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Close to the Metal Ep. 21: Whoa, 2-in-1s are suddenly good

With the Ultrabook initiative successful and behind it, Intel and the PC industry is moving on to the next challenge — the 2-in-1. This is vague term covers a very wide variety of laptops that can also serve as tablets. Some have a detachable keyboard, like the Surface Pro 4. Others have a 360-degree display hinge, like the Lenovo Yoga 910.

This category has faced an uphill battle. It’s not easy to pack a touchscreen, powerful hardware, and a big battery into one package. We’ve reviewed many 2-in-1s poorly, and those that do are almost universally expensive. Until now.

A number of new, high-profile 2-in-1 computers are hitting the market this season. While many of them are still relatively expensive, prices have come down a bit, putting most into the $800 to $1,100 range for a machine with impressive specifications. That’s a leap forward. Past 2-in-1 systems were often both expensive and not particularly quick.

More: Has laptop battery life really improved? We tested

At the same time, battery life is improving. Older devices often struggled to fit a 40 watt-hour battery, but now we’re seeing systems with 50-watt, 60-watt, and larger units. Stepping up battery size is still the last word in extending battery life, and it has allowed the best 2-in-1s to leap forward from merely adequate endurance, to portability that’s as good as the best conventional laptops.

All of that makes it look like this holiday shopping season is a good time to buy a 2-in-1. But have they come far enough to consider buying one instead of a conventional laptop, and are there hidden problems to avoid? We’ll take a closer look in this week’s episode.

Close to the Metal is a podcast from Digital Trends that focuses on the geekier side of life. It tackles the topics PC enthusiasts argue over in language everyone can understand. Please subscribe, share, and send your questions to podcast@digitaltrends.com. We broadcast the show live on YouTube every Tuesday at 1pm EST/10am PST.