Can Dell ‘convertible’ really be both notebook and tablet?

Inspiron duo, running Windows 7, tries to

Dell Inspiron duo
Dell introduced today a surprisingly clever product offered as a unique approach to a tablet computer. The Inspiron duo is what Dell calls a convertible tablet because it operates as a conventional notebook computer or as a tablet, a la the Apple iPad. But at more than twice the weight of an iPad, portability might be a problem.

The way the device works as a convertible is that you open it like a conventional laptop, but push on the screen and it moves out of the frame that surrounds it. The screen swivels 360 degrees on a horizontal axis and once you’ve completely turned it around, the screen is now on what would be the outside cover of a laptop. Close the cover and you’ve got a tablet.

I actually got a sneak peak at one last Friday while attending a Dell news event in San Francisco. It was fresh from an appearance at the opening of one of the newest Microsoft retail stores, this one in Bellevue, Wash. The device runs Windows 7 Home Premium. Outside of Dell’s and Microsoft’s Web sites, the only brick-and-mortar place to purchase the Inspiron duo through the holiday season is at Microsoft retail stores, of which there are all of seven in the U.S.

If it works as advertised, the Inspiron duo (duo is part of the name but it’s lower case, much to the annoyance of copy editors like me) could be a nice variation on the tablet. Chief among its attributes is that it has a regular QWERTY keyboard when it’s in notebook mode. You can put the device down on a table and type while looking at the screen facing you. You can’t easily do that with a tablet. I’ve yet to use an iPad for more than a few minutes but am currently demoing a Samsung Galaxy Tab for another Web site, a device similar to a Dell Streak 5.

Although the Tab has many great qualities, I’ve found one drawback is that you always have to hold it. Even at just 0.84 pounds, not that you break your wrist but you start to notice the weight after extended use. The iPad tips the scales at 1.5 pounds. The Inspiron duo outweighs them all, however, at 3.39 pounds. I can see that being difficult for someone, say a nurse making rounds at a hospital, to carry around with one hand.

The Inspiron duo sells for $549, or $649 with a docking station that allows you to operate it in tablet format with the computer positioned in landscape mode. That might be a smart option to add. While hefty, the Inspiron duo is, based on dimensions, both small for a notebook but big for a tablet with a 10.1-inch screen, versus 9.7 inches for an iPad and 5.0 inches for a Dell Streak.

I’m on a waiting list for a demo to see how the Inspiron duo works in the real world.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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