The 2-in-1 form factor has certainly come into its own over the last several years. There’s really no reason to limit yourself to a clamshell — there’s a 2-in-1 that will meet the needs of all but the most demanding users in terms of sheer performance.
We’ve reviewed every great 2-in-1 you can buy, including Chromebooks, convertibles, and powerful 15-inch versions. The best 2-in-1 at the moment is the ThinkPad X12 Detachable, with its fantastic keyboard that’s easy to remove as it is to type on. It’s as good a laptop as it is a tablet, which is what makes it the best overall 2-in-1.
The best 2-in-1 laptops at a glance
Who’s it for: Anyone who just can’t decide between a tablet and a traditional notebook.
Why we picked the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable:
Microsoft’s Surface Pro line held this spot for a while, but there’s a new best 2-in-1. Lenovo’s ThinkPad X12 Detachable has the same flexibility as the Surface Pro 7, with a keyboard that detaches leaving a thin and light tablet for inking and drawing. But it’s also more up-to-date, with 11th-gen Intel Core processors, Thunderbolt 4 support, and more.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable also sports a better detachable keyboard, with snappier key switches and a design that’s sturdier and doesn’t have the “bounce” that afflicts Microsoft’s Type Cover. Even better, both the keyboard and an active pen are included, while they’re $130 and $100 extras, respectively, with the Surface Pro 7.
In our ThinkPad X12 Detachable review, we found it to be faster and longer-lasting than Microsoft’s option, and overall a better laptop. Not bad for Lenovo’s first detachable 2-in-1 in three years.
Why should you buy this: It’s the best convertible laptop.
Who’s it for: Anyone looking for a 2-in-1 that works best as a laptop.
Why we picked the HP Spectre x360 14:
We picked the HP Spectre x360 14 — which replaces the Spectre x360 13 on this list — because it updates the line to a productivity-friendly 3:2 display that maintains the spectacular OLED panel and compelling combination of performance, battery life, and price of the older model. And it also perfects the line’s “gem-cut” design that makes it perhaps the best-looking laptop on the market.
Theuses Intel’s 11th-gen quad-core Tiger Lake CPUs that are fast and efficient. The OLED display is as good as ever and the taller panel allows for a larger palm rest and touchpad. Like all of today’s 360-degree convertible 2-in-1s, the Spectre x360 14 works well as a traditional clamshell notebook while still offering the flexibility of media, tent, and tablet modes.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable might be a better tablet replacement, but the Spectre x360 14 is nearly perfect in every other respect.
Why should you buy this: It’s the best 2-in-1 Chromebook.
Who’s it for: Anyone looking for a Chromebook 2-in-1 that’s both a great tablet and a laptop.
Why we picked the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet:
Theis a Chromebook for people who like tablet designs and really like Chromebook prices, but are still looking for the right 2-in-1 PC.
The slim Duet offers a 10.1-inch HD screen, a MediaTek Helio P60T processor, and 4GB of RAM. Since it’s a Chromebook, storage space really isn’t a focus, but it’s nice to see 64GB for those who need it for Android apps and Linux desktop software. Ports are limited to a USB-C connection that also charges the tablet.
While it’s nice that the keypad includes a small touchpad for those who want it, it’s still a little cramped for our taste. However, we rarely see similar specs made available at such a low price (and you can always choose a different keypad if you want to). The battery is rated for up to 10 hours.
If you’re looking for more like this, we’ve also gathered a list of the best Chromebooks for 2021.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a tablet first, with laptop functionality a convenient add-on.
Why we picked the Apple iPad Pro:
Apple’s iPad started the tablet revolution, at least as far as the best tablets go. Today, the iPad Pro is the thinnest, lightest, and purest tablet experience you can buy, thanks in large part to a massive library of apps that are optimized for tablet usage.
Thethat we reviewed is expensive, sure, but it’s also surprisingly powerful thanks to its Apple-produced ARM-based A12Z Bionic processor with octa-core graphics. Surprisingly, the iPad Pro is as fast as modern laptops at many tasks, meaning that you’re no longer giving up performance to enjoy a legitimate tablet format.
The iPad Pro’s display is also sublime, with a 120Hz refresh rate, 2388 x 1668 resolution (not quite 4K but still luscious), 600 nits of brightness, and True Tone color support. The Apple Pencil active pen makes for an excellent drawing tool, and the Magic Keyboard gives the tablet laptop-like functionality including touchpad support in the last versions of iPad OS.
Why should you buy this: It’s the best small 2-in-1.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a tablet that can plug in a keyboard in a pinch — and doesn’t want to spend a ton of cash.
Why we picked the Microsoft Surface Go 2:
Affordable and slim, the Surface Go 2 gives you a classic tablet experience with Windows 10. It’s also a notable upgrade to the first Surface Go, which was a very portable tablet but not that great on heavy workloads.
The newer model slims down the bezels and increases the screen size to 10.5 inches. It also significantly improves performance using new processor options. Our pick uses an Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y Core m3 chip complemented by 8GB of RAM. The fast 128GB SSD makes it easier to handle work tasks.
Thehas ports for USB-C, a hidden microSD card slot to expand storage, and a headphone jack. The battery is rated for 10 hours, an improvement on the first Go’s battery life, but still doesn’t impress compared to other picks on our list.
Why should you buy this: It’s the most powerful 2-in-1.
Who’s it for: Business and creative professionals with money to spend on the best.
Why we picked the Surface Book 3:
The Surface Book 3 is a welcome improvement from the Book 2 and an excellent option for those who want more powerful specs in a 2-in-1 PC. It comes with a 10th-gen Intel Core processor (i5 or i7), up to 32GB of RAM, and up to a 1660 Ti Geforce GPU. For storage, you have several options between 256GB and 1TB on a single SSD.
