2-in-1 laptops have gained popularity in recent years. In this post, we highlight what a 2-in-1 laptop is and the pros and cons that it has.

A 2-in-1 laptop, also known as a convertible or hybrid laptop, is the newest thing in the laptop space. Billed as the perfect combination of a laptop and a tablet, they often feature large touch screens and the ability to switch between using them as a laptop and a tablet.

What are the advantages of the best 2-in-1 laptops? What are the drawbacks? Are certain people and use cases better suited for convertible laptops? What are the most popular 2-in-1 laptops on the market?

In this article, we’ll explore the main features of a 2-in-1 laptop and give you all the information you need to know if you’re shopping for a new convertible laptop.

What is a 2-in-1 laptop?

Generally speaking, a 2-in-1 laptop is any laptop that can be converted into a tablet. These devices are mainly aimed at creative people such as artists, graphic designers, students, and those who are looking for a better content consumption experience.

Your users love saving space, not having to carry two devices, and having all their files available and ready no matter which mode they plan to use.

2-in-1 laptops first emerged in the early 1990s with the release of PCs like the Compaq Concerto and IBM ThinkPad 360.

These mostly niche devices never really caught on due to their limited feature set, fiddly resistive touch screens, and lack of touch support in Windows.

It wasn’t until the early 2010s that the first attempts at a mainstream 2-in-1 laptop began to show some success. The first hugely popular convertible laptop came with the launch of the Microsoft Surface line in 2013.

This second wave of 2-in-1 laptops was a response to the iPad and how Apple was able to reinvent the tablet market. These manufacturers, like Microsoft and Lenovo, expected consumers to be looking for an iPad-like experience, but still want the form factor of a laptop.

There are two main form factors of 2-in-1 laptops, convertible (attached) and hybrid (separate).

Convertible laptops (attached)

Although sometimes used as an umbrella term for any 2-in-1 device, a convertible laptop refers to a tablet that has a keyboard that can be rotated, folded, or slid, but cannot be physically separated from the computer laptop.

The most common implementation of this attached design is the rotating hinge design. To demonstrate this form factor, let’s take a look at the Dell XPS 2-in-1.

This laptop is designed to spend most of its time in laptop mode, running just like any other premium laptop would. However, once you’re ready to enter tablet mode, all you’ll need to do is flip the screen over and grab it around the screen.

The best Convertible 2-in-1 laptops are often awkward and unwieldy in tablet mode. For example, holding the XPS 2-in-1 all day in tablet mode like you would an iPad would be extremely difficult. So these aren’t suitable to be tablet replacements, and should only be considered if you’re looking for a decent laptop that can convert to a tablet on occasion.

There are two main use cases for which this form factor is brilliant. These are:

  • Harmonize work with leisure (occasional consumption of content). You need a laptop for serious work, but you want something that can transform into a Netflix machine at the end of the day. There are often minor drawbacks that hold back the experience in handheld mode, and therefore there’s not much to sacrifice for the ability to watch movies on your 2-in-1 like an iPad.
  • Artists, graphic designers, and 3D modelers looking to occasionally use a touch screen. Since the computer components may still be in the laptop chassis, high-performance 2-in-1s tend to be connected to the best slim and lightweight laptops which are convertible. So these are great options for professional creatives who need a laptop that can handle demanding workloads and also has some tablet features.

Hybrid laptops (detachable)

With hybrid laptops, you can detach the keyboard and use the device like a true tablet. These are, of course, further away from traditional laptops than convertibles, and the keyboard accessory is closer to a keyboard deck.

So the guts and components of the 2-in-1 will need to fit on the display/tablet side of the device. This means there is less room for high-performance processors, dedicated GPUs, and most importantly, beefy cooling systems. So it’s unlikely you’ll find blazing-fast professional-grade detachable laptops.

The hybrid form factor is the one that Microsoft has chosen with its Surface Pro line.

Hybrid laptops are great for those looking for a “tablet first, laptop second” device. With the ability to completely ditch the keyboard, it’s much more comfortable to hold like a tablet.

On the other hand, the keyboard and trackpads on hybrid laptops tend to be less comfortable and easier to use than traditional laptops and convertibles. Sure, they’re still way better than the vast majority of keyboard covers made for tablets and iPads. But serious work experience suffers a bit on hybrid laptops.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. The Surface Book feels almost identical to a slightly top-heavy laptop, but it can be completely detached.