Help choosing a convertible ultrabook / slate

  • Thread starter Ben Niehoff
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In summary, the conversation discusses the speaker's search for a new device to replace their heavy Fujitsu T5010 laptop. They are considering the Lenovo Thinkpad Helix and the Sony VAIO Duo 13, but ultimately lean towards the Helix due to its detachable screen and lighter weight. They also mention considering the Microsoft Surface Pro, but have concerns about its design. The conversation also delves into the differences between active digitizer and capacitive touch-sensitivity, and the purpose of the pen in their research work and note-taking. The speaker mentions being frustrated by reviewers who do not understand the purpose of the device and its price point.
  • #1
Ben Niehoff
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I have avoided using the word "tablet" in the title, because this word now refers to a few distinct kinds of devices, and I don't want a bunch of iPad fanboys descending on this thread to give me useless advice. So:

I have a Fujitsu T5010 and it's starting to feel heavy. If you don't know what this is, it is a laptop whose screen flips around to lie flat like a tablet. However, it is NOT a capacitive touch screen. The screen itself is actually a Wacom tablet with active digitizer pen (analogous to the Wacom Cintiq series). I use this machine to do all my handwritten research work and note-taking; and since it is also a true laptop, I use it to run Mathematica and write papers as well. But it weighs almost 5 lbs and I'd like something lighter.

Two options I'm considering are:

Lenovo Thinkpad Helix


1. Detachable screen for super-light note-taking. (Screen alone is 1.8 lbs.)
2. 11'' form factor for less bulkiness; can fit it in a smaller bag.


1. Heavier in notebook mode (3.8 lbs.) Although, extra weight is due to second battery in keyboard.
2. Uses 3rd-generation Intel processor; shorter battery life (6 hours in tablet mode, 10 hours with second battery in keyboard).
3. Mini DisplayPort output requires VGA adapter to connect to my TV or monitor.
4. No SD card slot

And this:

Sony VAIO Duo 13


1. Lighter total weight (2.93 lbs.)
2. Uses 4th generation "Haswell" processor for longer battery life (10 hours!)
3. SD card slot
4. HDMI port can easily connect to TV
5. Backlit keyboard


1. 13'' form factor is the same size as my Lifebook (although half as thick).
2. Screen does not detach as a separate "slate".
3. HDMI port needs adapter to talk to my monitor.

Between these two, I think the Helix is more suited to my needs. I realize the pros and cons listed seem to favor the Vaio, but not all of these have equal weight. The fact that the Helix screen is detachable is a huge plus, especially if I am sitting through talks where the seats have no writing surface on which to place a laptop. I could hold a 1.8 lb device in my hands and take notes (although that depends on how hot the thing gets...).

If there's something I didn't list in the Pros and Cons (such as how many megapixels the webcam has), it's something I really don't care about. This is a tool for a specific task.

I realize there is also a Vaio Duo 11, in the 11-inch size. However, it uses the 3rd-generation processors and has a shorter battery life (4.5 hours). So it's not really in the running.

In general, between the 11-inch and 13-inch form factors, I'm a little torn between the added portability of 11'' versus the increase screen space of 13'' for writing. And despite being bigger, the Vaio is lighter by a pound over the Helix+keyboard, although the Helix tablet alone is 50% lighter than the Vaio.

So here are my options:

1. Helix
2. Vaio
3. Wait for a new Helix to come out using the Haswell generation of processors.
4. Something else?

This isn't something I intend to buy right away, so the landscape may change. If Lenovo releases a Helix with Haswell processors, then that would win hands-down. But the Helix only came out recently, so I don't think they will release an update in the timeframe I'm looking at (I'm thinking to get something by the end of the year).

I'm especially interested if anyone has similar machines to suggest. Please suggest something with an i5 or i7 processor with an active digitizer pen. No Android or iOS devices, that's not what I'm looking for.
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  • #2
Hybrids are tough. Companies aren't putting many good options out there. It seems MS is pushing their Surface tablet as a hybrid by advertising the keyboard. Lenovo has the Tablet 2 that has a keyboard too. Both are rated well.
  • #3
A friend has the Thinkpad Tablet 2 and let me play with it for a few minutes. The device itself is alright, but I noticed he had brought a laptop with him as well. I get the same impression: that the Tablet 2 can't actually replace a laptop, so it doesn't really solve the weight issue. Also, the keyboard available for the Tablet 2 works by Bluetooth, which means it saps power rather than providing it (I think it makes sense for a separate keyboard to have a second battery in it).

The Microsoft Surface Pro is tempting, but looking at pictures where it's attached to the keyboard, it doesn't look like it's possible to sit the thing in your lap. The Surface itself has to lean back onto a "stand" in order to stand up.

The Helix is really starting to look more attractive...
  • #4
Well, I think I've decided to eliminate the Sony Vaio due to a weird design issue. When the screen is sitting up in "laptop mode", the bottom edge slides forward to cover the top third of the base. This leaves very little room for the keyboard and trackpad; the trackpad is squeezed into a tiny, unusable shape.

Still trying to figure out whether I want the Helix. It's especially frustrating to read reviews about it, because reviewers don't seem to understand what it's for. Part of the reason is that the word "tablet" has been co-opted by the Android and iPad crowd to mean "cheap, touch-sensitive entertainment device".

Reviewers see the Helix as some sort of compromise device and balk at the $1600 price tag. And yes, if all I wanted was a machine to read PDFs, watch movies, and play Angry Birds, that would be absurd. But reviewers don't understand the purpose of the pen, and definitely don't understand the difference between "active digitizer" and "capacitive touch-sensitivity" (and the extra $800 that goes along with that distinction). Nearly every review I've read treats the pen as a more accurate way to click things on the screen, since the 1920x1080 resolution makes some of the menus tiny. No one seems to consider that you can actually write with an active digitizer, at a natural size and speed (and of course you can also make professional-quality digital art).

