After years of stumbling, 2-in-1 laptops will finally find their stride in 2016

Microsoft Surface Book
This year’s best computers didn’t try anything new. They were building on a foundation of years past. The Dell XPS 13 isn’t the best 13-inch notebook available today because it presents some sort of radical notion of what a laptop is or could be. In fact, it does exactly what laptops have done pretty much since their inception. The XPS 13 just does it better.

Technology moves rapidly. It’s expected that when a new device launches, we’ll see the successor within the following year — a newer, better, sleeker, lighter, more powerful version of the first by the time the Earth orbits around the sun.

It’s an incredibly demanding process. Refining a product is arguably even more intensive than conceiving it if only because it requires precise attention to customer feedback rather than a preordained assumption of what consumers want. That’s why, in 2016, we can expect to say goodbye to some of the pervasive criticisms that have long haunted the 2-in-1 laptop.

Surface sets a precedent

When Microsoft unveiled its Surface Book back in October, I was immediately awestruck. A 14-inch laptop with the versatility of a tablet and performance exceeding some desktops, it was the future of computing. Then I tried one, and it was not quite what I’d hoped for. I could accomplish more with this one device — a single Surface Book unit — than with a MacBook Pro, but something was clearly missing: style.

Microsoft Surface Book
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Surface Book’s ability to shape-shift and become a tablet just as easily as a drawing utility or a standard notebook is an undeniably useful power, don’t get me wrong. It’s just disappointing that Microsoft has to take so many visible shortcuts to make that possible. Next year, however, I may very well see the Surface Book of my dreams — and with it, a sizable quantity of modest-priced imitations from Microsoft’s OEMs.

If 2015 was A New Hope for PC 2-in-1s, 2016 is going to be The Empire Strikes Back.

Chipmakers pave the way for portability

One objection convertible notebooks have managed to deflect recently is that they simply can’t pack enough power while also retaining portability. What was once truth has now managed to become a rhetorical inconsistency. The iPad Pro, for instance, is about as powerful as the MacBook, and still boasts an hour more battery life. The Surface Pro 4, meanwhile, scored extremely well in our benchmarks despite its thin frame and reasonable endurance.

The release of Windows 10 earlier this year finally presented an OS that lives up to the 2-in-1’s capabilities.

We’ve now reached the point where manufacturers can fit not only mobile processors like Apple’s A9x chip into the latest 2-in-1s but even Intel’s latest and greatest dual-core chips, without making major concessions in size, battery life, or performance — or all three.

That’s an impressive feat, and users will notice. The original Surface Pro is the perfect example. Released in 2013, the original device was half an inch thick and weighed two pounds. A modern Surface Pro 4 is only three-tenths of an inch thick and weighs 1.6 pounds, despite a screen increase from 10.6 to 12.3 inches.

Shrinking the profile and weight is important. Weight is negotiable for a laptop. A few extra ounces can be hard to notice. A tablet, however, must be as light as possible. Early 2-in-1s were too heavy, but the new models have more manageable dimensions.

Dependence is a curse

The release of Windows 10 earlier this year finally presented an operating system that lives up to the 2-in-1’s capabilities. Windows 10 took the philosophies of Windows 8.1 and streamlined them for fans of classic renditions of the OS. As a result, Windows 10 is now more suited for implementation across a wider range of computing devices than any other operating system in history.

And devices that don’t use Windows, such as the iPad Pro, are finally getting the software support they’ve longed for from companies like Adobe. While iOS still lacks the premium creative software found in both OS X and Windows, it’s come a long way from the shell of a mobile operating system it once was.


Creative Cloud applications like Adobe Comp and Photoshop Fix allow non-Windows convertibles the liberty of accomplishing professional tasks from the palm of your hand. But while licensing deals with third-party software developers is a major step forward for 2-in-1 laptop solutions, they still have some room to improve when used in isolation.

That’s because, while there are a ton of new apps for creative professionals and hobbyists, almost all of them — at least from Adobe — demand that you also own a Creative Cloud-toting PC to access complete sets of features.

Lets hope that next year’s models take a step towards independence, negating the need for a secondary work-specific PC.

