Best 2-in-1 laptop 2021: Top hybrid notebooks
Although it’s far from over, the coronavirus pandemic should eventually recede in the face of social distancing, track-and-trace, vaccination and improved treatments, allowing businesses to resume something resembling ‘normal’ working practices. One consequence is that mobile professionals will once again become mobile, travelling on public transport to company offices or clients’ premises, working on trains or in coffee shops as they go about their business, as well as continuing to toil from home.
The likely result will be an uptick in demand for new devices — for example, analyst firm Gartner forecasts a worldwide spend of $794 billion in 2021 (13.9% growth over 2020). Also, many users will be seeking a new desktop or laptop PC to take advantage of the security and usability features built into Windows 11, which is currently expected to ship in October.
Read more: Windows 11: Everything you need to know
Mobile pros requiring maximum flexibility will likely be drawn to 2-in-1 devices that can work as laptops or tablets (although there is usually a premium to pay over a traditional clamshell device). These come in several form factors. ‘Laptop first’ 2-in-1s look like regular laptops, with ‘proper’ keyboards, but can either detach the screen section to work as an independent tablet (‘detachable’) or rotate the screen a full 360 degrees to lie flat, back-to-back, against the keyboard section and work in tablet mode (‘convertible’). ‘Tablet first’ 2-in-1s are, as the name suggests, primarily tablets but can work in laptop mode via an add-on — often somewhat flimsy — keyboard, with the tablet, usually propped up by a kickstand.
Windows dominates the PC operating system market thanks to its long-time availability on a wide range of OEM (and more recently, Microsoft) hardware, which has resulted in a huge variety of software written for the platform. Convertible Windows devices have been around for a long time — ZDNet reviewed the HP Compaq tc4400 running Windows XP Professional Tablet PC Edition back in March 2007, for example. However, it’s fair to say that the modern 2-in-1 era began with Microsoft’s Surface Pro in 2013, which launched with Windows 8 Pro. The Surface range, initially envisaged as a showcase for new tablet/laptop technologies and form factors to encourage Microsoft’s OEM partners, has grown into a successful business for the company, generating $1.5 billion in its fiscal Q3 2021 (up 12% year on year).
Convertible devices are also available as Chrome OS-based Chromebooks, which offer an affordable and increasingly popular platform for web-based productivity apps and virtual desktops. You might want to use Linux for its free, open-source and increasingly usable nature or because it’s less of a target for cybercriminals than Windows (although you may need to tweak your chosen distro to work well with a touch screen). There is no MacOS 2-in-1s yet, but the latest M1-based iPad Pro with a Magic Keyboard is the closest you’ll get to a 2-in-1 in today’s Apple ecosystem.
Read more: One Apple platform in 2021: iPad and Mac begin their convergence.
So, given that you’re in the market for a 2-in-1 device, which one should you buy? As ever, that depends on what you want to do with it and how much budget is at your disposal.
Here are ZDNet’s current picks for a variety of form factors, operating systems and use cases.
OS Windows 10 (Home, Pro) | CPU Intel Core i5-1135G7, Core i7-1165G7 | GPU Intel Iris Xe Graphics | RAM 8GB, 16GB, 32GB | Storage 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Screen 13.4inch 16:10 WLED, FHD+ (1920 x 1200) or UHD+ (3840 x 2400) touch screen | Wireless Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) | Ports & slots 2x Thunderbolt 4 (with Power Delivery) | Camera HD (720p) with IR | Audio dual array digital mics, stereo speakers, 3.5mm audio in/out | Battery 51Wh | Dimensions 297mm x 207mm x 14.35mm | Weight from 1.32kg | Price from $1,149.99 (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, FHD+ touch screen)
Dell’s XPS 13 is our current top pick among regular laptops for knowledge workers, and the convertible variant also heads up ZDNet’s list of best 2-in-1 devices. Like its stablemate, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 offers a great combination of build quality, features and performance — with the added benefit of form factor flexibility thanks to its 360-degree rotating screen.
