What is a 2-in-1 laptop?

Today's 2-in-1 laptops (also called 2-in-1 PCs or just 2-in-1s) are increasingly popular because they give many laptop and tablet aficionados the something extra they're looking for:

  • 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

What is a 2-in-1 PC?

A 2-in-1 is defined simply as a PC that has the features of both a laptop and a tablet. This makes 2-in-1s a very broad product category, with everything from very laptop-like tablets to very tablet-like laptops. There are even 2-in-1 versions of the smaller, more budget-friendly netbooks.

Laptops similar to 2-in-1s (with keyboards and flip-around touch screens) were sold years before today's stand-alone tablets became popular. But consumers found those early laptop/tablet models to be too heavy and bulky. Today, improved technology has enabled manufacturers to build thinner, lighter, and more fully-featured combination designs -- creating the new category of the 2-in-1.

What makes a 2-in-1 different?

How is a 2-in-1 different from other devices? Generally speaking, a 2-in-1 is built like a laptop, with a similar (if thinner) shape, internal components (battery, storage drive, CPU) and external slots (USB ports, DVD drawer). But it also features a tablet interface that provides additional viewing and input options.

Here are more details about the distinctive features of a 2-in-1 laptop:

  • Touch screen: It's not a 2-in-1 if it doesn't have a touch screen. Some 2-in-1 touch screens are housed within a laptop-like lid, with special hinges that flip 180 degrees from the keyboard for tablet-style use. Other 2-in-1 designs are more centered around the touch screen itself, with a keyboard that's hidden under a more flexible cover or flips out from another part of the device.
  • Keyboard: It's also not a 2-in-1 if it doesn't have a physical keyboard. In fact, the type of keyboard that's used helps to define the two types of 2-in-1 that are available today:
    • 2-in-1 Attached (also called a "convertible laptop"):
    • The keyboard is built into the device and cannot be completely disconnected. Models with hinges that can flip the lid/touch screen (as described above) fall in this category, as are ones where a keyboard somehow flips out from the screen/body of the device.

    • 2-in-1 Detachable (also called a "hybrid laptop"):
    • A physical keyboard is integral to the device but can be detached. This creates the option of using the touch screen part of the system as a stand-alone tablet.

  • OS and software: 2-in-1s are designed to do more than everyday tablets, so many use full-fledged PC operating systems such as Windows 10 to run both mobile-style apps and regular PC software programs. NOTE: Some 2-in-1s, especially the more tablet-style ones, may run a web-oriented OS such as Chrome OS.
  • Processing power: Thanks to their somewhat larger form factor (and associated battery and cooling options), many 2-in-1s feature fast, multi-core CPUs similar to those available in high-end laptops.

Advantages of 2-in-1s

Users with no desire for tablet functionality are likely to buy a regular laptop, all else being equal. This means that the primary competition to the 2-in-1 in today's PC marketplace is the stand-alone tablet.

So what are some advantages of 2-in-1s compared to tablets?

  • Traditional office computing: 2-in-1s that run regular PC operating systems and software -- and have physical keyboards for easier typing -- will operate more like traditional home/business laptops. This makes a 2-in-1 superior to a tablet for most everyday office uses.
  • Multiple usage scenarios: The tablet in a 2-in-1 makes it a useful tool for combination office/industrial settings or wherever a touch screen interface might be productive.
  • Additional creative space: Many users find the tablet/drawing interface in a 2-in-1 to be an ideal enhancement to a regular laptop, whether for office work (flow charts, brainstorming sessions, etc.) or home entertainment (such as family drawing programs and games).
  • Less is more: For many buyers, the 2-in-1 gets the nod simply because it means one less device to pack up and carry. If you like the standard computing experience of a laptop and prefer surfing the web and watching streaming movies on a tablet, then a 2-in-1 can provide the best of both worlds.

Trying to choose between a tablet and a 2-in-1? We present some factors to consider in another article, Tablet vs. 2-in-1: Which is right for me?

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