There’s also an option between a smaller 13.5-inch touchscreen and a larger 15-inch version. Not all the top-line specs are available on the 13.5-inch model, but it’s a nice way to go if you want this laptop to be more portable or if you’re looking for something that can act as a desktop replacement. Battery life is also impressive, with up to 17.5 hours on the larger Book 3 model.
The primary downside to all this power is the price. You’ll have to pay to equip thewith top-tier features, which can easily make it the most expensive choice on our list.
Why should you buy this: It’s the best 2-in-1 for business.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a tablet that can plug in a keyboard in a pinch — and doesn’t want to spend a ton of cash.
Why we picked the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga:
A laptop made in part from titanium is pretty cool, and that’s exactly the metal you’ll reinforcing the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga’s lid. It’s a robust laptop, like all ThinkPads, but it’s unique in the line in terms of its modern yet conservative design that looks nothing like the usual black-on-black ThinkPad. And that’s a good thing.
It’s also a very thin 2-in-1 at just 0.45 inches thick, making it unusually comfortable in tablet mode. The included active pen attaches magnetically to the right side of the display and works well. Performance good for productivity tasks, and battery life is exceptional.
Add in the ThinkPad security features and optional service coverage and theis a 2-in-1 that business people would love to own.
Should you buy now or wait?
There’s never been a better time to buy a 2-in-1. The market is full of great options, and we’re convinced that all machines listed here will serve you well for years to come. Performance, battery life, displays, and connectivity are all top-notch, and these flexible machines will handle everything you need them to do now and well into the future.
Intel launched its 10th-gen Core processors in 2019, followed by its 11th-gen products in 2020. The company announced even more 11th-gen CPUs for mobile in January, but those are more ideal for gaming. Mainstream 2-in-1s likely won’t see a refresh until later this year. This means you should see really great deals for laptops packed with older CPUs, giving you great performance at an even greater price.
How we test
We spend a tremendous amount of time reviewing notebooks of all shapes and sizes — and that’s saying something today, when notebooks come in so many shapes, sizes, and configurations. To make sure our recommendations provide real value to our readers, we live with the machines for a time and use them in writing our reviews to ensure that we can assess how they’ll work for real users.
But we do have a method to our madness in conducting these reviews, and you can look behind the scenes in a separate article. Hopefully, it will be obvious that our reviews are real labors of love — or hate, depending on the notebook — and therefore, you can at least recognize that we don’t arrive at our conclusions without some serious consideration.
Research and buying tips
- What’s a 2-in-1 laptop?
- Should I get a 2-in-1 or a traditional laptop?
- Does Apple make a 2-in-1 laptop?
- Can a 2-in-1 laptop be used for gaming?
A convertible 2-in-1 laptop can convert from a traditional clamshell laptop to a tablet. In some cases, it’s a bit of a misnomer — 360-degree convertible laptops like the HP Spectre x360 13 can also be used in tent and media modes. The keyboard is not removable.
A detachable 2-in-1 laptop is a tablet-based device with a detachable keyboard accessory. In most cases, the keyboard is an additional cost, as seen with the Surface Pro family. You can keep the keyboard attached and flip it around so you can use the screen as a tablet.
The main advantage of a detachable 2-in-1 is portability — tablets are extremely thin, light, and easy to carry around — while they also work the best for drawing and taking notes on the pen-enabled display. On the flip side, they tend to have less powerful hardware than convertibles.
The 360-degree convertible 2-in-1, on the other hand, isn’t quite as handy as a detachable, but it tends to work better in clamshell laptop mode — especially when using it on the lap, where it’s more stable than most detachable 2-in-1s. The hardware tends to be better due to the lack of space constraints with thin tablets.
Recent 360-degree convertibles like our favorite HP Spectre x360 13 make for great clamshells — in fact, it’s a great competitor to the Dell XPS 13 even if you never end up flipping the display around. Modern 2-in-1s are fast, have long battery life, and often enjoy even better displays than the typical clamshell laptop.
If you need the fastest gaming laptop or professional workstation that uses the absolutely fastest CPUs and GPUs, then a 2-in-1 PC isn’t for you. As we mention below, 2-in-1s tend to be thinner and lighter because they can be used as slates. That creates some limitations in just how fast a 2-in-1 can perform compared to traditional laptops.
Technically, no, Apple doesn’t offer the traditional 2-in-1 laptop. Its MacBooks are clamshell-only.
However, Apple advertises its iPad Pro as a detachable 2-in-1, although it uses the mobile iPadOS instead of MacOS for desktops and laptops. Like Microsoft’s Surface Pro, the keyboard is an accessory, which adds to the base price. And because the iPad Pro uses a mobile operating system, you can’t install traditional desktop software — which is where Microsoft trumps Apple with the Surface Pro 7, for example.
Still, Apple is improving how well the iPad works as a laptop by enabling mouse support and improved file system support in the new iPadOS.
A big disappointment for dedicated gamers is that many 2-in-1s lack the capacity for super-advanced CPUs and GPUs. You can use a 2-in-1 for gaming, but you won’t get the same high-quality graphics or frame rate that you’re used to on a real clamshell laptop.
The Microsoft Surface Book 3 15 has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU that makes it more than fast enough for modern games at 1080p and moderately-high graphics settings. While it’s still sufficient for light gaming sessions, it’s held back a bit by power and thermal considerations, as it utilizes a quad-core, 15-watt, 10th-generation CPU.
Another choice is the HP Spectre x360 15, which can have a 10th-gen Intel Core i7 six-core CPU paired with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti. You can play a range of PC games at 1080p and still get decent graphics quality, but it’s still limited compared to a gaming laptop.
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