Dell Debuts Netbook/Tablet Hybrid With Rotating Screen

By Wesley Fenlon

Dell's new netbook hybrid likely won't break out of the small tablet convertible niche.

Laptops have long ruled the mobile computing world, but the competitive landscape has seen big changes over the past few years. Low-power, low-cost netbooks have grabbed a huge chunk of the market, and manufacturers seem to be gearing up to make tablets the next mobile battleground.

But hey, why not tap into the popularity of netbooks and the hype around tablets? Dell, at least, seems fond of the idea--they showed off a brand new eye-catching netbook tablet at IDF 2010 today, running Windows 7 Premium on a dual-core Intel Atom N550 processor. Unlike tablet convertibles of old, which typically swiveled on a single hinge and folded flat, the 10” screen in Dell’s Inspiron Duo actually rotates on two hinges built into its frame to transform from tablet to netbook mode.


Swivel With Caution

Flip or swivel, the basic functionality of tablet PCs makes them inherently fragile. Relying on a single hinge to rotate a heavy screen is just asking for trouble. Dell obviously took a different route with the Duo, but doesn’t seem to have dodged the problem--the screen’s frame looks like it could snap at any moment. And since the netbook lid has to close and the screen rotates within its frame, that’s a total of four hinges seeing constant use. Perhaps Dell has managed to craft a surprisingly durable device--but if it’s as fragile as it looks, the Duo will be a pain to keep safe.

Form Factor

We don’t know the precise specs, but factoring in a standard netbook size and a 10” screen, we can guess the Duo will be pretty light--around 3-4 pounds. It’s certainly not a bad size for a netbook, but for a tablet? The screen may be nice and thin by itself, but coupled with the bulk of the keyboard the Duo can’t escape from the chunkiness embodied by its predecessors. Hybrid devices like the duo simply can’t be as elegantly thin as dedicated tablets--though, thankfully, we’ve come a long way since the super-thick tablets of half a decade ago.

Windows 7 Does Touch No Favors

Windows 7 may have been a strong comeback for Microsoft after Vista, but as a touch OS, it’s just not up to snuff. As we’ve written before, Microsoft needs to gear their design towards touch, not try to shoehorn a few gestures and touch inputs into a UI far better suited to a mouse. Windows 7 Premium may be a fine operating system for the Duo in netbook mode, but as a tablet OS? No way. This, more than anything else, will make the Duo a niche product, just like the hybrid tablets before it.
What do you think--is Dell iterating on an outdated design that should be completely abandoned at this point in favor of more dedicated touchscreen devices? Or do you love the idea of a system that lets you type on a physical keyboard and fingerpaint with a touchscreen? Chime in on the Duo!
Image via CNET