The clever design of LG’s Tab-Book Ultra Z160 first made its appearance at CES, but the LTE-enabled version of the device is also on-hand for testing at MWC 2013 in Barcelona. In case you missed it earlier this year, the Windows 8-based Tab-Book LTE has a spring-loaded hinge that slides the screen up at a comfortable viewing angle, while also exposing a full QWERTY keyboard, all at the press of a button. So is the Tab-Book LTE just getting by on a gimmick, or is this actually a quality piece of hardware?
The Tab-Book is a twist on the typical slider design. Though there have been other tablets that, like the Tab-Book, feature a full slide-out keyboard that tucks under the display, the unique aspect of LG’s device is that it’s spring loaded. If the user wants to access the keyboard when the Tab-Book is folded up, all they need to do is push in a small button located on the left edge of the device and in one swift motion, the tablet portion slides up into an angled position and exposes the keyboard underneath.
It’s a clever design that works well, even if the latches don’t always catch when you try to close it back up. And it’s perfectly stable, too. The Tab-Book is balanced well enough that taps and gestures made on the screen don’t cause the device to rock backwards or move around, and the hinge stays locked in place.
We did have two concerns, however. The complete package is actually a little thick and on the hefty side, measuring 0.7 inches thick and weighing in at 2.75 pounds. Obviously it’s still lighter and more compact than a full-fledged notebook, but packing it up isn’t going to be like carrying around a tablet. Users will know that it’s there in their bags.
The other issue was with the support that holds the screen up at an angle. It may be wide and built well enough to ensure that the screen stays in place without wobbling when in use, but it doesn’t seem like enough to withstand even the slightest bit of abuse. The hinges attaching both pieces of the device can only be so strong; the vulnerability of the support is a risk that any company is going to run into with a design like this.
As the picture shows, there are actually two supports and the rear one (on the outside) is fairly wide, but it’s still exposed and only made of plastic. So perhaps if LG had instead made it out of metal and made it the width of the entire device so it was connected to the unit by more than just a couple of inches of material — think something like the kickstand on the Microsoft Surface — it wouldn’t seem like such a risky design. Maybe we’re wrong and the hinges and plates holding up the tablet are made of sturdier materials than we realize, but it looks to use like it use some protection.
The rest of the design was great though, with a wide selection of buttons and ports littering the sides and back of the device. This included full-sized HDMI and USB 3.0 ports, a micro USB port, a headphone jack, a hard reset button, and a proprietary charging port on the back, while the volume rocker and the hinge switch are on the left. On the right side, there was a micro SD card slot, an orientation lock, and the power/standby switch. It’s a good variety of ports, and enough to make sure that the Tab-Book is equipped to rival full-fledged notebooks.
We were also big fans of the physical Windows key that’s located right beneath the display. It wasn’t a must, since there’s the usual Windows key that’s found on the keyboard as well, but it’s just an added convenience for when you’re navigating using the touch screen and want to quickly bounce out to the Start screen.
Speaking of the touchscreen, the 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 IPS display looked great. Images were sharp and the multitude of colors that run through the Windows 8 aesthetic popped. The sensitivity was impressive too, as it responded to swipes and taps well. Of course, generally speaking, the zippiness of the unit probably had a lot to do with the powerful 1.8 GHz Intel Core i5 processor running under the hood, too.
The other method of input, the keyboard, was a mixed bag. On the one hand, it was a nice size and didn’t feel too cramped, as these things sometimes do. But our problem with the keyboard was that its little chiclet keys didn’t depress very far, so typing was a little uncomfortable. It was almost as bad as slapping your fingers around on that awkward Surface cover that doesn’t have actual keys, just slightly raised buttons that don’t push in.
The unique, pop-up design of the LG Tab-Book LTE — and impressive specs, which also include healthy 120 GB of storage and 4 GB of DDR3 RAM — is enough to separate it from the pack of other Windows 8 tablets out on the market today. Unfortunately, we don’t have exact release date of when all versions of the Tab-Book (there will be modestly-specced versions, including a Wi-Fi only model) will be available worldwide, though the Korean version is already on sale. But hopefully it will be here sooner rather than later, because it seems like a promising product.