2 in 1 laptops are a huge and diverse range of devices — you have touchscreen tablets with detachable keyboards, laptops with 360-degree folding hinges, and then there’s everything in between. But a 2 in 1 is more than just its innovative design, so what are the current and future features or tech that you should get a handle on before upgrading?
What Is A 2 In 1, Anyway?
The easiest way to understand what a 2 in 1 is, is to think of a laptop — a full-power laptop, with a keyboard and Microsoft Windows and all the versatility you should expect — and then add the ability for it to transform into a touchscreen tablet. 2 in 1s let you move between laptop or tablet whenever you need, so you don’t have to stay tied to a desk when you want to travel, but you can still get as much work, email or Web browsing done as you want to.
2 in 1s have the work-focused productivity of a laptop, combined with the touch screen focus and portability of a tablet. They typically offer excellent battery life and screen detail, since they’re all about a high quality display. On the down side, 2 in 1s can cost more, not be quite as thin or light as a tablet, or not as powerful as a dedicated laptop. 2 in 1s also come in a bewildering array of types, each of which is best suited to a different purpose. The trick to picking the right model is to understand the technology that makes them tick, as well as your intended use.
2 in 1 laptop/tablets tend to have similar levels of storage and RAM to other laptops. As a general rule, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD is a good starting point. They also have capacitive touchscreens, as well as the usual array of USB 3.0 ports, card readers and more. Read on to learn about some of the key features, but keep an eye out for more articles in the series as we delve further into different aspects, such as CPUs, battery life and the thinnest 2 in 1s you can buy at the moment.
What Types Of 2 In 1 Are There?
Blurring the line between a laptop and a tablet, 2 in 1s come in an ever growing variety of designs, all of which offer something unique over a regular laptop. What version suits you depends a lot on your usage, so check out our guide below. Beyond the two main variants we’ve explained in detail, there’s also a less common slider type, if you can still find one in store.
2 In 1s With Detachable Keyboards
These 2 in 1s are basically a tablet plugged into a laptop-esque keyboard that can be disconnected at will. Typically the main hardware is in the screen side, sometimes with extra batteries, and occasionally extra storage and I/O ports, in the keyboard. The keyboards can range from laptop clones to thin, flexible Bluetooth models like the one used with the Microsoft Surface.
Pros: As small and light as a tablet. Fast to convert. Keyboard sometimes has extra storage or battery.
Cons: Keyboard has to be carried separately when detached. The screen portion may be heavier as it contains most hardware.
Best for: Those who need lightweight portability as a tablet, but still want to connect a keyboard when it’s time to do a lot of typing.
2 In 1s With 360-Degree Hinges
Rather than detaching, this variety of 2 in 1 has a screen that folds back until it becomes flush with the laptop, turning it into a usable (but bulky) tablet. A common 2 in 1 design is a laptop with a screen that simply folds back through 360 degrees and rests against the rear of the laptop. Others have screens that can twist sideways, or that rotate in a frame so they can rest on the keyboard, facing upwards.
Pros: Robust, easy to convert. Can stand up in tent or stand mode. Unlimited screen angles.
Cons: Keyboard often on the underside once folded. Awkward to fold. Bulky for tablet use.
Best For: Those who mostly want a laptop, but also value the tablet-like interface for some situations like movie-watching.
What Kind Of Hardware Can You Get?
2 in 1s are specced with a huge range of CPUs, but usually you’ll want to pay more attention to the more powerful options available if you can. For more information on laptop CPUs, read our laptop buying guide.
With a focus on long battery life and portability, 2 in 1 laptop/tablets tend not to have the most powerful CPUs possible, but can still perform perfectly well. This is especially true of models where all the processing hardware is containing in the screen itself — which will often use an energy efficient Intel Core M chip or similar.
Still, Intel Core i7 CPUs are common in 2 in 1 laptop/tablets, though are almost always the energy-efficient U variant. A common model is the Core i7 4500U that hums along at 1.8GHz, but boosts up to 3.0 GHz when needed. It’s got a super-low 15W thermal design profile, so can still eke out decent battery life if you’re not using it for intensive tasks all the time.
AMD CPUs within 2 in 1s are not very common, and Intel is in fact a strong driving force behind the devices. They’re still available though, but tend towards the lower end such as the AMD A Series A8-64. Unless you are going to be running some fairly intensive programs, it can make sense to opt for a still-powerful but less expensive mid-range Core i5 CPU, such as the common Core i5-5200U.
Almost all 2 in 1s use integrated graphics cards, such as the Intel’s HD Graphics 4400 or the newer 5300. They’re not the most powerful GPUs out there, but can handle some casual gaming and other moderately graphically-intensive tasks when needed.
If you need discrete GPU grunt, some 2 in 1s feature discrete video cards – usually something like Nvidia’s GT 840M. These offer a little more power, but ultimately convertibles are not usually meant to be gaming machines. Battery life will also suffer when driving a discrete GPU.
2 in 1 laptops tend to be around the 13-inch or smaller size, though there are a few models that are larger at 15 inches. Most sport Full HD or higher-resolution screens, while a few still use lower resolutions such as 1366 x 768 and are best avoided whenever possible.
Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) seems to be the sweet spot, with a number of advantages over higher resolutions. The biggest difference is that a 4K screen on an otherwise identicall device might have reduce battery life — not only are there more pixels to drive, the GPU has to work harder to render content to fit the screen. Of course 4K screens look a lot nicer, and for some uses (such of picture or video editing) the extra resolution is well worth the loss of battery life.
What Software Does A 2 In 1 Use?
Windows 10 is just around the corner, with a bundle of new features that will make 2 in 1s even better. There is no need to hold out until it launches either — any licensed Windows 8.1 user gets a free upgrade.
The biggest boon for 2 in 1 users with Windows 10 is Continuum. There will be two modes for convertible devices — both tablet and desktop. With your keyboard and trackpad connected, your 2 in 1 operates as normal. If you disconnect your screen from its keyboard portion or flip it out of the way, Windows 10 changes up the layout to be more touch-friendly. If you prefer it, though, you can still run the desktop mode while using your computer as a tablet.
Windows 10 will also use Universal Apps, which means programs will be designed to work across laptops and desktops, as well as tablets and phone. This is great news for convertible devices, as you know your favourite laptop apps will also have proper touchscreen tablet support for whenever you change modes.
For those who want something more, a few 2 in 1 convertibles actually run Android alongside Windows. The Transformer Book Trio (above) is a prime example and can swap instantly between the operating systems with the push of a button. The screen is also an Android tablet, while the laptop keyboard holds the Windows hardware. Both can actually operate simultaneously too, although it’s probably only useful in niche situations.
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