New Year’s resolution

The 2-in-1 notebook is designed to solve a number of problems that shouldn’t still exist. It’s supposed to be the everything device, the PC that just does. And while some of them have accomplished that, they frequently lack the elegance and design charm we’ve come to expect from virtually everything else in our day to day lives.

In reality, this is only the first year we’ve seen substantially different entries from both Microsoft and Apple, debatably the two leading competitors in this race. Give them both another year, another generation to improve, and only then will 2-in-1s become as commonplace as the iPad on your nightstand.

No, the 2-in-1 is not a new concept. But that’s exactly why 2016 could be its time to shine. The kinks are being worked out, the designs are being refined, and the result will be devices that finally fill the lofty promise of a tablet’s convenience paired with a PC’s productivity.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


USB drive issue blocks some PCs from receiving Windows 10 May 2019 update

A USB drive error resulted in some PCs being blocked from receiving the Windows 10 May 2019 update. Microsoft decided to block eligible PCs with USB drives or SD cards attached from getting the update until the error is fixed.

These are the best 13-inch laptops you can buy right now

With so much choice out there, how do you know which are the best 13-inch laptops? They should have beautiful screens, long battery life, and remain light and portable. This is a list of our favorites.

Tablet or notebook? Our favorite 2-in-1 PCs give you the best of both worlds

If you can’t decide if you need a tablet or a notebook, then don’t bother. The best 2-in-1 laptops are both, and they can provide all the power you need. Check out our list for the best 2-in-1s for any user.

These business machines can rival any consumer laptop in style and function

These laptops have the reliability, performance, and battery life you need whether you're at your desk or flying across the country for a meeting, letting you to revel in a function-first approach.

You won't want to miss these deals on some of the best laptops around

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we have you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.

Free your digital memories, and frame them, with the best photo printers

Printed photos are experiencing a revival at the moment, but you don’t need to go to a special lab. Here’s our favorite options for making quality prints, from pocket-sized printers to wide-format photo printers capable of spitting out…
Product Review

Still waiting for a new Mac Pro? Corsair’s mini PC has all the power you'll need

With a modern 12-core Intel Core i9-9920X processor, Nvidia’s RTX 2080 Ti graphics, and 32GB of RAM, the Corsair One Pro is designed to woo creatives who demand more power from Apple’s Mac Pro. Like the Mac Pro, the best part of this PC…

Nvidia agrees with Tesla’s take on self-driving cars, but corrects specifics

Nvidia vice president Rob Csongor agreed with broad statements by Elon Musk at Tesla's April 22 Autonomy Investor Day. Csongor then took exception to what he termed were inaccuracies about Nvidia's self-driving car chip.

Amal and George Clooney want to change the world. Can Microsoft help?

Microsoft and The Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ) unveiled the TrialWatch app Thursday morning, a new tool in CFJ’s ongoing TrialWatch effort to shine a light on injustice in courts around the globe – which too often are simply…

These gaming monitors will transport you to another dimension

What are the best gaming monitors you can buy right now? We select five that are all priced under $900 packing premium technologies like G-SYNC and FreeSync, high resolutions, and fast refresh rates.

Luminar Accent A.I. can now recognize faces for more natural instant edits

Want to edit faster? Skylum Luminar's latest update enhances the Accent A.I. to use machine learning for instant enhancements. The tool now recognizes faces for more natural skin tones along with other enhancements.

Intel’s 10nm desktop dreams may be dead — new road map pushes them beyond 2022

Intel may never release a competitive 10nm CPU on desktop if a new roadmap is to be believed. It suggests that Intel will rely on its 14nm process to at least 2022 and perhaps even beyond.

Turn your desk into a command center with the best ultrawide monitors

Top of the line ultrawide monitors have the deepest curves, the sharpest colors, and the biggest screens on the market. You’re going to want one, sooner or later. So why not sooner? These are the best ultrawide monitors you can buy now.

Corsair’s Ironclaw, Glaive gaming mice are tuned for performance and comfort

Corsair is adding wireless capabilities to its Ironclaw gaming mouse this year, while the Glaive RGB Pro has been updated for maximum comfort with thoughtful ergonomics. Both mice feature accurate tracking and durable buttons.