Since the launch of Windows 8 in October 2012, PC makers have been pushing convertible and detachable laptops, also referred to as 2-in-1s, harder than ever. These versatile PCs aim to provide the functionality of a laptop and a tablet in one device. There are so many of these devices, and so many varying designs, that we wrote a separate story, "New Windows computers offer appealing alternatives to traditional laptops," to help you (and honestly, us) keep them straight.
It's easy to be drawn in by the allure of a single device that can serve as a laptop for productivity and writing e-mails at home and work, and a tablet for scrolling through Facebook, surfing the Web, or playing Candy Crush Saga while you're commuting or lying in bed.
But opting for a convertible or detachable PC, rather than a separate laptop and tablet, involves some inherent compromises. And believe it or not, it could be cheaper to buy two separate devices than a 2-in-one. For many, a separate tablet and laptop may be a better choice. Here are some pros and cons.
Apple kicked off the tablet craze with the 9.7-inch-screen iPad. But reports in recent months indicate the smaller iPad Mini is outselling the larger iPad Air—possibly by a lot. And the research firm Gartner indicates that Android tablets overtook Apple iPads in sales in 2013, "fueled by the low-end smaller screen tablet market." It's safe to say that consumers are finding out that they prefer tablets with screens in the 7-to-8-inch range. It doesn't hurt that they are less expensive, either. Now, ask yourself how big the screen on your current laptop is. Chances are it's at least 13 inches, if not larger.
Most convertible devices try to split the size difference, with screens in the 10-to-12-inch range. Recent well-reviewed examples include the 10.6-inch Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and the 12-inch Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook. The problem is that unless you have very good eyesight, running traditional Windows programs (Adobe's Creative Suite, for instance) on a screen this small can be squint-inducing—especially since many of the screens on these devices have higher resolutions than they used to (1080p or higher). Windows 8.1 was tweaked to be easier on the eyes on small, high-resolution displays.
So basically, tablets are better small (especially if you want to use them while commuting), and laptops are more comfortable to use when they have a larger screen—especially if you frequently do complex tasks.
Like to travel light?
Logically, you'd think opting for a 2-in-1 device would lighten your load. But that's not always the case. The complicated, usually metal hinges of convertibles often make these devices heavier than similarly priced laptops. The 13-inch Sony VAIO Pro laptop, for example, weighs just 2.3 pounds, and an iPad Air weights in at 1 pound. The Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook is 3.3 pounds—the same weight as the two other devices combined.
Of course, some 2-in-1s have detachable screens. So when you don't need the physical keyboard, you can leave it at home. But one of the better-reviewed detachable laptops we've reviewed, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, weighs about 2 pounds even without the keyboard—much heavier than, say, the Nexus 7 tablet or the current-generation Apple iPad Mini, both of which weigh 0.7 pounds and have similar screen sizes. So if you shop with weight in mind, you can certainly pick up a laptop and a tablet that together weigh about the same or less than most convertible laptops.