If you choose the entry-level $1,149.99 configuration, you’ll get an Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor with integrated Iris Xe Graphics, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 13.4-inch 16:10 touch screen with FHD+ (1920 x 1200) resolution. At the top end of the scale, you get a Core i7-1165G7, Windows 10 Pro rather than Home, 32GB of RAM, 1TB of SSD storage and a UHD+/4K+ (3840 x 2400) display — all for $1,949.99.
The addition of 11th-generation Intel processors and Thunderbolt 4 brings the XPS 13 2-in-1 9310 right up to date. However, battery life suffers if you go for a Core i7 processor and power-hungry 4K+ screen. Our review also took issue with the minimal-travel keyboard action.
Read review: Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 9310
OS Windows 10 Pro | CPU Intel Core i3-1115G4, Core i5-1135G7, Core i7-1165G7 | GPU Intel UHD Graphics (Core i3), Iris Xe Graphics (Core i5, i7) | RAM 8GB, 16GB, 32GB | Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB | Screen 12.3inch. PixelSense, 2736 x 1824 (267ppi), 10pt multi-touch | Wireless Bluetooth 5.0, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6), mobile broadband (LTE) | Ports and slots USB-C, USB-A, Surface Connect, Surface Type Cover port, MicroSD card reader, Nano SIM | Cameras 5MP Windows Hello (front), 8MP (rear) | Audio 2 far-field Studio Mics, 1.6W stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, 3.5mm headphone jack | Battery 50.4Wh (15h Wi-Fi, 13.5h Wi-Fi + LTE) | Dimensions 292mm x 201mm x 8.5mm | Weight 770g (i3 & i5, Wi-Fi), 796g (i5, Wi-Fi + LTE), 784g (i7, Wi-Fi); tablet only | Price from $849.99 (i3), $999.99 (i5), $1,449.99 (i7); Type Cover for Business $97.47, $119.99 (Signature model); Surface Pen $99.99
The Surface Pro is a tablet with an attachable Type Cover keyboard (not included in the base price) that transforms it into a laptop of sorts. It’s not a laptop you can use comfortably — or at all — on your lap, thanks to the kickstand that keeps the screen section upright, but it’s light and flexible and an excellent choice if you do a lot of touchscreen tasks — sketching, handwritten note-taking and annotation, for example — as well as mainstream knowledge work. Note that, as with the Type Cover, the Surface Pen is another extra-cost option.
There are two variants of the flagship 12.3inch Surface Pro: the consumer-focused Surface Pro 7, which is based on 10th-generation Intel Core processors, and the business-oriented Surface Pro 7+, which runs on the latest 11th-generation Core CPUs and also offers LTE mobile broadband. We’re looking at the latter here.
Read more: Surface Pro 7+ for Business: Here’s what makes it different.
The Surface Pro 7+ starts at $849.99 for a Wi-Fi-only version with a Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. A Core i5 configuration with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, Wi-Fi and LTE will cost you $1,449.99, while the top-end model with a Core i7, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD will cost a hefty $1,779.99. The Surface Pro 7+ has a slightly bigger battery than its consumer stablemate, resulting in claimed battery life of 15 hours with Wi-Fi only and 13.5h with Wi-Fi and LTE. Another key differentiator is security and manageability: the Pro 7+ has a removable SSD, Windows Autopilot support and comes with key security features turned on by default.
Read more: The best Surface? See which Microsoft Surface PC is right for you.
OS Windows 10 Home (in S Mode), Windows 10 Pro (‘for Business’ model) | CPU Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y, Core m3-8100Y | GPU Intel UHD Graphics 615 | RAM 4GB, 8GB | Storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB (‘for Business’ model only) | Screen 10.5inch 3:2 PixelSense FHD (1920 x 1280, 220ppi) touch screen | Wireless Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), optional mobile broadband (Snapdragon X16 LTE) | Ports & slots USB-C, Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover port, MicroSDXC card reader | Camera 5MP (front, with IR for face authentication), 8MP rear | Audio dual Studio mics, stereo speakers, 3.5mm audio-out jack | Battery 27Wh (10h; ‘up to 10h’ with LTE) | Dimensions 245 mm x 175 mm x 8.3 mm | Weight 544g (Wi-Fi), 553g (Wi-Fi + LTE) | Price from $399.99 (Pentium 4425Y, 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD, Windows 10 Home in S Mode) or $449.99 with Windows 10 Pro; Type Covers from $69.99
Microsoft’s 10.5inch Surface Go 2 is a tablet-first device, with keyboard covers available as optional extras. It’s an attractive and highly portable 2-in-1 (if you buy the Type Cover keyboard) that’s well suited for mainstream productivity tasks like web browsing, email and video calls.
