5 Tips for Choosing a 2-in-1 Computer

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You hear and see them everywhere—new 2-in-1 laptops that combine the ease of use of a tablet with the power of a laptop. But not all 2-in-1s are built the same and, to be a true 2-in-1, there are certain criteria that have to be met. Just because you attach a Bluetooth keyboard to a tablet doesn’t make it a 2-in-1, just like adding racing wheels to your minivan doesn’t make it a Ferrari. The three main considerations to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a real 2-in-1 are Performance, Power, and Portability. But looped into that mix should be the ability to run Windows, and the mechanics needed to replicate a tablet experience.

For example, some 2-in-1 computers feature a detachable keyboard—simply undock the keyboard and you have two components, a tablet and a keyboard. Other 2-in-1s feature a hinge mechanism that allows you to flip the keyboard 360° so that you have a tablet experience without two pieces—convenient, but not always ergonomic. Some have better display offerings, while others have better processors. Here are some things you should be on the lookout for when shopping for a new 2-in-1.

1. Make sure it has an Intel® brand processor

There are many reasons why you want an Intel processor, whether it’s the Netbook-ish Atom™, a 6th-generation Core™ M or a high-end Intel Core i5 or Core i7 – but most reasons revolve around the fact that other processors don’t handle complex and resource-heavy processes as well as Intel processors do, (such as hyper-threading) and although you could argue that an ARM processor running iOS could perform as well as an Intel processor running Windows, the problem is really software, and not hardware. When looking for 2-in-1 laptops, stay away from lower-end Intel Celeron processors (which are great for a slimmed-down OS like Chrome) and consider an Atom or Core processor.

Your choice will depend on usage and your budget. Some Intel Atom processors do a great job in a small package, like the ASUS 10.1" T100HA Transformer Book Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Notebook. The Intel Atom x5-Z8500 quad core processor (and a generous 4GB of RAM, which is unusual for a hybrid at this price) is powerful—more cores are always better—and does a great job of keeping power consumption low, reducing heat signatures and extending battery life. On the other hand, you won’t be able to run high-performance programs like CAD or Illustrator without breaking the engine, but you could run these on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4, if you’re willing to pay quadruple the price, and buy the keyboard separately (you also get much better screen resolution, better GPU, and other minor amenities).

2. It should run on the Windows operating system

Again, an Intel Atom or Core processor running Windows will probably do a lot more than a Celeron processor running Chrome, and afford you a wealth of applications (although not as many as Android or iOS). Windows 10 is also a free upgrade until July of next year, and it has a plethora of useful tweaks that Windows 8 simply did not. Look for an official Windows OS when buying a 2-in-1.


Microsoft 12.3" Surface Pro 4 128GB Multi-Touch Tablet
 

3. Screen size, resolution, and graphics power

Screen size is more a matter of personal taste, while resolution and graphics power are productivity issues. Most 2-in-1 hybrids like to reside in the 10-12" screen-size neighborhood, although quite a few have ventured beyond. Resolution varies from low-end HD 1366 x 768 to high-end 2736 x 1824, and almost none (with the one notable exception listed later) has a dedicated graphics card. What you’ll probably find that suits you is something that rests squarely in the middle of the road, such as the Dell 13.3" Inspiron 13 7000 Series Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Notebook. It has a big screen size; 13.3" is great for a laptop, but may seem kind of unwieldy as a tablet at the beginning, with Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution and integrated Intel HD Graphics 520. Benchmark testing across the board shows that the Intel 520 series is great for playing games at medium resolution. Tag on the 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5-6200U Dual-Core Skylake processor, 8GB of RAM and a 360° hinge, and you have a near perfect 2-in-1.


Dell 13.3" Inspiron 13 7000 Series Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Notebook
 

4. Hinge mechanism

So, docking keyboard or no docking keyboard? 2-in-1s have the luxury of being either or. Separate docking keyboards are great, but for real portability, you probably want a 2-in-1 with a 360-degree hinge. But not all hinge mechanisms are the same. Some involve a watch-band-like material that flexes, others involve complex gears and pulleys and tiny leprechauns. But what you want to look for is ease of use—a hinge that lets the keyboard fold behind the display, with the keys exposed. If possible, you should experience the hinge mechanism in person. Come on down to the B&H SuperStore, or stop by your local big-box retailer. Flex the screen, flip it back, feel the weight when it is in tablet mode. Is it comfortable to handle? Can you hold it with one hand (as most tablet users do)? Do the exposed keys rattle or feel in danger of coming apart? These are all things to consider when going with a 360-degree hinge. Also consider whether you need optional viewing modes, such as the Lenovo 14" Flex 3 Multi-Touch Convertible Notebook offers. You can convert to tablet mode, but you can also display in tent or presentation mode (the keyboard makes an a-shape stand for the screen).


Lenovo 14" Flex 3 Multi-Touch Convertible Notebook
 

5. Price

This is probably your biggest consideration and concern. Just because you want the flexibility of a tablet along with the power of a laptop doesn’t mean you should be seduced by the convenience of both. In some models, buying a separate laptop and tablet is cheaper than buying a 2-in-1 hybrid – but it adds more to your carrying woes than having it all in one device. If this is something your young student in the house needs to get homework done, then by all means look into a value-priced unit like the Toshiba 10.1" Satellite Click10 LX0W-C32 32GB Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Tablet. It has the basics: an Intel Atom quad core processor, 10.1" 1920 x 1200 resolution display, and Windows 10 OS. For less than $350, it’s perfect for gifting or minor lifting.


Toshiba 10.1" Satellite Click10 LX0W-C32 32GB Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Tablet
 

But at the other end of the spectrum is the Holy Grail of 2-in-1s, the Microsoft 13.5" Surface Book Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Notebook. Forget the 13.5" 3000 x 2000 resolution detachable display for a minute. Put aside the powerful 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7 Skylake processor and 16GB of RAM. You can even dismiss the 512GB SSD and Windows 10 Pro operating system for now. But what you can’t ignore is the dedicated NVIDIA GPU (in certain models), which is actually housed in the keyboard portion of the device. It takes this from a tablet hybrid to a full-blown laptop in the blink of an eye, and includes a hinge mechanism that is so unique that most people can’t understand how it works without a video and a lengthy explanation. Yes, it’s pricey (models start at $1,499 and easily escalate to no-way-can-I-buy-this-without-telling-my-wife), but what you’re left with is the ultimate 2-in-1 experience, one that will be leader of the pack for years to come.

So that’s 2-in-1 computers in a nutshell. Use these tips when shopping for yours, and make sure you have the three basics covered: Power, Performance and Portability. With that checklist in mind, the rest is up to your personal tastes.

3 Comments

Again, pls recommend a 2 in 1 that will run LR and PS in a 13 inch package.

The Dell 13.3" Inspiron 13 7000 Series Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Notebook will have enough processing power and memory to run Lightroom and Photoshop. http://bhpho.to/1LCA3w9

The ASUS is a piece of JUNK. MIne lasted 6 months. Don't BUY.

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