Today it was announced that the Microsoft Surface Pro, arguably the most anticipated business tablet computer of all, will go on sale in Australia by the end of May.
The Surface Pro is a big deal for a couple of reasons. First, it's a tablet computer that runs Windows 8. This is a big deal if you like the idea of being able to carry a tablet instead of a heavier laptop or bundle of papers around the office or to meeting, and the programs you use mean an iPad is out of the question.
Secondly, the Surface hardware has already earned very positive reviews. The cheaper cousin of the Surface Pro, the Surface RT, is already on sale - the review we published here called it "superbly made".
What about hybrids?
But something has also started to gradually appear on the market - the new breed of "hybrids". Over the last few months a number of brands have come out with models, including Lenovo with its ThinkPad Twist (and upcoming ThinkPad Helix), Dell's XPS 12, Toshiba's Satellite U920T and the ASUS Taichi 21.
These are laptops, but with a difference. Slide or twist the screen, or detach the keyboard, and they convert into a tablet running Windows 8, like the Surface Pro.
On paper, at least, the hybrid promises to give you a Windows 8 tablet, plus a laptop with a decent keyboard to-boot (the Surface Pro has an optional keyboard, but it's not the same as a "proper" laptop keyboard).
Now, the Surface Pro will not be cheap. We wouldn't be surprised if it costs more than $1,000 with one of the optional cover/stands, which also have a built-in keyboard.
When you consider that you can find a cheaper hybrid for not much more than that ($1,169 for the Lenovo Twist) some might wonder whether they would be better off buying the Surface Pro, or spending some more and getting a hybrid.
Hybrid or Surface Pro?
Our thoughts? We were given a brief look at a new top-shelf hybrid yesterday - the new Lenovo Helix. We are yet to test it, so we'll reserve our final judgement, but on first impressions it looks like a quality piece of hardware - built to withstand a few small bumps here and there, a much better looking keyboard than the Surface Pro, and a slightly bigger 11.6in screen too.
The ThinkPad Helix is clearly a premium piece of hardware, and we are told the price starts at $2,199. While we think there's a real place for a top-shelf product that isn't plasticky and lasts the distance, it shows that when it comes to hybrids, price varies - a lot.
While hybrids are a tempting idea - don't spend money on a separate tablet and laptop, just buy one device! - not everyone is sold on them. Notably, others have pointed out that the tablet part feels heavier than an iPad.
The Helix is one of the better designs we've seen - it's keyboard detaches completely. But with some other hybrids you'll be holding almost 1.5Kg in your hand.
In a nutshell, hybrids are a great idea, but as with all laptops, the quality, design and price range quite a bit.
The Surface Pro will likely be cheaper, lighter (by a lot, compared to some hybrids, by a little compared with others) than most hybrids. It won't be as suitable for spending a lot of time typing though.
Don't forget, the Surface Pro won't be the only Windows 8 tablet you can buy - you can also get them from Dell and many others - some with the same level of processing power you see in laptops, like the Surface Pro, some with less.
If your workday involves spend most of your time using Windows programs, both are products to look out for.
Ready to dig deeper on this topic? Click to read these articles:
Microsoft Surface Pro: worth spending more than an iPad?
Tech basics: Is a hybrid laptop right for you?