The Surface Go 2 is available in two versions: the standard version of the Surface Go 2 runs Windows 10 Home in locked-down S Mode, while the slightly more expensive ‘for Business’ model comes with Windows 10 Pro. It has a 10.5inch FHD touch screen (220ppi) and comes with 4GB or 8GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of SSD storage in the standard model, while the business model adds a 256GB SSD variant. You’ll pay $100 extra over the (8GB/128GB) Wi-Fi-only model if you want 4G LTE mobile broadband.
Although entry-level prices for the Surface Go 2 are attractive, options can edge towards the expensive: a fully-specified ‘for Business’ system with a Core m3-8100Y processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, LTE mobile broadband and a top-end Type Cover adds up to $1,027.98.
The Surface Go 2 has a decent camera (5MP front, 8MP rear) and audio subsystems, making it a good vehicle for on-the-go video calls. However, connections are limited to one USB-C port, Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect and Type Cover ports, a MicroSD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack. Performance from the 8th-generation Core m3 processor in ZDNet’s review unit was impressive for an affordable 2-in-1, but battery life — claimed at up to 10 hours — was slightly disappointing: 8 hours when playing local video files, 4.5h when streaming over Wi-Fi.
Read review: Microsoft Surface Go 2
OS Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Pro (‘for Business’ model) | CPU Intel Core i5-1035G7 (13.5inch only), Core i7-1065G7 | GPU Intel Iris Plus Graphics (Core i5, 13.5inch), 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 (Core i7, 13.5inch), 6GB Nvidia GeForce 1660 Ti (Core i7, 15-inch), 6GB Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 (Core i7, 15inch, ‘for Business’ model) | RAM 8GB (13.5inch only), 16GB, 32GB | Storage 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB (15inch only) | Screen 13.5inch 3:2 PixelSense (3000 x 2000, 267ppi) touch screen, 15inch 3:2 PixelSense (3240 x 2160, 260ppi) touch screen | Wireless Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Xbox Wireless (15inch only) | Ports & slots 2x USB 3.1, USB-C (with Power Delivery), 2x Surface Connect ports (keyboard base, tablet), SD card reader | Camera 5MP (front, with IR for face authentication), 8MP rear | Audio dual far-field Studio mics, stereo speakers, 3.5mm audio-out jack | Battery 13.5-inch: 69Wh (Core i5), 75.3Wh (Core i7) / 15inch: 90Wh / up to 15.5h (13.5inch) or 17.5h (15inch) when connected to keyboard base | Dimensions 13inch: 312mm x 232mm x 13-23 mm (15-23mm for Core i7) / 15inch: 343mm x 251mm x 15-23 mm | Weight 13.5inch: 1.53kg (Core i5), 1.64kg (Core i7) / 15inch: 1.9kg (all including keyboard) | Price 13.5inch: from $1,599.99 (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD) / 15inch: from $2,299.99 (Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
Microsoft’s 2015 13.5-inch Surface Book was the original ‘laptop-first’ detachable: at first glance, it looked like a regular laptop, but the screen could detach and function independently as a tablet, or be turned around and reattached, offering the ‘tent’ and ‘presentation’ modes characteristic of 360-degree rotating convertibles. In 2017 the Surface Book 2 added a 15inch version, an arrangement that persists with the current Surface Book 3, which launched in May 2020.
Prices for the Surface Book 3 start at $1,599.99 for a 13.5inch standard model with a 10th-generation Core i5-1035G7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD; the business model costs $100 more. At the other end of the scale, a 15inch business model with a Core i7-1065G7 processor, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and discrete Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 graphics with 6GB of dedicated video memory will set you back a hefty $3,699.99.
There are batteries in both sections of the Surface Book 3 (tablet and keyboard), but Microsoft only quotes battery life in laptop mode: 15.5 hours’ ‘typical device usage’ for the 13.5inch model and 17.5h for the 15inch model. ZDNet’s review of the 15inch Surface Book 3 reported achieving a full day’s work on battery power with “over a third of the battery left for the commute home, should commuting ever return after 2020”.
