clamshell-vs-detachablePromoted story: this post is brought to you by Toshiba

After mobiles phones, laptops are probably the second most personal devices we own, and now they come in more shapes and forms than ever before. The introduction of touch-screens to laptops has ignited a wildfire of industrial design creativity, which is why a PC manufacturer like Toshiba has to wonder what early adopters like you and us think of the difference between new designs like the Portégé Detachable Ultrabook, or something more classic like the Kirabook or other laptops like it. Given that both are so different, this has to be an apple vs. pears comparison, but it’s fair to say that budget usually allows the purchase of only one laptop – so when it comes down to it, which type would you get?

1/ Clamshells


This is “known territory”: most people know how to distinguish the obvious good features at first sight: size, thinness, battery life, display quality. A classic design is inherently familiar, and customers know how to use it, and subconsciously know when *not* to use it as well. Because it is the established form-factor, we all take the good for granted and accept the bad. This is the champion to beat. This is the norm.

In my opinion, the clamshell form-factor retains overall key advantages, like larger displays and bigger storage. I don’t think that there is a detachable tablet with a 15” screen for example. It’s not impossible to build, but at the moment, the industry hasn’t made that move yet. That’s because tablet-style PCs are built to be more mobile and portable, so the usable model is more compatible with a compact size.

In general, clamshells PCs tend to be thinnee, which is somewhat of an industrial design decision: fundamentally, clamshells host the computer underneath the keyboard, while detachable host it in the screen. Since the keyboard needs enough weight to prevent a tablet from tilting back, it needs to be substantial.

2/ Detachables

toshiba-portege-z10t-06New and fresh, the format is intriguing. Many people are attracted by it because it projects the notion that new usage models are possible, and that it is a more sociable computer. However, without field experience, it is difficult to fully measure or understand the new advantages and the potential tradeoffs. If you have a chance, grab one in your hands, and see how it feels.

For example, Detachables Ultrabooks are better for demonstration or communication purposes since they can be looked at from all directions – it’s easy to have an audience. Because of that, they work better in a collaborative environment where everyone can see and participate. On average, the displays on detachable PCs tend to be much better (often IPS-based) because touch screens have a higher quality (and resolution) on average than regular screens. Fortunately, higher image quality is also bleeding into the clamshell world, although at a slower pace.

Detachables are better to use in tight spaces: I travel quite a bit, and in a plane seat, reading up documents on a detachable feels much more natural than with a clamshell. In tablet-mode, detachable Ultrabooks are thinner than hybrid devices with a fixed keyboard, and this is a non-negligible detail if you are looking for comfort. This is also why many users use them after work-hours, at home or in bed (and their boss loves that).


Depending on your situation, either of these form-factor may be your top choice. For example, many creative people would rather have a detachable that can be turned into a pen-friendly computer on which they can take notes or draw. Text and email-oriented users may prefer a classic Ultrabook which may offer an extended keyboard with a numeric pad.  The choice is not obvious, and each generation of Ultrabooks tends to blur the differences between the two form-factors a little more. Classic or Detachable – which would you choose, and why? Tell us in the comments below.

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