What's a 2-in-1 laptop?

Close-up of a 2-in-1 laptop folded in half with something using a stylus on the touchscreen display.
Credit: Samsung

Close-up of a 2-in-1 laptop folded in half with something using a stylus on the touchscreen display.
Credit: Samsung

What is a 2-in-1 laptop? Is it a robot in disguise that can turn into a car, comes from outer space, has a deep-held grudge against other transforming technology, and is in cohorts with Shia LeBeouf? Well no, at least, we don’t think so. It’s a versatile piece of equipment that offers a bounty of bonuses over your standard notebook or tablet, and it’s often cheaper than buying multiple devices while doing the same jobs.

Price isn’t the only consideration for many purchases though, so what does a 2-in-1 laptop do that a normal notebook can’t, and is it worth any potential trade-offs? To help you find out, we’ve dived deep into the realms of technology and the internet at-large to find all of the answers for you. So, let’s get stuck in.

What is the difference between a laptop and a 2-in-1 laptop?

A laptop, as you likely know, is effectively a portable PC, although there are often a lot of compromises made for that portability, including the hassle of battery life, reduced power, and they’re a little harder to upgrade to. You can mitigate some of these woes if you fork out for one of the best gaming laptops, for instance, but the cost is substantially higher and the issues never fully go away. A 2-in-1 laptop takes the general premise of a laptop one step further, by increasing portability even more by being able to become a tablet as well as a laptop.

Two Acer Chromebook Spin 513 2-in-1 laptops in silver, one almost folded shut, the other folded into a tablet.
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Credit: Acer

They can do this in different ways and have some cool benefits, which we’ll get into, but the long and short of it is that they are both a tablet and a laptop in one device. They’re good for those who tend to work in different environments, or just anyone that appreciates flexibility and novelty in their gadgets, because being able to switch between the two modes with ease is incredibly useful.

What types of 2-in-1 laptops are there?

Outside of different brands, the main thing you’ll be looking for is the design itself. Most 2-in-1 laptops are either hinge-based or detachable. Hinge-based devices are closer to being laptops, while detachable ones are closer to being tablets.

Hinge-based ones basically fold away the keyboard, so it’s always attached, which can make them heavier and a touch clunkier when in tablet form, but the keyboard also doubles as a stand. Detachable ones don’t have that issue, but the structure can feel a little weaker with the keyboard attached due to the nature of the device. Choosing one over the other is generally decided by which version you’d be using more, so laptop-first users should go for a hinged one, and tablet-first users should go for a detachable model.

What are the pros and cons of a 2-in-1 laptop?

The advantages of these devices are plentiful, but the most important one is their versatility. Being able to easily transform a laptop into a tablet, or vice versa, allows for far simpler transitions between work and play spaces, and potentially work and play modes too. It also makes it simpler for those who tend to prefer doing tasks one way or the other. Say, for example, you’re someone who enjoys image editing and drawing. While you might prefer editing images on a laptop, you may well like to draw on one of the best graphics tablets, and a device like this offers those benefits. It can also be easier to have the laptop just for work, and then use it as a tablet to watch streaming services. It’s also nearly always cheaper than buying a laptop and a tablet too, which is nice.

ASUS ROG Flow Z13 product image of the laptop propped up in the centre surrounded by other laptops folded into tablets, a magazine, and a small black jet model.
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Credit: ASUS

The downsides of these devices tend to come in the power department and potential specs in general. They’re designed to be lighter than most laptops, meaning they often sacrifice some specifications to maintain a lighter feel, because a tablet that weighs as much as a laptop isn’t as appealing. They can also lack storage for the same reasons, so it’s always worth considering that aspect of things.

Also, since the keyboard can in some instances snap on and off, there’s no hinge in place to keep the 2-in-1 stand to attention. Instead, these devices prop themselves up, which is handy for on-the-go use, but this kind of system can sometimes be a little flimsy.

Should you buy a 2-in-1 laptop?

If you want to, then yes. The most important thing when buying any device is to be aware of the pros and cons. As long as you’re fine with it being a little less powerful than a laptop, a little more powerful than a tablet, and more versatile than both, then buying one is a smart decision. This is especially true for those who often have to share a device in one household or workplace, or simply anyone that’s looking to save a bit of money by grabbing a bit of both worlds for a single price.

If, however, the idea of sacrificing some memory and power isn’t something that appeals to you, then it’s certainly worth considering against buying one. There are models out there with enough power to do a lot more processing, so it’s always worth looking into a few models to make sure you’ve got the full grasp of things, but if power is your main concern, then you’re likely better off sticking to the best laptops instead.

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