Read review: Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15inch)
OS Chrome OS | CPU MediaTek Helio P60T | GPU ARM Mali-G72 MP3 (integrated) | RAM 4GB | Storage 64GB, 128GB | Screen 10.1inch FHD (1920 x 1200, 224ppi) IPS touch screen, 400 nits | Wireless Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) | Ports & slots USB-C (with Power Delivery), 5-point pogo pins for keyboard attachment | Camera 2MP front, 8MP rear | Audio stereo speakers, USB-C adapter for 3.5mm headset jack | Battery 7180mAh (up to 10h video playback, 8h web browsing) | Dimensions 239.8mm x 159.8mm x 7.35mm (tablet) / 244.87mm x 169.31mm x 18.2mm (tablet + keyboard) | Weight 450g (tablet), 920g (tablet + keyboard) | Price from $249.99 (4GB RAM, 64GB eMMC)
Lenovo’s IdeaPad Duet Chromebook is a 2-in-1 Chromebook comprising a 10.1inch tablet, an attachable keyboard and a rear cover/kickstand, starting at $249.99. Running Chrome OS and with support for Android apps, this diminutive 10inch multi-modal device offers excellent value — albeit as a companion rather than a primary device.
The entry-level configuration runs Chrome OS on a MediaTek Helio P60T processor with 4GB of RAM and a 64GB eMMC SSD. The 10.1inch IPS touch screen has FHD+ resolution (1920 x 1200, 224ppi, 16:10 aspect ratio) with 400 nits brightness. There’s also a $289.99 model, which boosts the storage to 128GB and adds a Lenovo USI stylus. The latter looks like the preferred option.
Although some keys on the right side are rather narrow, the keyboard has good action, and the touchpad is also necessarily small. Lenovo claims 10 hours of battery life for the IdeaPad Duet Chromebook, and that’s pretty much in line with what emerged in ZDNet’s review.
Read review: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook.
OS Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Pro | CPU Intel Core i5-1135G7, Core i7-1185G7 | GPU Intel Iris Xe Graphics | RAM 8GB, 16GB | Storage 256GB, 512GB, 1TB PCIe SSD | Screen 14inch FHD (1920 x 1080, 157ppi) IPS touch screen, 400 nits / UHD (3840 x 2160, 315ppi) IPS touch screen, HDR 400, 500 nits | Wireless Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) | Ports & slots USB 3.2, USB-C Thunderbolt 4 | Camera 720p HD | Audio Rotating sound bar with Dolby Atmos speaker system (2x subwoofers, 2x tweeters), 2x webcam mics, 3.5mm audio in/out jack | Battery 60Wh (15h FHD, 10h UHD) | Dimensions 319.4mm x 216.4mm x 14.6-15.7mm (Mica), 319.5mm x 216.7mm x 15.3-16.5mm (Shadow black) | Weight from 1.37kg | Price from $1,299.99 (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
Previously known as the Yoga C940 (which received a 9.1/Spectacular rating from ZDNet in December 2019), Lenovo’s Intel Evo-branded Yoga 9i is the renamed late-2020 model, based on 11th-generation Intel Core processors. As well as an improved compute platform and long battery life, the stylish-looking Yoga 9i features an excellent audio subsystem built around a Rotating Sound Bar, plus a bundled active stylus with on-device garaging and charging. It’s also available in a 15.6inch form factor, but we’re highlighting the 14inch model, which weighs in at 1.37kg.
Currently available only in the silver Mica livery (the leather-topped Shadow Black version with a fancy glass palm rest and an ultrasonic fingerprint reader is out of stock on Lenovo’s website at the time of writing), the ‘build your own’ Yoga 9i configuration starts at $1,299.99 for a Core i5-1135G7 processor running Windows 10 Home, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD and an FHD IPS touch screen. You can boost this to a Core i7-1185G7 (+$265) running Windows 10 Pro (+$60), 16GB of RAM (+$50), a 1TB SSD (+$135) and a 4K/ UHD display (+$100). All of these options bring the price up to $1,909.99. Specifying the Shadow Black livery (when available) adds another $20.
