Hybrids vs. convertibles: CNET's field guide to Windows 8 hardware

Does the weird world of Windows 8 confuse you? Come along for a rough guide to the various types of devices you're likely to see.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read

Coming soon, a veritable evolutionary explosion of Windows 8 devices will be bearing down on you. Big small, tablety, not tablety, full of touch, and ready to fold into strange shapes for your general amusement.

Welcome to the Windows 8 Field Guide, an Audubon's Birds-style attempt to help you identify the classifications and subphyla of this odd new computing world. It's not as hard as you think, once you break down the various common types. Be forewarned: these classifications are works in progress, and there could very well be more evolutionary variants coming soon. But, hopefully, this should help classify some of the multipurpose strangeness you're already starting to see on preorder pages.

Of course, you still have laptops, desktops, and tablets. Some of these tablets will have one of two operating systems: Windows 8 or Windows RT.

After that, the classifications get a little more diffused.

The hybrid

Prime examples: HP Envy X2 (pictured), Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx, Asus Vivo Tab


What is it? A tablet that turns into a laptop, or a laptop that breaks apart into a tablet. The idea is simple: if there are two pieces that split apart, it's a hybrid. The keyboard base generally has extra ports and connections like USB, as well as an extra battery. The top part's a tablet that's also the screen. Some of these hybrids run Windows 8, while others use the very different and more limited Windows RT. The processors inside can also be vastly different: fast ultrabook-level Intel Core i-series, Intel Atom-based, or Nvidia Tegra.

The hybrid lite

Prime example: Microsoft Surface (pictured)


What is it? Exactly as the name implies, a tablet with a keyboard that may be included with the system, and was specifically designed for it, but isn't a key piece to the system's function. This is different than a hybrid because, in this instance, the keyboard's not an integral part of the system, and doesn't hold extra ports or batteries.

The convertible

Prime examples: Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga (pictured), Asus Taichi, Dell XPS Duo 12


What is it? If it looks like a laptop, and then you can swivel something around and make it more like a tablet, it's a convertible. The key difference between this and a hybrid is that the parts stay together. Convertible laptop/tablets have been around for years, but Windows 8 has given the form new life. These laptops have touch screens, and hinged top lids or screens that can flip or swivel.

The slider

Prime examples: Sony Vaio Duo 11 (pictured), Toshiba Satellite U925t

Slider: Sony Vaio Duo 11. Sarah Tew/CNET

What is it? This special-case version of the convertible doesn't open up like a regular laptop; instead, its keyboard slides out and the top screen angles up, almost like a giant smartphone, to become a laptop-like device that feels more like a tablet with a permanently docked keyboard. The advantage: easier to open and shut in tight quarters. Disadvantage: it's less flexible than other types of convertibles. Also, some shrink their keyboards down or eliminate touch pads to save space.

The touch-screen laptop

Prime examples: Acer Aspire S7 (pictured), Sony Vaio T13 Touch


What is it? A laptop with a touch screen. This is easy to understand. A lot of existing laptops are being upgraded into Windows 8 versions by adding an extra capacitive touch layer to the screen. The screen works just like a tablet, but is often a bit thicker.

The touch-screen all-in-one

Prime example: Acer Aspire 7600U (pictured)


What is it? The world of big, all-in-one desktops with their innards housed in the monitor have been gradually adding touch for years. Many of the remaining all-in-ones that didn't have touch are getting it now in time for Windows 8. It's nearly becoming standard.

Special case: The very large tablet (that's also an all-in-one)

Prime example: Sony Vaio Tap 20 (pictured)


What is it? This category unto itself is new, and doesn't have many representatives. Imagine a full-size touch-screen desktop system that you could easily take with you and use with an attached battery. It would be a giant tablet of sorts that could run Windows 8. It could be a versatile kitchen/living room computer, or even a sharable PC in a living room.

As we see more examples, we'll list them here. This is a work in progress. And, of course, check out CNET's complete list of new Windows 8 PCs for up-to-date rundowns of what's been reviewed. Happy hunting!