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A 2-in-1 computer may be in your future

These adaptable laptops are coming on strong this year

Published: September 20, 2013 03:00 PM

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Intel’s annual Developer Forum always has a focus, and this year did not disappoint. In previous years, IDF zeroed in on the new Core processors and on the introduction of Ultrabooks to the industry. This year is about what Intel calls 2-in-1 computers.

Intel defines 2-in-1s as having a 10-inch screen or larger, an integrated keyboard whether detachable or as a dock, a touch screen, responsive performance, and long battery life, with Intel targeting 6 hours or more. (Consumer Reports calls these machines "convertible" and "detachable" laptops.) They look like typical clamshell laptops, but by folding, sliding, rotating the screen, or detaching it from a keyboard dock, they become tablets. This isn't a brand-new category, but with new technology, Intel hopes to turn it into a more desirable group of laptops.

And consumer desire for 2-in-1s seems to be there. Data presented by Intel showed that nearly 80 percent of people looking to buy a laptop would consider buying a 2-in-1. Of those people who bought a 2-in-1, 25 percent chose a detachable, and 13 percent chose a Ferris-wheel or flip hinge design (like the Dell XPS 12 Convertible). Clearly the popularity of the tablet form factor has taken hold of people looking for a laptop.

Intel stated that by the holiday buying season, you'll be able to find 2-in-1s from $350 to $1,000, about 60 different models. And that there will be more than 75 2-in-1 models in 2014. An interesting footnote to the popularity of tablets and the relative newcomer category of 2-in-1s is that Intel's survey showed 48 percent of people who just bought a 2-in-1 would have bought a 10-inch tablet if there were no 2-in-1s on the market.

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You can expect to see Intel's latest Bay Trail-M processor for Mobile being sold as Pentium and Celeron. This isn't the highest-performing Core processor, but it doesn't cost as much either. The processor's very low power will enable thinner and lighter designs—even fanless designs—that save space, weight, cost, and battery life.

Current 2-in-1s in Consumer Reports' laptop Ratings run on either Intel Core or Atom CPUs. The Core-based 2-in-1s do well with excellent  performance, but battery life ranges from about 4 to 11 hours depending on the battery size and whether there is a second battery. The Atom based 2-in-1s, all detachables, score only fair or poor in performance, but battery life ranges from about 11 to 18 hours. They also tend to cost hundreds less than their Core-based brethren.

Hopefully, what Intel just announced can make it to market. Better performance, longer battery life, and thinner and lighter designs at an affordable price would go a long way in making 2-in-1s the type of laptop people would want to own. As these new models come to market, Consumer Reports will be busy testing and reporting on them.

—Rich Fisco

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