Of course, I don't think most people need to write on their computer, so they see it as some kind of novelty.

The Thinkpad Tablet 2 is still somewhat attractive as a note-taking device, but its Atom processor is underpowered doing things like Mathematica. However, for the price of the Helix, I could get a Thinkpad Tablet 2 and a Macbook Air, so that might actually make more sense (although I loathe the idea of being mistaken for a Mac fanboy).
  • #5
I have seen unsubstantiated rumors that the Helix might be updated with Haswell in October or November. So I'll wait and see. That's around when I wanted to buy anyway.

Several things on the Lenovo site are on sale right now, so that could indicate that new things are conning soon.
  • #6
Ben Niehoff said:
I have seen unsubstantiated rumors that the Helix might be updated with Haswell in October or November. So I'll wait and see. That's around when I wanted to buy anyway.

Several things on the Lenovo site are on sale right now, so that could indicate that new things are conning soon.

Good call, but then come Nov they will announce a new product that is coming out in Feb :D
  • #7
Greg Bernhardt said:
Good call, but then come Nov they will announce a new product that is coming out in Feb :D

Well of course. And then those things promised in Feb won't actually show up till June (i.e., what happened with the Helix when it was introduced, apparently). :D
  • #8
Looks like the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 was just announced, to be available in late October. The only option is an Intel i5, although it is a 4th-gen Haswell so its battery life should be longer. (Although, Microsoft has cleverly avoided stating what the expected battery life actually is...).
  • #9
I can't find any real information on the Surface Pro 2 yet. All the reviewers are just parroting Microsoft's press release. Nobody has actually got their hands on one yet (and they won't actually ship until late October).

I am most curious about its real-world battery life. The original Surface Pro has terrible battery life (i.e. less than 3 hours). MS is claiming a "75% increase", but they offer no real numbers. By contrast, they are openly claiming that the Surface 2 (an ARM device running Windows RT, not a real computer) runs for 10 hours. But they've claimed no specific time for the Surface Pro 2.

If the battery life is at least 5 hours, I'm tempted, since that matches the battery life of the tablet portion of the Thinkpad Helix. MS will also be offering a keyboard that contains a secondary battery. So it's possible that the combined Surface + keyboard could match the Helix in battery life. I'll wait until there's some real data.

MS also will offer a docking station that looks pretty cool. I have a KVM set up on my desk to switch between my desktop machine and my laptop; having a docking station would make it really convenient to use the Surface.

There is a Microsoft Store not too far from here. I think I will go there tomorrow and check out the form factor of the original Surface Pro. The new Surface Pro 2 is the same dimensions. One concern I have about the Surface (vs. the Helix) is that it looks impossible to sit it in your lap and type like on a traditional laptop. The tablet features are convenient for doing handwritten work, but one does occasionally have to type.
  • #10
Well, I don't know if anyone is still reading this (Greg?). The Century City Mall has both a Sony Store and a Micosoft Store (and of course an Apple Store, but that's not really relevant here). So, I tested out both the Vaio Duo 13 and the Surface Pro 2, focusing on the areas I'm concerned about.

The Vaio Duo 13 was better constructed than I expected, I was almost tempted by it. But it uses an N-Trig digitizer rather than Wacom, and the first thing I noticed was how horribly laggy it was. It was not possible to write at a natural speed and size. My 9-year-old Fujitsu T-4010 is more useable, and my 5-year-old Fujitsu T-5010 blows the Vaio Duo 13 out of the water in terms of actually writing on the screen. Using smooth strokes, such as painting (which the salesman encouraged me to try) was just fine. But trying to actually write and do math was frustrating.

After that I went to the Microsoft Store to check out the Surface Pro 2. First I checked out its stylus, which was snappy and responsive. I tried out the Type Cover (i.e. the physical keyboard) and it was acceptable (knowing, of course, that this is a compromise device). Most importantly, I tried sitting in a chair and propping the Surface up on my lap, to type like on a traditional laptop (while I mostly need a tablet for writing on, I do occasionally need a traditional laptop style workflow). It was actually OK to use this way! Much more stable than you would guess at first glance.

I decided to pre-order a Surface Pro 2.

Related to Help choosing a convertible ultrabook / slate

1. What is the difference between a convertible ultrabook and a slate?

A convertible ultrabook is a type of laptop that can be transformed into a tablet by flipping or rotating the screen. It typically has a keyboard and trackpad, and can be used as a traditional laptop. On the other hand, a slate is a tablet that does not have a keyboard or trackpad, and is designed to be used primarily with touch input.

2. What are the main factors to consider when choosing a convertible ultrabook or slate?

The main factors to consider include the processor, RAM, storage capacity, display size and resolution, battery life, and weight. You should also consider the operating system and any additional features or accessories, such as a stylus or detachable keyboard.

3. Which operating system is best for a convertible ultrabook or slate?

This depends on personal preference and intended use. Windows is the most popular operating system for convertible ultrabooks and slates, as it offers a wide range of software and compatibility with Microsoft Office. However, if you prefer a simpler and more touch-friendly interface, you may opt for a device with Android or iOS.

4. Can I replace the keyboard on a convertible ultrabook?

It depends on the specific model. Some convertible ultrabooks have detachable keyboards that can be replaced, while others have a permanent keyboard that cannot be removed. It is important to check the specifications and product details before purchasing to determine if the keyboard is replaceable.

5. Are convertible ultrabooks and slates durable for everyday use?

Convertible ultrabooks and slates are designed to be portable and versatile, so they are typically built to withstand frequent use. However, the durability may vary depending on the brand and specific model. It is important to read reviews and carefully consider the build quality before making a purchase.

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