So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
LG Tab-Book Z160 hybrid tablet
LG's Tab-Book is an innovative hybrid device, but it's much better suited as a tablet than a notebook
- Very good screen
- Good performance for a tablet
- Uncomfortable keyboard
- Only one built-in USB 3.0 port
- A bit heavy and awkward
LG's Tab-Book Z160 hybrid works as both a tablet and a notebook. This is due to a spring-loaded hinge mechanism that can shift the touchscreen up and down over the keyboard base. However, it's much better as a tablet than it is a notebook, mainly because its keyboard isn't good.
Price$ 1,499.00 (AUD)
With the LG Tab-Book, you get an 11.6in, Windows 8-based hybrid device that is more tablet than it is notebook. Its touchscreen sits above the built-in keyboard and base of the unit, and it springs up to expose the keyboard easier than most other devices that we've seen with this type of form factor.
Using it as a tablet
All you have to do to convert from tablet to notebook mode is press the button on the left side of the base. This releases the spring-loaded hinge, which, in turn, makes the screen shoot up automatically. Once it's up, the screen will sit at a fixed angle and there is no way to tilt it back or forward. This can be a little irritating at times when you want to use the Tab-Book as a notebook.
The spring in the hinge is quite strong and the way the screen shoots up is vigorous — at least while the Tab-Book is new. If you are holding it in your hands while you press the release button, you will have to make sure that you are actually holding onto it securely. If you're holding it up on an angle (as you would when using it as a tablet, for example), and then you hit the release button, the product could potentially lean towards you. You'll need to keep the release button in mind at all times when using the Tab-Book as a tablet so that you don't release the screen accidentally.
Putting the screen back down is a bit of a chore. You have to push it down in the middle, rather than from the sides. The latch that holds the hinge and screen down is actually quite secure. We had our reservations about it, but the Tab-Book's screen never popped up unless the release button was pressed — we even tried to put the screen up without pressing the button (by shaking the unit) and weren't able to. It's a strong design and it's relatively neat, too. The ribbon cable that connects the screen to the rest of the system is hidden nicely between the two parts of the hinge.
As a tablet, the Tab-Book performed very well. Its screen supports five simultaneous touch inputs and it was accurate and responsive during our tests. It doesn't have a Full HD resolution; instead you get a screen that has 1366x768 pixels. On an 11.6in screen, that resolution looks clear and it's perfectly adequate for basic Web browsing and most other Windows 8 tasks. It also makes a lot of the on-screen elements a little easier to tap with your fingers, especially ones that weren't specifically designed for a touch interface, such as window control buttons and desktop application menus. Furthermore, the screen is vibrant and can be seen accurately from wide angles and different orientations.
Using it as a notebook
While it's great as a tablet, we don't think the Tab-Book is the type of hybrid you should buy if you have high hopes of using it as a traditional laptop. The keyboard felt too cramped during our tests and we didn't feel comfortable using it at all. Even responding to emails with it can be a chore, let alone longer typing sessions. This is mainly because the keys are small, and they are located on a base that's only about 90mm deep. You have to set your hands very close together, but because the keyboard is long (it goes from edge to edge), you really have to reach for some common keys, such as Backspace (well, that's a common one for us anyway). It's mostly good for entering form data, or any other short bursts of text. Basically, it's not as comfortable as some keyboards that could be found on netbooks a few years ago.
The way the Tab-Book has been designed, there is no palm rest and you don't get a physical pointing device — there simply isn't any space available, even for a TrackPoint. If you want to navigate by moving the pointer around the screen, you can enable the software-based touchpad from the System Tray. This is a pre-loaded LG application that supplies a virtual touchpad — it sits in the bottom-centre of the screen, but you can drag it anywhere — and it actually work very well. We had no problems pushing the pointer around the screen using this virtual touchpad, although it did take some getting used to.
Performance and battery life
As for processing power, this all sits in the base of the unit, rather than being integrated behind the screen. Because the Tab-Book has two parts like a traditional laptop, it weighs just over 1.2kg, which is a little more than a typical tablet — and even more than some Ultrabooks, such as the Sony VAIO Pro. It can feel a little heavy in the hand, and it's also thick (about 20mm). The CPU is a third-generation Intel Core i5-3337U, which has two cores and Hyper-Threading, and it runs at 1.8GHz. (You'll have to wait until September if you want a fourth-gen CPU). It's joined by 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive (SSD). It's a good configuration that makes the tablet feel responsive and quite quick for common tasks. We had fun using it for typical Web browsing, video streaming (mostly Flash-based) and also for playing games.
