Microsoft Surface Pro 3 gets new challenger in HP Pro x2 612

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Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 debuted last month to mixed reviews, and earlier Surface models have sold poorly, but that isn’t stopping the rest of the Windows ecosystem from chasing the same Holy Grail - a single device that can do the work of both a laptop and a tablet.

The latest to join the quest is the HP Pro x2 612, which HP claims will succeed where others failed because it’s designed specifically as a laptop replacement for knowledge workers in enterprises, instead of the less-demanding consumers. That’s a bold statement, and I’ll look at how well the claims hold up in a moment.

See also: The third time is not the charm: 3 ways the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 still fails

The HP Pro x2 is built around a 12.5-inch widescreen display that’s almost laptop size — and gargantuan for a tablet (the Surface Pro 3’s 12-inch screen is actually larger, though, because of its squarer, 3:2 aspect ratio). Processor choices are on the low side: Intel Celeron, Pentium, and Core i3 and i5 processors (but no i7 like the Surface Pro 3). There’s a bunch of ports and LTE broadband connectivity. A Wacom digitizer pen is stored within the display (a good thing - external pens tend to get lost quickly.)

Battery life is approximately 8 hours, which rises to 14 hours when connected to the full-size Power Keyboard, which turns the device into a full-fledged laptop, equipped with even more connectivity options. The whole shebang reportedly weighs about 4 pounds. (A thinner and lighter Travel Keyboard also features full-size keys and a kickstand. It wraps around the display unit for protection, but doesn’t include a battery or the full complement of ports.)

The "detachable" use case

According to Daron Chalk, HP product line manager for Windows business hybrid products, laptop/tablet combo units can be separated into two categories: “attachables” and “detachables.” Attachables, Chalk said, without naming names, are primarily tablets that can be attached to a keyboard to approximate laptop functionality. Detachables, like the Pro x2 612, are primarily notebooks that can detach the keyboard to work as a tablet, he said.

Chalk said IT loves Windows detachables because they need only buy, maintain, and support one device instead of two different ones. “It simplifies their life and reduces their cost.” End users see detachables “as an opportunity to completely change the way they work,” he said, enjoying new-found speed and convenience from the tablet while keeping all the notebook functionality they have today.

He cited the use case of a bank officer working on a spreadsheet in her office running multiple large-screen displays, but then detaching the tablet portion to consult with a customer or colleague in the bank lobby, perhaps using the device’s pen input to capture a signature. Similarly, a home improvement retail manager might be working in the back office on a presentation, and then carry the tablet out to approve a purchase or take a picture.

Unanswered questions about the HP Pro x2 612

It all sounds good, but there are plenty of unanswered questions. Chalk estimated that the HP Pro x2 612 would be used as a tablet just 20 to 30 percent of the time, which puts the onus squarely on its ability to compete as a laptop.

But to stand out, the device still has to compete with “real” iOS and Android tablets that may not run traditional Windows programs but do run hundreds of thousands of tablet-optimized mobile apps. And those devices are likely thinner, lighter, and more tablet-y than the 612.

Moreover, HP is living in the past if it thinks that enterprise users are more demanding than consumers. For years now, business users have made it clear they want to ditch their enterprise-provided hardware, software, and services in favor of more powerful, easier-to-use consumer options. To many people, hearing that a product was “built from the ground up exclusively for enterprise users” means only that it’s over-priced, under-powered, and awkward to use.

What about the price?

Finally, the Pro x2 612 won’t be priced until closer to its early September 2014 ship date, but I’m already worried. Even apart from the need to price the unit lower than an equivalent laptop plus an Apple iPad, HP’s press release notes that “users can also choose the stand-alone HP Pro Tablet 612.”

Oh boy. That sounds suspiciously like HP is about to repeat Microsoft’s mistake of setting a base price that covers only the tablet portion of the combo unit, undermining its claim that the device is really intended to be a laptop replacement.

Still, here’s hoping that HP, Microsoft, and other vendors keep trying various combinations until they get it right. Heck, maybe someone will even top the bizarre new Asus Transformer Book V, which combines a Windows laptop, Android tablet, and even an Android smartphone!

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