Ever since Windows 8 pushed hard to be a good tablet operating system, the humble laptop has really evolved over the last few years. A new kind of notebook — the beloved 2-in-1 — even combines the features of both laptops and tablets, but can it really give you the best of both worlds?
We know that a Windows 8 tablet cannot fully replace a PC, so a tablet-cum-laptop is a better solution. But it’s still difficult to figure out which 2-in-1 you should buy because the answer isn’t simple. The hardware differs wildly, and different form factors make it a subjective decision.
Basically, what’s right for your friend might not be right for you. Knowing a few things can help you make the best purchase for your needs, so here’s what you need to pay attention to.
Two Types of 2-in-1 Laptops
Broadly speaking, 2-in-1 laptops can be categorized into two types: hybrids and convertibles. These aren’t actually the category names used across the industry, but I’m borrowing these terms from CNET since they make it easier to explain the two concepts.
Hybrids: A hybrid is a laptop where the screen can be completely detached from the keyboard base and serve as a standalone touchscreen tablet. The base is a proper keyboard, complete with USB ports and its own battery source.
Convertibles: A convertible is a laptop where the screen can be flipped back or swiveled to be used as a tablet. The screen and the keyboard never detach, but it’s a touchscreen so you can use it like you would a tablet.
The Pros and Cons of Hybrids
Pro: Better Battery Life — Generally, both the tablet base and the docked keyboard have a built-in battery. What this means is that you get two batteries, thus lengthening the overall battery life of the combined device. As a rule of thumb, you’ll get better battery life on hybrids than convertibles in the same price range.
Plus, several of these hybrids support Android phone-like microUSB cables, which is super convenient while we wait for USB Type C to become the standard.
Pro: A Proper Tablet — The tablet functions as a proper tablet regardless of whether you want to use the keyboard or not. We’ve seen that Windows 10 is pretty good on a tablet, so if you’re on a work trip, you can save yourself the trouble of carrying an iPad along with your laptop.
Pro: Value for Money — Buying a full-fledged Windows laptop and a full-fledged Android tablet or iPad would set you back several hundred dollars more than these hybrids. So if you’re trying to be as economical as possible, you’ll save some big bucks going with a hybrid.
Cons: Underpowered — Hybrids are powered by the mobile-friendly Intel Atom series or the Intel Core M processor since they have to be light and battery-efficient without heating up. These processors are good for basic tasks (e.g. browsing the Internet, working on Office) but not for heavy-duty tasks (e.g. major multi-tasking, image editing, gaming).
Cons: Jack of All Trades — Being a tablet and a laptop usually results in these hybrids being the proverbial jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. The big sell here is the convenience of a full-fledged desktop operating system running on a single device that serves as both laptop and tablet depending on your needs, but it will never be a fantastic tablet experience nor a fantastic laptop experience.
Cons: Lack of Tablet Apps — The proper tablet experience of Windows 10 fails on one front: apps. Compared to Android or iOS, Windows lacks several major apps and games. You can still use it well for reading, watching movies, or browsing, but you might feel left out when all your friends have an app on Android or iPad that you can’t get.
The Pros and Cons of Convertibles
Pro: Great Laptop Hardware — Unlike hybrids, convertibles can follow the standard laptop ideals of stuffing good hardware in the keyboard base. So in terms of actual performance, you get Intel’s powerful laptop processors instead of low-powered mobile-friendly processors.
Pro: Great Build Quality — Convertibles can still be thin and elegant, since the screen doesn’t need to pack any hardware. In fact, you will find many convertibles that follow the aesthetics of an ultrabook, even boasting of full aluminum bodies.
Cons: Heavy As Tablets — A convertible is cumbersome to use as a tablet. While it offers that functionality, you won’t find yourself relying on it often. Convertibles are far too heavy and bulky to compete with the convenience of a proper tablet.
What Should You Buy?
Like I said at the beginning, there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation here. You should buy based on your personal requirements.
Hybrids are great for travelling executives or those looking to get both a tablet and a Windows laptop on a budget. The use-case scenario you are looking at is 60% laptop, 40% tablet.
Convertibles are great for professionals who need more horsepower to get work done on laptops, but want the convenience of a tablet once in a while. The split would be about 85% laptop, 15% tablet.
There are also what CNET calls “Hybrid Lites” like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which is basically a tablet with a soft keyboard. It’s not a proper hybrid laptop though, since the keyboard dock doesn’t have its own battery or extra connectivity ports, and it’s not stable enough to prop up the device to be used on your lap safely.
Yup, can’t call it a laptop then, right?
Since you don’t have to worry about Windows Pro and Windows RT anymore, Windows is obviously the big drawing point of these 2-in-1 devices. But hybrids and convertibles aren’t limited to Windows alone.
The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, for instance, is a hybrid that runs Android. Check out our review of it to see if it’s good for you — a pretty solid choice if you mainly want an Android tablet which you can use as a laptop. In such cases of an Android-based hybrid, the use-case ratio would be 70% tablet, 30% laptop.
Similarly, on the convertible front, there is the Asus Chromebook Flip (check our review of this one, too) which is a pretty capable computer. There’s a compelling case to switch to Chromebook and never look back, especially when you consider that it can now run Android apps.
2-in-1 vs. Dedicated: Have Your Say
Given a choice, what would you buy: a 2-in-1 Windows device or a dedicated laptop and a dedicated tablet? With Android tablet prices dropping, getting a proper Windows laptop and an Android tablet sounds like a tempting option, don’t you think?