The Yoga 9i’s signature Rotating Sound Bar has two subwoofers and two tweeters built into the hinge, delivering impressive audio whether you’re in laptop, tablet, tent or presentation mode. The active pen has a home at the back of the chassis, on the right side. Lenovo claims up to 15 hours of battery life for the FHD model or 10h for the UHD version. This seems reasonable — in CNET’s review of the FHD model, the Yoga 9i ran for 14h 25m in a streaming video test.
Read review: Lenovo Yoga 9i (14-inch) (CNET)
OS iPadOS 14 | CPU Apple M1 (8-core) | GPU 8-core (integrated) | RAM 8GB (128GB, 256GB, 512GB storage), 16GB (1TB, 2TB storage) | Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB | Screen 11inch Liquid Retina (IPS touch screen, 2388 x 1668, 264ppi, 600 nits) / 12.9inch Liquid Retina XDR (IPS touch screen, 2731 x 2048, 264ppi, 1000 nits) | Wireless Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), optional mobile broadband (5G, 4G LTE via nano-SIM or eSIM) | Ports & slots Thunderbolt/ USB 4, Smart Connector, Magnetic Connector, nano-SIM | Cameras Front: TrueDepth Camera (12MP, f/2.4, 122° FoV) / Rear: wide angle (12MP, f/1.8), ultra wide angle (10MP, f/2.4, 125° FoV) , 2x optical, 5x digital zoom, LiDAR scanner | Audio 5 mics, 4 speakers | Battery 28.6Wh (11inch), 40.9Wh (12.9inch); up to 10h (Wi-Fi), 9h (mobile broadband) | Dimensions 178.5mm x 247.6mm x 5.9mm (11inch) / 214.9mm x 280.6mm x 6.4mm (12.9inch) | Weight 11inch: 466g (Wi-Fi), 468g (Wi-Fi+MBB) / 12.9inch: 682g (Wi-Fi), 684g (Wi-Fi+MBB) | Price from $799 (11inch), $1099 (12.9inch) / Magic Keyboard $299 (11inch), $349 (12.9inch) / Apple Pencil $129
Arguably, the most far-reaching aspect of Apple’s April 2021 event will turn out to be the introduction of 11inch and 12.9inch iPad Pros powered by the M1 system-on-chip (SoC). This is the same Apple Silicon that underpins the latest MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. It gives Apple’s tablet similar horsepower to a high-end laptop (the company claims the M1 delivers 50% more performance and a 40% graphics boost over the previous-generation iPad Pro). With the addition of a Magic Keyboard, the iPad becomes a device that could, perhaps, replace a traditional laptop as a work tool.
It’s an expensive almost-laptop, though: the M1 iPad Pro starts at $799 for an 11inch model with 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and Wi-Fi 6, rising to $2,399 for a 12.9inch model with 16GB of RAM, 2TB of storage and Wi-Fi 6 plus cellular (up to 5G) connectivity. That’s before you add in a Magic Keyboard ($299 for 11inch, $349 for 12.9inch) and a $129 Apple Pencil. You can buy a lot of stylus-equipped 2-in-1 actual-laptop for $2,877.
Read review: Apple iPad Pro (2021)
The latest iPad Pro hardware, which includes a mini-LED Liquid Retina XDR display on the 12.9inch model, is impressive, if expensive. However, much will depend on how the software develops, starting with iPadOS 15 later this year.
Read more: iPadOS 15 hands-on review
OS Windows 10 Pro | CPU Intel Core i5-10310U vPro | GPU Intel UHD Graphics (integrated) | RAM 16GB, 32GB | Storage 512GB, 1TB (plus separate model with quick-release SSD) | Screen 10.1inch IPS touch screen (1920 x 1200, 224ppi) with glove and rain modes, 1000 nits, IP55 digitiser | Wireless Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), optional mobile broadband (4G LTE) | Ports & slots USB 3.1, USB-C (with Power Delivery), RJ-45 Ethernet, port replicator connector, dual antenna connector / Configuration Port (serial, 2D barcode reader, USB 2.0, RJ-45 or FLIR thermal camera) / Rear Expansion Bay Area (smart card reader or HF-RFID [NFC] reader) | Cameras Front: 2MP with IR & privacy shutter / Rear: 8MP, with autofocus & flash | Audio stereo speakers | Battery 50Wh (standard), 68Wh (extended), hot-swappable (12h standard, 18.5h extended) | Dimensions 279mm x 188mm x 23.5mm | Weight 1.19kg | Price from $2,999
Rugged computing specialist Panasonic recently introduced the Toughbook G2, a fully rugged tablet with an optional keyboard that transforms it into a 2-in-1 device.
