The 2:1 Form Factor

At KO GmbH, we did several projects to show off the 2:1 convertible laptop form factor. Krita Gemini and Calligra Gemini are applications that automatically switch from laptop to tablet gui mode when you switch your device. Of course, one doesn’t get that to work without some extensive testing, so here’s a little collection of devices showing off all existing (I believe) ways of making a laptop convertible:

There’s rip’n’flip, as exemplified by the Lenovo Helix, and arguably by the Surface Pro 3 (which its own twist, the kickstand). There’s the bend-over-and-over-and-over model pioneered by the Thinkpad Yoga (but this is an Intel SDP, not a Yoga, all the Yoga’s are with other ex-KO colleagues) and finally the screen tumbler of the Dell XPS 12.

Every model on the table has its own foibles.

The Helix actually doesn’t do the 2:1 automatic switch trick, but that’s because it’s also the oldest model we’ve got around. The Helix basically has only one angle between the screen and keyboard, and that’s it, and it’s fairly upright. The keyboard is pretty good, the trackpoint is great, of course. In contrast to all the other devices, it also runs Linux quite well. The power button is sort recessed and really hard to press: it’s hard to switch the device on. The built-in wacom pen is impossible to calibrate correctly, and it just won’t track correctly at the screen edges. As tablet, it’s nice and light, but the rip’n’flip thing is flawed: doesn’t alway re-attach correctly.

The Dell XPS 12 is one of the nicest devices of the four. The screen rotation mechanism looks scary at first, but it works very, very well. It’s a nice screen, too. The keyboard is ghastly, though, missing a bunch of essential keys like separate home, end, page-up, page-down. The powerbutton is placed at the left side, and it’s just the right thing to play with, mindlessly, while thinking. This leads to the laptop suspending, of course! The device is heavy, too, too heavy to comfortably use as a tablet. As a laptop, except for the keyboard, it’s pretty good. Linux compatibility is weird: you can either have the trackpad properly supported, or the wifi adapter, but not both. Not even with the latest Kubuntu! There’s no pen, which is a pity…

I cannot talk about the what’s in the Intel SDP system, because that’s under NDA. It’s got a pen, just like the Surface Pro 3, and it’s nice, light and a good harbinger of things to come. The form factor works fine for me. Some people are bothered by feeling the keys at the back of the device when it’s in tablet mode, but I don’t care. Tent mode nice for watching movies, and presentation mode sort of makes it a nice drawing tablet.

The Surface Pro 3 is rather new. I got it as test system for Krita on Windows. It’s the lowest spec model, because that makes the best test, right? I can use the thing on my lap, with the kickstand, but only if I put my feet up on the table and make long legs… The n-trig pen is sort of fine… It’s accurate, there’s no parallax as with the Cintiq or Helix, the pressure levels are fine, too, for my usage that is. But because it’s a bluetooth device, there’s a noticable delay. It’s a bit as if you’re painting with too thick oil paint. I never remove the keyboard cover, which, btw, is perfectly fine to type on. It feels a bit tacky, folded back, but not a big problem.

So that’s it… Four convertible laptops, three have trouble running Linux at the moment, but then, I should do more testing of Krita on Windows anyway. It’s where 90% of Krita’s user base is, it seems. I’d like the Dell way of converting best, if the device weren’t so heavy as a consequence. The Helix convertible never gets turned into a pure tablet in practice; that seems to go with the rip’n’flip design, because the same holds for the Surface Pro 3. The back-bendy type of convertible is just fine as well…