You were promised better than this.
When the modern tablet era kicked off seven years ago with the first iPad, Steve Jobs famously pitched it as an in-between device, something to use when you didn’t want to squint at your phone’s tiny screen or do serious work on your laptop. It was a decent value proposition, and the iPad sold like hotcakes.
Eventually, the narrative shifted. Tablets wouldn’t just be good for lean-back content consumption, we were told, they’d eventually replace the laptop for good.
Microsoft has toyed with the concept since the Surface’s debut in 2012, calling it “the tablet that can replace your laptop.” Apple followed suit a few years later with the iPad Pro, and has recently run a series of ads pitching it as a better solution than a laptop. And over the last two years we’ve seen several tablet/laptops from a variety of manufacturers, all of them chasing the promise of a laptop killer.
The problem? It doesn’t work.
Despite all the pitches and promises that each company has cracked the code for that dreamy device that can be all things to everyone, the result is always a niche product that’s one part mediocre laptop and one part mediocre tablet.
Don’t believe the hype. While these tablet/laptops might be fine for frequent travellers and some other minor use cases, they’re not good for the average person.
The latest in the category is the Samsung Galaxy Book, a $US1,200 tablet that runs the full version of Windows 10. I’ve been testing one for the last several days. It comes with a 10 or 12-inch screen, keyboard cover, stylus, and some of Intel’s best processors. On paper, it’s impressive that you can now cram a full Windows computer into this form factor. In reality, it’s a clunky solution, and it falls into the same traps as every other device in the category.
Even though I’m going to talk about the Galaxy Book specifically, a lot of this applies to its competitors, ranging from the Surface Pro to the iPad Pro. No matter what a gadget maker tries to tell you, there’s no such thing as a tablet that can replace your laptop.
Using it as a laptop
Unlike the soon-to-be-released Surface Pro, the Galaxy Book comes with a keyboard cover. And that’s a good thing. Apple and Microsoft make you spend an extra $US130, which is borderline insulting to sell the device as a laptop replacement, but make you pay more for that luxury.
When it comes to typing and using the trackpad, the Galaxy Book’s folio keyboard works just fine. The trackpad is surprisingly accurate for a Windows machine, and the keys are comfortable to type on, even though they feel a bit plasticky.
Beyond that, the Galaxy Book runs smoothly. I wish it had a bit more RAM and storage options, but I didn’t experience any major performance issues. By that measure, it should serve most people just fine. There really is something appealing about having a full PC in such a tight package.
Unfortunately, there are far too many tradeoffs.
The form factor simply doesn’t work as a laptop replacement. The keyboard folio that attaches to the tablet provides limited viewing angles, forcing you to strain your neck. And it’s a disaster to use on your lap thanks to the floppy plastic construction. The Galaxy Book constantly fell over because the folio was unable to support the weight of the tablet on my legs. It only worked on a flat, hard surface. It’s just not as good as the metal or sturdy plastic builds you get with laptop keyboards.
Using it as a tablet
Of course, the benefit with the Galaxy Book is supposed to be that you can use it as a tablet when you want. But Windows has never been a good tablet operating system, and it doesn’t have a vibrant touch-friendly app ecosystem like iOS or Android. Windows is still about getting things done, and a lot of the apps you’d want to use are available, but the Windows app store is still shockingly barren after all these years compared to iOS and Android.
And again, the form factor is a problem. Tablets make great reading devices and mini TVs, but the Galaxy Book weighs in at a hefty 1.7 pounds. It’s uncomfortable to hold for extended periods of time. Good luck getting through a full-length movie.
Stick with what works
While there are plenty of Surface fans out there, I have a feeling the category will remain niche. The portability is great, but the form factor isn’t. The touchscreen is great, but the apps just aren’t there. The problems keep adding up.
From the Surface to the iPad Pro to the Galaxy Book, I have yet to use a tablet/laptop hybrid that convinces me this category has any real legs. There are too many tradeoffs, too many caveats. There’s no better combination than a really great laptop and a big-screen smartphone for everything else when you’re on the go.
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