The Toughbook G2 offers an enterprise-grade platform based on a 10th-generation Intel Core i5-10310U vPro processor with 16GB or 32GB of RAM 512GB or 1TB of MVMe SSD storage. It’s a Microsoft Secured Core PC, and there’s a variant with a quick-release SSD aimed at industry sectors with particularly data-sensitive use cases. Its rugged credentials include MIL-STD 810H testing and IP65 certification for dust and water resistance.
The Toughbook G2’s 10.1inch IPS display is ‘sunlight viewable’, with maximum brightness of 1,000 nits. It’s a 10-point capacitive multi-touchscreen that works with fingers and the optional stylus, with selectable modes for gloved hands and rainy conditions. As well as a selection of standard ports, there’s a ‘configuration port’ which can be fitted at purchase time with a serial port, a barcode reader, a USB 2.0 port, a second Ethernet port or a thermal camera. Another configurable element is the expansion bay at the back, which can take a smart card reader or an HF-RFID (NFC) reader.
Optional accessories include docking units, vehicle mounts, battery packs and the stylus pen. The detachable keyboard adds two extra ports — USB-A and USB-C — while the desktop cradle supports 4K output on two external 4K displays. Battery life with the standard 50Wh battery pack is quoted at 12 hours, or 18.5 hours with the optional extended 68Wh battery. Batteries are hot-swappable, which is a key requirement for many field workers.
Read more: Toughbook G2: Panasonic’s new rugged 10.1-inch 2-in-1 Windows tablet.
OS Windows 10 Home | CPU Intel Core i5-1135G7, Core i7-1165G7 | GPU Intel Iris Xe Graphics (integrated) | RAM 16GB | Storage 512GB, 2TB (2x 1TB) | Screen 16inch WQXGA (2560 x 1600, 188.7ppi, 16:10) IPS touch screen with Gorilla Glass 6 protection | Wireless Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) | Ports & slots USB 3.2, 2x USB-C Thunderbolt 4, HDMI, MicroSD card reader | Camera HD webcam | Audio stereo speakers, 3.5mm audio-out jack | Battery 80Wh (up to 21h) | Dimensions 356.5mm x 248.4mm x 17mm | Weight 1.48kg | Price $1,499.99 (Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD), $1,999.99 (Core i7, 16GB RAM, 2TB SSD)
There are plenty of 15.6inch convertibles on the market, but your search for anything bigger will lead you to just one vendor — LG, and its 16inch Gram 16 2-in-1. Despite having the largest screen of any current convertible, the LG Gram 16 manages to combine good performance, relatively lightweight (1.48kg), military-grade (MIL-STD 810G) build quality — and, of course, 2-in-1 flexibility.
The Gram 16 2-in-1 isn’t exactly an affordable option, so you’ll need to have a good reason for pushing the convertible format to its limit. The entry-level model, with a Core i5-1135G7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD, costs $1,499.99, while a Core i7 configuration with 2TB of SSD storage costs $1,999.99. The 16-inch screen is a high-quality 16:10 IPS panel protected by Gorilla Glass 6, with 2560 by 1600 (WQXGA) resolution and support for 99% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut.
LG claims up to 21 hours of battery life for the Gram 16 2-in-1’s large 80Wh battery, and we’ve seen reviews reporting over 15 hours of ‘real-world’ usage, which is impressive for a system with a large, high-resolution display.