In our Blender 3D rendering test, the Tab-Book got a time of 47sec, while in the iTunes MP3 encoding test, it got 1min 6sec. The 1.8GHz CPU is a little quicker than the 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U that we're used to seeing in devices of this form factor, and its results were a couple of seconds quicker in our tests, as we expected. You can use this tablet for converting video files if you ever need to — using Handbrake, it took 23min 09sec to turn a DVD file into an MP4, which is slow, but expected for an ultra-low voltage CPU. To put this in perspective, a laptop with a regular-voltage Core i7 CPU can complete the same task in well under 10min.
In our battery tests, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, its 41 Watt-hour battery lasted 4hr 8min. This is a little more than we're used to seeing from typical third-generation Core i5-based Ultrabooks, for example, but it's still not great for a device that's mainly a tablet. Then again, you have to remember that you're getting a device that's powerful enough to be used a productivity tool, rather than just a consumption device.
Graphics processing is handled by the CPU (Intel HD 4000) and it recorded an expected result of just over 4000 in 3DMark06 (4066 marks). In the latest 3DMark, it recorded 28272 in the Ice Storm test, 3060 in Cloud Gate and 397 in Fire Strike. You can't use this table to run very graphically-intensive games, but it will do just fine with relatively simple games, such as many that can be downloaded through the Windows Store.
Storage performance was decent. Its SSD recorded a read rate of 338 megabytes per second (MBps) in CrystalDiskMark, along with a write rate of 135MBps. The machine felt zippy overall when loading applications and coming out of sleep mode (it took about 2sec to wake up), and file transfers from external USB drives were quite swift.
A lack of ports
Connectivity isn't great on the Tab-Book. It may have a separate base like a laptop, but it doesn't share the same amount of ports. You get only one USB 3.0 port, which is at the rear, and the only other built-in port that's immediately usable (apart from the audio port) is the full-sized HDMI port next to it. It would be nice if there was an option for a port replicator or a dock, because if you want to be easily productive with this hybrid, the single USB port just isn't enough. At the very least, you'll have to plug in a USB hub if you want to use external storage and separate keyboard and mouse devices at the same time, for example.
An Ethernet dongle is supplied in the box, and it can be plugged in to the port immediately to the left of the HDMI port, and there is also a micro-USB port in the base. For extra storage, you can make use of the microSD card slot on the left side of the base. Wireless networking is facilitated by an Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 adapter, which is only single-band (2.4GHz), but it does support a top speed of 300 megabits per second (Mbps) and WiDi. You also get Bluetooth.
Other features that can be found around the edges of the Tab-Book are a headset port, physical volume buttons, a screen rotation lock and the power button. The power button is too easy to press inadvertently when carrying the tablet, and we found ourselves switching off the screen way too often by mistake. We'd prefer it if this was a slider rather than a button. There is a hardware Windows key on the screen that takes you back to the Start screen, and there is a front-facing camera at the top of the screen (but no rear-facing camera like on a dedicated tablet). An ambient light sensor is built-in, and it worked better than the sensors we've seen on many other recent Windows 8-based machines.
You should think of the LG Tab-Book more as being a tablet than a dual-purpose device. Even though its keyboard can come in handy for short bursts of typing, we have a hard time thinking of this hybrid as a laptop. We think third-party keyboard solutions can provide a more comfortable typing experience than the cramped one that LG has designed. But as a tablet, the Tab-Book is fine. Its screen is vibrant, responsive and viewable from wide angles, and its performance is swift. Consider it if you're mainly after a good 64-bit Windows 8 tablet that will only rarely be used for typing.
Related Windows 8 laptop reviews:
• Sony VAIO Pro Ultrabook
• Sony VAIO S Series notebook Ultrabook
• Toshiba KIRA Ultrabook
• Gigabyte U2442F Extreme Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite P870 notebook
• Medion Akoya E6232 (MD 99222) notebook
• Dell Inspiron 17R notebook
• Acer Aspire V5 touchscreen laptop
• Toshiba Satellite P840 touchscreen notebook
• MSI GT70 Dragon Edition gaming notebook
• ASUS VivoBook S400C touchscreen Ultrabook
• Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T hybrid tablet
• Venom Blackbook Windows 8 gaming notebook
• Sony VAIO Duo 11 Windows 8 tablet
• ASUS VivoTab 810 Windows 8 tablet
• Lenovo ThinkPad Twist (3347-3EM)
• Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T (XE700T1C-A02AU)
• HP Envy X2 hybrid PC
• HP Envy Touchsmart 4 Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite L850 Windows 8 laptop
• ASUS Taichi 21 Windows 8 hybrid Ultrabook
• Medion Akoya S4216 (MD 99081) Windows 8 Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite U920T hybrid Ultrabook
• Dell XPS 12 convertible Ultrabook
• ASUS Vivo Book F202 touchscreen notebook
• Acer Aspire S7 touchscreen Ultrabook
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