek, chic and veritable powerhouses under the hood.
But how long did it take for this transformation to happen? With each passing year, laptops had weighed less but were still on the heavier side. Then came the Ultrabooks, a new line of mean machines with a sleeker form factor and top-of-the-line performance. At the time of the launch, they were powered by then-latest Intel processors, but instead of the traditional hard disk drive (HDD), they adopted the solid-state drive (SSD). The latter was (and still is) an expensive yet advanced and reliable storage solution, and offered manufactures more flexibility in designing a PC. Ultimately, these gave way to convertibles and 2-in-1 hybrids. Simply put, convertibles are touchscreen-capable laptops that can be folded or flipped in different ways but do not have detachable keyboards. When the keyboard can be attached to the main device, it is classified as a tablet-laptop. Both touch-optimised convertible laptops and keyboard-detachable tablets fall under the new category - the 2-in-1 hybrids.
Most of these devices are versatile wonders, bringing in a paradigm shift. Take, for instance, Microsoft Surface Pro (2017), a beautifully designed and productivity-focussed hybrid. Primarily a tablet running a full-fledged Windows 10 operating system, the fifth-generation Surface Pro is powered by the latest Intel Core processor, with storage capacity up to 1 TB. The intuitive touchscreen interface is smooth and vibrant while the attachable keyboard and a whole bunch of accessories make things easy for creatives and professionals. The recently launched Surface Go, a smaller and a more affordable version of Surface Pro, may not be as versatile, but could still be the device of choice for dedicated Windows users.
Lenovo, on the other hand, has popularised the convertible form factor where laptops have several rotating hinges and can be used as tablets with stands. But one of the best-looking gadgets in this space is the Spectre 360 from HP, a slim, stylish notebook with an aluminium body and a 360-degree hinge design. Weighing less than 1.3 kg, the 13-inch convertible is powered by Intel's 8th generation processor, with up to 16 GB of RAM.
Microsoft might have led the way with Windows tablet-laptops (many feel they function better as laptops but have not yet reached the excellence of iPads), but those running Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS are equally good performers. Nevertheless, Apple's iPad Pro does not seem to be shifting towards the traditional laptop shape or functionality. It continues to be an iPad running iOS, with access to apps for managing e-mail, browsing or even handling documents on the move. The addition of a detachable keyboard and a stand matches the laptop-style interface, though, and ensures ease of typing.
Keyboards (detachable or otherwise) are bound to find favour with all and sundry for productivity reasons. But the new breed has something worthwhile for the creatives as well - the artists, the designers, the stylists, et al. - as digital styluses make a foray, replicating those wild strokes of imagination and eliminating the need to invest in a digital sketchpad. They are also useful for markups and annotations on documents and PDFs. Apple's App Store has hundreds of paid and free applications with Pencil support, but the concept, much like the touchscreen technology, has become a mainstay. The Microsoft Surface Pro series has it as well as HP Spectre, Lenovo's Yoga Book and even the recently launched Samsung Galaxy Tab S4. And all of them are working hard to enrich user experience.
With enhanced functionality comes the integration of high-speed, ubiquitous cellular connectivity and the capacity to switch networks. As more and more hybrids support LTE, a 4G mobile communications standard, a new breed of 'Always Connected Personal Computers' or ACPCs could be emerging in the near future. In fact, the ASUS NovaGo, which comes with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor, a 360-degree flip hinge, and Gigabit speeds, says it is the first 2-in-1 hybrid offering an 'always on, always connected' experience, much like the smartphone. The company is claiming up to 22 hours of battery life, which underlines how big performance will require big power. Soon, we may see large, multiple-day batteries, and compact chargers.