Slates, Hybrids, Detachables: Tablet Forms Explained and Compared

If you ask someone to draw a tablet PC, they’re going to draw an iPad. Basically a rectangle with a button on the bottom. (Yes, I know Apple’s buttons are an endangered species!)

That is what we’d call a slate. Almost all the tablets in the table on our main page are slates – head over there if you want to compare those. On this page we’ll focus on the lesser-spotted variants.

First, a nice table where you can compare non-slate tablets.

Hybrid/Convertible Tablets Compared

Tablet computers are available in a variety of forms. To make comparison charts easier to read, we have divided all our reviewed tablet PCs into two main categories: slates and hybrids.

Slates

Slate tablet PCs got their name from writing slates, the bane of schoolchildren for centuries. Like those archaic pieces of rock, tablet PCs tend to be black and are used by touching the surface (with a piece of chalk in the former, with the heat from one’s own finger in the latter).

Slate tablets don’t come with a physical keyboard (though you can always buy them separately). Very rarely they come with a stylus (or ‘Apple Pencil’).

If you’re mainly interested in some brief Whatsapp chats, playing Angry Birds, surfing the net, watching movies and so on, then click through to the ‘slate’ section and use our tablet comparison charts to find one you like. If you need a keyboard to type longer emails, make notes in class, or run Office 365, read about hybrids.

When we think of tablet PCs, we think of the device Jean Luc Picard used in Star Trek: The Next Generation. We think of Steve Jobs in a polo-neck saying ‘Last time there was this much excitement about a tablet, it had some commandments written on it.’

It’s a sleek, black touchscreen rectangle. The first iPad – and most since – were what is called a ‘slate’ tablet PC. You know, a slate, like a tile on the roof of a house. A slate. Like in a 1920s classroom.

For most of the industry’s existence, which isn’t a very long time, slates were the only Tablet PC format to prosper. Since the rise of the Phablet, manufacturers have started to pay more attention to other concepts, so today there are more interesting hybrid variants.

Still, the de facto standard tablet is the slate. They tend to be between 7 and 10 inches, though there are outliers either side, and they most often weigh between 0.80 and 1.80 lbs (0.40 – 0.80 kg).

Hybrids

Tablets are still a very new technology and new forms and uses are emerging all the time. There is a strong trend towards phablets and hybrid tablets. Mostly, when boffins talk about hybrids they mean tablets with a physical keyboard. Mostly.

Keyboards can be integrated into the tablet (via clever or crude mechanisms), or can be detachable.

Apart from with/without keyboard, we can further divide hybrids into the following categories:

Detachables

The tablet and keyboard are two separate parts but are bought together and the software is optimised for a physical keyboard. Together they form a laptop-like portable computer, but rather underpowered compared to a laptop.

The detachable keyboard serves as both input device and docking station, potentially extending battery life and offering juicy treats like full-size USB ports.

Convertibles

With a convertible tablet, one half is a slate tablet and the other is a physical keyboard. The keyboard is integrated into the tablet and can’t be detached.

The keyboard or display can slide, flip, rotate, or twist in order to convert from a laptop into a tablet.

Generally speaking, they are more powerful than Detachables, and in some cases come close to the power of a laptop PC. Typically they run Windows as an Operating System.

Laplets

The word laplet derives, obviously, from laptop and tablet. They are hybrids designed to run desktop applications. As processing power increases, we expect to see more of these available.

For now, the trailblazer is the superb Microsoft Surface Pro series.

Other Forms

Besides slates and hybrids, there are other, less common, tablets in the wild. Some date to the pre-iPad era.

Rugged tablets are one of these. They were used for data acquisition in challenging terrain. Rugged tablets have touchscreens and usually come with a stylus and integrated buttons for navigation and other dedicated tasks. There are models designed for use in cold mountainous regions, harsh desert climates, or even just to be manhandled by children in a classroom!

Booklets are another special form of tablet. These are dual screen tablets that can be folded like a book. They are as out of fashion as it is possible to get.

E-Readers started with the Amazon Kindle. They are primarily used for reading books, but since smartphones and tablets can be used for that task, the specialised e-reader market has declined. Still, they have their place.

Gaming Tablets represent a small but attractive niche that still attracts development money.

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