OS Windows 10 (Pro) | CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G Compute Platform | GPU Qualcomm Adreno GPU | RAM up to 16GB | Storage up to 512GB | Screen 13.5inch 1920 x 1280 Edge-to-Edge Glass, 10-point multi-touch | Wireless Bluetooth LE 5.0, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6), 4G LTE and 5G mobile broadband | Ports and slots 2x USB-C 3.2, Nano SIM | Camera HD IR + hybrid Y2.2mm HD webcam | Audio 2x front-facing mics, 4x stereo speakers, 3.5mm headphone/ mic combo jack | Battery up to 24.5h of local video playback | Dimensions 299 x 230 x 15.9mm | Weight 1.3kg | Price from $1,786.88
A subset of the laptop-buying population will always be hankering after the latest form factors and platforms, and CES is the place to get a first look at what’s in store for the coming year. Despite being online-only due to the coronavirus pandemic, CES 2021 didn’t disappoint, offering up a healthy crop of cutting-edge industrial designs and configurations.
HP’s Elite Folio is a 13.5inch 2-in-1 whose touch screen folds forward by stages — first to cover the keyboard leaving the touchpad accessible, then lie flat on the keyboard, enabling tablet-mode operation. It’s based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen2 platform, which includes both 4G LTE and 5G modems, along with Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). The message is that this ultraportable (1.3kg) 2-in-1 is “always on, always connected’, with claimed battery life of up to 24.5 hours of ‘local video playback’. With optional Sure View privacy for the touch screen, an Elite Slim Active Pen (with on-device storage and charging), a well-specified audio-video subsystem and fanless operation, this will be a sought-after laptop for the well-heeled mobile professional.
The Elite Folio’s Arm-based processor certainly delivers on battery life, but there is a trade-off in its use of Windows 10 on Arm (WoA), which can currently only run 32-bit Windows apps. However, Intel x64 emulation is coming to WoA and is available now via the Windows Insider Program. ARM64-native apps are appearing too, including Microsoft’s Teams and Edge and Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom.
The Elite Folio is available to buy on HP’s US website but is still listed as ‘Coming soon’ in the UK. In the US, you can get a preconfigured model with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB NVMe SSD for $1,889; there’s also a customisable model that starts at $1,786.88 with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
Why should you buy a 2-in-1 laptop and not a regular laptop?
If you want maximum flexibility from your portable computing device, a laptop/ tablet hybrid, or 2-in-1, of some sort could fit the bill — although that bill may be higher than for a regular laptop due to the touch screen, stylus and other extra features that may be required, such as a 360-degree rotating screen hinge.
There are 2-in-1 devices to suit both ‘tablet-first’ and ‘laptop-first’ use cases, so you should be able to find one that suits your work practices. It’s also an area of form factor innovation, so keep an eye out for new developments.
Which operating system should you choose?
Every computing platform has its committed supporters, but most people end up using a particular operating system because key applications run on it, or because it’s chosen for them by their employer, or because of budgetary issues.
Windows spans the range from budget to premium, while Chrome OS is largely confined to the affordable end of the market; there are no 2-in-1 laptops from Apple (yet) — the nearest you’ll get is an iPad Pro/Magic Keyboard combo running iPadOS 14
Laptop vendors: Should you stick to the ‘usual suspects’ or seek out lesser-known brands?
Generally speaking, the leading PC vendors have the broadest range of offerings and the best-documented track records in terms of product development and customer relations.
So in the absence of a specialised use case or budgetary constraint, you’re usually going to be looking at the likes of Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple, Acer and Asus — which currently lead the PC market in terms of shipments — plus a handful of other well-known brands, including Microsoft.
How did we choose these 2-in-1 laptops?
I have been writing, commissioning and editing reviews of laptops (and many other types of tech products) since the 1990s. The selection process for this ‘Best’ list is based on a combination of personal usage and experience, involvement in the ZDNet reviews process, and analysis of other reviews and roundups.
Which 2-in-1 laptop is right for you?
The key question when buying a 2-in-1 laptop — as with any product — is: ‘What do you want to do with it?’ Having established the use case, you’ll have a focus for your research and should quickly get a feel for the key features to look out for.
Once you have a long list of potential candidates, your budget will likely trim it down at the top end, while your cautionary instincts should kick in at the bottom end (if something appears too good to be true, it probably is). Armed with a well-researched shortlist, you should have a good chance of ending up with a laptop that will satisfy your requirements.