About a month ago, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) began shipping a 14-inch Android laptop, the SlateBook 14. This isn't HP's first foray into putting Android on form factors typically reserved for Windows; last year the company launched the SlateBook x2, an Android-powered detachable laptop. While the x2 received mediocre reviews, the product made at least some sense given that it could be used as a stand-alone tablet, a form factor for which Android is designed.

The SlateBook 14. Source: HP

The SlateBook 14, however, makes very little sense, especially given the Chrome OS and Windows alternatives on the market. Reviews have been overwhelmingly negative, and HP's Android laptop experiment highlights a key challenge facing all PC manufacturers today.

Why an Android laptop is a bad idea
The following quotes, from reviews of the SlateBook 14, sum up why putting Android on a laptop doesn't make much sense:

The SlateBook takes Android, an otherwise intuitive operating system, and manages to make it... cumbersome. It's a pain to use with a mouse, and yet if you want to use your fingers, you have to reach across the keyboard. ... Frankly, I'm not sure I'd recommend an Android laptop at any price, but for $430 the answer's easy: Just don't do it. -- Dana Wollman at engadget.com  

With the increasingly popularity of Chromebooks, as well as inexpensive Windows notebooks, why do we need or want a laptop running a mobile OS when there are cheaper, more efficient devices already on the market? Answer: You don't. ... Just because you can cram Android into a laptop doesn't mean you should. The OS is ill-suited to basic notebook functions. -- Sherri L. Smith at LaptopMag.com 

Android simply wasn't designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard, and shoving it into a laptop form factor is a recipe for frustration. The cost is also a big problem. HP is charging $430 for the SlateBook 14, while both Chromebooks and Windows laptops can be purchased for far less:




HP SlateBook 14



Dell Inspiron 3531-1200BK

Windows 8.1


Acer C720

Chrome OS


Source: Amazon 

Android is an operating system designed for consumption. It works well on phones and tablets, and it will likely work well on TVs and smart watches as well. It does not work well on devices designed for creation, like laptops. Windows and Chrome OS are built for those use cases, and any familiarity a user may have with Android is more than offset by the inefficiencies created by putting the OS on a laptop.

The post-post-PC era
Before the tablet market exploded, there was very little innovation in the PC market. The laptop form factor remained essentially unchanged for years, and HP managed to grow to be the largest PC manufacturer in the world, holding that title from 2007 through 2012.

PC unit growth stalled in 2012, and global unit sales fell by about 10% in 2013, the first negative year for the industry since 2001. Meanwhile, the tablet market was booming, with unit sales rising by 68% in 2013. Some began proclaiming that we were entering a "post-PC" era, where mobile devices along with the cloud would render the traditional PC obsolete. But with tablet sales now plateauing in mature markets, it's clear that the PC isn't going anywhere.

The challenge for PC manufacturers is determining what consumers and businesses want. Along with traditional desktops and laptops, there are now tablets and various forms of 2-in-1 devices. And instead of Windows being the only option, there is now Chrome OS and Android. The key for companies like HP is figuring out the right combination.

Asus T100 Transformer Book. Source: Asus

Other PC companies seem to have a better grasp on what consumers want. Asus launched the T100 Transformer Book last year, a 10-inch Windows 8 detachable device that sells for around $400, and it's been one of the top selling laptops on Amazon.com since its release. Asus also sells Android detachables, but these don't appear to be selling nearly as well.

Lenovo's Yoga 2 laptop. Source: Lenovo

Lenovo has also been successful with 2-in-1 devices. Its Yoga line of Windows laptops that allow the screen to be folded back and used as a tablet were the best-selling 2-in-1 devices during the first part of this year, according to NPD. Lenovo attempted an Android 2-in-1 device last year, the IdeaTab S2110, but it no longer offers it for sale.

There aren't very many Android 2-in-1 devices for a reason -- it's a combination that offers a good tablet experience and a poor laptop experience, something that doesn't seem very appealing in light of the alternatives. An Android laptop removes the good tablet experience entirely, leaving only a lackluster laptop that's not well-suited for productivity.

HP is still the largest PC vendor in the United States, accounting for around 28% of the market, but maintaining that lead is going to require innovative devices that consumers actually want. The SlateBook 14 is not one of those devices, and with Lenovo, which is now the largest PC vendor worldwide, occupying the No. 3 spot in the U.S. (with 11.5% of the U.S. market) and growing sales faster than any other company in the top five, HP's dominance in the U.S could be in jeopardy. (Dell is No. 2 on the U.S. list with 26% of the market.)

The bottom line
Android is ill-suited for a laptop, but HP apparently hasn't gotten the memo. The SlateBook 14 makes no sense in a vacuum, let alone compared to less expensive Windows laptops and Chromebooks, and HP appears to just be throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks. With new form factors allowing for real innovation in the PC industry, HP clearly needs a change of strategy.

Timothy Green has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.