What is a convertible laptop?

A convertible laptop is one that has both laptop and tablet functionality. Manufacturers build convertible laptops for users who want the most desirable capabilities of each system:

  • For laptop users: A touch screen and other tablet-style conveniences
  • For tablet users: A PC operating system, keyboard, and other features of a laptop

Convertibles -- also called 2-in-1s or, somewhat mistakenly, hybrid laptops (see below) -- are more powerful than tablets yet have more portable functionality than traditional laptops. As a tablet, they offer the same innovative touch screen capabilities users of those devices have come to love. As a laptop, they provide the processing power, keyboard and other features of a more advanced PC.

Is a convertible laptop the same as a 2-in-1?

Yes, a convertible laptop is also a 2-in-1 laptop, which is the broader term most manufacturers now use to describe the combination laptop-tablet category. Refer to "What is a 2-in-1 laptop?"

The terms "convertible laptop" and "2-in-1" are often used interchangeably. However, as new types of 2-in-1s have emerged, "convertible" has come to refer mostly to so-called 2-in-1 Attached systems, the original type of laptop-tablet combo in which the keyboard and display remain connected at all times, even as the touch screen flips around or otherwise converts for tablet use. [The other type is the 2-in-1 Detachable, which allows the touch screen portion to be unplugged and used independently as a standalone tablet.]

Advantages of a convertible laptop

As a 2-in-1, a convertible laptop offers several advantages compared to laptops or tablets alone:

  • Standard PC operating systems and faster, laptop-grade processors make 2-in-1 convertible laptops better for multi-tasking than typical tablets, making them ideal for home/office use in addition to their tablet capabilities.
  • The touch screen-tablet functionality adds a new dimension for traditional laptop users, who can now draw up ideas in brainstorming sessions, do data entry on the shop floor, and so on.
  • 2-in-1 convertible laptops give you less to pack when traveling, especially for users who already carry smartphones and end up debating whether to take both a laptop and a tablet on trips.

Are today's 2-in-1s different than yesterday's convertibles?

Some early laptops with tablet-style touch screens debuted in the mid-2000s, well before today's modern, standalone tablets became wildly popular portable devices. Those early models pioneered the super-wide angle hinges that allowed a laptop's screen to be flipped all the way around to sit flat for tablet-style use. But the systems were thicker than standard laptops and many considered them too heavy to continuous use in tablet form.

The popular acceptance of standalone tablet-only PCs -- they became everyday consumer devices around 2011 -- ignited new interest in the tablet concept. By then, new shell materials and touch screen technology enabled designs that were much thinner and lighter than before, and a new breed of combination laptop-tablet PCs -- now called 2-in-1s -- found their way to desktops and dorm rooms everywhere.