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Windows 8 tablet alternatives to Microsoft's Surface Pro

Samsung, Acer, Asus and Lenovo are selling Windows 8 alternatives to Microsoft's upcoming Surface Pro tablet

Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet with the Windows 8 OS is due to ship on Feb. 9, starting at US$899. The tablet will have a 10.6-inch screen and come in models with 64GB and 128GB of storage. Surface Pro's early reviews have been mixed, and there are many Windows 8 alternatives already available from Samsung, Acer, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard. The tablets come with touchscreens and Intel's Core processors, and a keyboard attachment turns the tablets into full Windows 8 laptops. The tablets mostly come with 128GB of storage.

But the Core processor demands a lot of power, so these tablets won't offer the battery life of Microsoft's Surface RT or Android tablets, or even Windows 8 tablets running on Intel's tablet-specific Atom chip code-named Clover Trail. Windows RT devices cannot run existing Windows applications, however, so Surface Pro alternatives could appeal to buyers looking for a PC and tablet in one.

"I would absolutely love a product that could double as a tablet for easy carrying," said Catherine Chang, who is master instructor at Chang's Taekwondo America in Methuen, Massachusetts.

She already uses laptops at home and school, and uses Apple's iPhone 4 often for tasks such as email and Web browsing. But she is looking to buy a new laptop and has considered a tablet, and a device that combines the best of both is attractive, Chang said.

Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 13

Lenovo has coined the term "multimode" for devices that merge tablet and laptop functionality. The Chinese PC maker is selling Yoga 13 starting at $1,049 with a 13.3-inch touchscreen. The device turns into a tablet by folding the screen, which leaves the keyboard exposed. It can feel uneasy using Yoga 13 in tablet mode with the fingers flitting over the non-functioning keys at the back of the device, but that hasn't stopped people from buying the popular device. Yoga 13 comes with Intel's Core i3 processor and is available on Lenovo's website. The Yoga 13 has a 13.3-inch screen, weighs 1.5 kilograms and offers eight hours of battery life, which is comparable to laptops. The screen displays images at a 1600-by-900-pixel resolution, and the device has a webcam.

A less expensive option would be the ThinkPad Twist, which has a classic convertible laptop design and starts at $829. Lenovo sells the ThinkPad Tablet 2 with Windows 8 starting at $629, but the device runs on Intel's Atom tablet processor. A smaller version of the Yoga 13, the Yoga 11, with Windows RT and an ARM processor, starts at $749.

Samsung's Ativ Tab Smart PC Pro 700T

The design of Samsung's Ativ Tab Smart PC Pro 700T is similar to the Surface Pro; the screen detaches from the keyboard base to become a tablet. That design is truer to tablets than Lenovo's Yoga 13, in which the keyboard base remains latched on even when the device is in tablet mode. The Ativ Tab Smart PC has a Core i5 processor, an 11.6-inch screen and weighs roughly 857 grams in tablet mode, and more with the keyboard base. The tablet offers roughly eight hours of battery life on active usage, and five hours on video. The touchscreen displays images at a 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution, and 4GB of memory comes standard. Other features include webcams on the back and front, a Micro-SD slot and a micro-HDMI port. The tablet is priced starting at $1,199 and is available via Samsung's website.

Samsung also sells the Ativ Smart PC 500T Tablet with Intel's Clover Trail processors for $749 through Microsoft's online store. Samsung also sells the Ativ Tab tablet with Windows RT in some regions.

Acer Iconia W700

Acer's Iconia W700 with an Intel Core i5 processor and 128GB of storage is listed for $999 on Acer's website, but the model is listed as being out of stock on Amazon and Newegg. However, a less-expensive 64GB version that was originally priced at $799 is available on multiple retail sites, with prices starting at $750.

The tablet has an 11.6-inch screen that displays images at a full high-definition resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. The Iconia W700 weighs 1.04 kilograms and offers eight hours of battery life. Other features include a micro-HDMI port, a 5-megapixel back camera and a front camera. It's tough for a power PC user to live with just 64GB of storage, so it may be prudent to wait for Iconia W700 or look at alternatives.

Asus Taichi

One of the coolest hybrid devices is the dual-screen Taichi ultrabook, which has two screens -- one on the front and one on the back of the display panel. At first glance it looks like a laptop with an 11.6-inch screen, but closing the laptop lid activates another 11.6-inch touchscreen on the back panel for the device to become a tablet. The device was the scene-stealer at the Computex trade show last year, but unspecified issues caused delays in availability.

The device comes in two models. The Taichi 21 DH51 model has an Intel Core i5 processor and 128GB of solid-state drive storage, and is available through multiple retailers, and also on Amazon.com for $1,288. A Taichi 21 DH71 has the faster Intel Core i7 processor and 256GB SSD storage, and is available on Amazon.com for $1,565. The models weigh 1.2 kilograms and have high-definition screens that can display images at a 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution. Other features include 4GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel webcam and two USB 3.0 ports.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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