It’s official; Windows 10 arrives on July 29. If you already own a Windows 8 machine, Microsoft’s new OS should run on it just fine. Plus, if you own systems running either Windows 7 or 8, you qualify for a free Windows 10 upgrade.
But if you are in the market for a new Windows PC, and you travel frequently, it could be time to check out a Windows tablet/laptop hybrid. Such machines have been on the market for a few years now. And the newer models have ironed out most of the awkwardness of earlier hybrids.
We recently tested (and recommend) three small business-ready tablet/laptop hybrids that will run Windows 10: Microsoft Surface 3, Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12, and Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000 Series. We recommend all three. Let’s take a look to see which system might be right for you.
Style and Portability Winner: Microsoft Surface 3
It’s hard not to love Microsoft’s low-end, high-style Surface 3 tablet ($500 and up). That’s saying a lot, given how unlovable the first two low-end Surface tablets were. Both ran Windows RT, a version of Windows that could only handle apps, not actual Windows desktop applications. Windows RT was one of those big mistakes Microsoft kept making until current CEO Satya Nadella took over.
The new Surface 3 is a Windows 8.1 tablet with a beautiful and bright 10.8-inch display (1920 x 1280 resolution). When you add the optional, excellent Type Cover ($130) and fine-tipped Surface Pen ($50), it becomes a highly portable touchscreen laptop. Design fans will appreciate the six keyboard choices and four pen choices.
Microsoft’s Surface 3 tablet.
The Type Cover is among the best keyboards we’ve ever used for a tablet computer. We find the Surface pen surprisingly useful, especially when combined with Microsoft’s OneNote note-taking app. For instance, tapping the top of the pen automatically launches OneNote on the Surface.
At just 1.37 pounds, Surface 3 is easy to carry just about anywhere. With the added keyboard, it weighs about 2 pounds—by far the lightest of these three machines.
Surface 3 performs well in everyday work tasks such as Web browsing, email, writing, and spreadsheet editing. With a low-powered Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor, however, we don’t recommend Surface 3 as your primary computer or for use in intensive tasks such as video editing.
Some caveats: To turn a Surface 3 into a solid Windows laptop, you should strongly consider the $600 model with 4GB of memory and 128GB of flash-drive storage. (The $500 edition includes 2GB of memory and 64GB of storage.)
Think about it: If you plan to use this machine for several years, 2GB will eventually (if not immediately) seem confining, and you can’t upgrade Surface’s RAM later. Also, remember you’re not getting a full 128GB of storage; you’re actually only getting about 93GB of free space, according to Microsoft. You can add storage via a microSD slot, however.
When you add the Type Cover—which you must—and the Surface Pen—not essential but good to have—the total cost hits $780. You could easily buy a much less expensive Windows laptop, such as HP’s Pavilion x2; it’s currently $550 for a model with 4GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive and a detachable keyboard.
Other considerations: You might want to give the Surface Pro 3 a look, which offers a bigger screen and a more powerful processor, among other differentiators. You’ll pay more, of course. A Surface Pro 3 with the same memory, storage, and accessories as the Surface 3 quoted above would cost $350 more, or $1,130.
One more thing to keep in mind; as of this writing, Microsoft expects to announce a Surface Pro 4 sometime this summer, possibly around Windows 10’s July launch date. No details have been released yet.
Battery Winner: Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000 Series Tablet
Dell’s Venue 11 Pro tablet is close in spirit to Surface 3, in that its optional keyboard connects magnetically to the tablet. Dell’s tablet isn’t as stylish as Surface 3, nor is it as light. With the keyboard, Dell’s Venue 11 Pro weighs about 3.10 lbs, one pound more than Surface 3, but still less than the Lenovo machine.
Dell Venue 11 Pro tablet with optional keyboard.
Dell has assembled a serious business machine that can serve you well as a laptop, a tablet, or even a desktop (with an optional dock)—at a base price that’s only $161 more than the Surface 3. For $800, you get a Venue 11 Pro 7000 with 4GB of memory, a 128GB flash-drive for storage, an Intel Core M-5Y70 processor, and a 10.8-inch touchscreen (1920 x 1080 resolution). The Dell Venue Mobile Keyboard currently sells for $110, and Dell’s Active Stylus costs $31.50 when discounted. Total cost: $941.50.
The keyboard’s nicely spaced, Chiclet-style keys are fine (if a bit cramped) for long periods of typing. It’s also weightier than Microsoft’s Type Cover, providing a more comfortable balance when used in laptop mode between the screen and keyboard. Because Dell’s keyboard contains a battery, you need to charge it, however, and the charging port is awkwardly positioned in the tablet connecting slot; minor problems, but worth mentioning.
But here’s the thing. If you need a portable machine to last you all day, Dell’s Venue 11 Pro 7000 is the one to beat. It has the longest battery life of these three—especially when used in combination with the mobile keyboard, which Dell says can boost the tablet battery’s life as much as 50 percent. Some reviewers have reported a total of nearly 10 hours battery life with the tablet alone and nearly 16 hours when used with the keyboard.
Flexibility Champ: Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12
Lenovo’s ThinkPad Yoga 12 is, unlike the Surface 3, a laptop. More to the point, it’s an “ultrabook,” a lightweight portable computer. Though you can’t detach its keyboard, as you can with Surface, you can completely fold it behind the beautiful 12.5-inch touchscreen, putting the laptop into tablet viewing mode. In that mode, the physical keyboard’s keys go dormant, replaced by an onscreen keyboard.
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12 in tent mode.
Like other portables in Lenovo’s Yoga series, you can also “tent” the device, propped up with the screen facing you and the keyboard behind it—which is a great position for watching videos or giving presentations to a client. It’s a cool trick, giving you multiple ways to use the computer—though some laptops from other vendors offer it as well. Also, the physical keyboard is consistent with Lenovo’s top-quality ThinkPad keyboards.
The base ThinkPad Yoga 12 costs $890 on Lenovo’s site. It includes 4GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive (spinning at 7,200 rpm), and a zippy Intel Core i3-5005U processor. In the grand scheme of things, the Atom processor in the Surface is the least powerful of the three; the Intel Core i3 chip is the highest performer; and Dell’s processor falls somewhere between.
Lenovo offers a digitizer pen, which has its own storage slot in the laptop. But to get that pen, you must upgrade the ThinkPad Yoga 12 display from 1366×768 resolution to 1920×1080 resolution, at a cost of $250. That brings the system total to $1,140, or $360 more than the Surface 3 with keyboard and pen. While the higher-end screen looks great, $250 isn’t worth it if you’re mainly just interested in having a stylus.
At 3.48 pounds, the ThinkPad Yoga 12 is the heaviest and biggest of the three. Battery life is good, typically lasting just less than 8 hours, about the same as the Surface 3 but not as good as Dell’s Venue 11 Pro.
If you value ultra-portability most, get the Surface 3. If you’re looking fo a machine that will last you all day (and then some), go with Dell’s Venue Pro 11. More interested in a traditional, but highly flexible, laptop? Assume the ThinkPad Yoga 12 pose.
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