5 Questions to Ask Before Buying a 2-in-1 Computer

Are these laptop/tablet hybrids the perfect combination for your needs, or just an unfortunate compromise?

Published: September 12, 2014 04:00 PM
Microsoft Surface Pro 3

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They twist. They turn. They detach. If you’ve been shopping for a laptop lately, you’ve probably seen some 2-in-1 computers in the store. You might say they’re a natural outgrowth of Windows 8 and its emphasis on touch, since they are a laptop and tablet rolled into one device.

But is a 2-in-1 the right choice for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself before buying.

1. What do you sacrifice versus a dedicated laptop?

The ergonomics on some smaller models are not ideal. The keyboards can be small and cramped. The machine may be so light that it lifts off the table when you tap the touch screen. Some touchpads found on two don’t have the side and top swiping enhancements you find on other laptops. When we asked some readers to give them a try, a few complained that the screen lost its connection to the keyboard too easily.

2. Are the laptops good performers?

When it comes to performance, the best are as good as any laptop. Most use Intel Core processors. Battery life on the 2-in-1s we recommend ranges from 8 to 12.75 hours. They’re quite lightweight and portable, but the displays can be small. The lightest we tested was Lenovo’s Miix 2 10, a 10-inch model that weighs 2.3 pounds.

For more details on 2-in-1s, laptops, and tablets, take a look at our computer and tablet buying guides.

3. What do you sacrifice versus a dedicated tablet?

Watch your weight! Some detachable tablets can weigh more than typical tablets. Of course, they may also have larger displays than other tablets. That’s nice if you want a lot of screen space for spreadsheets—the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 has 12-inches of real-estate—or even movie viewing. But it may be more machine than you want to carry around. Also remember that 2-in-1 computers use the Windows operating system, and that’s what your tablet will have as well. The Windows app store doesn’t offer the wide selection of apps that Android and Apple do. So if you’re an Android or Apple fan, stick to a stand-alone tablet.  

4. Do you want a detachable or a convertible?

2-in-1s come in two basic forms. First are detachable laptops, which have displays that are easily removed from the keyboard. Second are convertibles, which remain attached to the keyboard and twist or fold into a tabletlike device. Some convertibles, such as Lenovo’s Yoga series, can be turned into various positions, such as tent, tablet, and stand. If you want a lighter tablet, it’s best to stick with a detachable model because you can take the keyboard off.

5. Does it cost more to buy a laptop and a tablet separately?

There are any number of ways to compare prices and product features, but here are two examples: Lenovo’s Miix 2 10 is just $500. It’s a great performer as a laptop and, as mentioned above, super light. It just missed a recommendation by us as a tablet—its battery life of 8.1 hours is less than other recommended models, and it’s heavier. But otherwise, it’s not a bad tablet.

On the flip side, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, our top-performing detachable, costs $1,130 when equipped with 128GB of memory, an Intel Core i5 processor, and keyboard accessory. It’s still a nice, light laptop at 2.4 pounds. But it weighs 1.8 pounds as a tablet. An alternative might be Acer's Aspire S7-191-6447 Ultrabook for $800 and a Google Nexus 7 tablet for $230. It costs about the same, and you still get a lightweight 11.6-inch laptop, plus an Android tablet that’s super-portable and weighs just 0.7 pounds.

—Donna Tapellini


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