One of the fastest-growing segments of the PC market is the 2-in-1 laptop, a breed of machines that can morph from one form factor to another, make use of touchscreen displays and, most often, active pens as well. Microsoft kicked off the modern Windows 2-in-1 market with the original Surface in 2012, and since then Microsoft, its OEM partners, and even Chromebook makers have continued to grow the segment with increasingly high-quality options. These days, the best 2-in-1 laptops are simply stunning.
Like all PCs, 2-in-1s vary in their configurations, performance, and battery life. They also span a range of price points, from the low-end to the stratospheric. The 2-in-1 has become so popular that there seem to be as many different models produced as traditional notebooks. And that makes some sense, because the best 2-in-1 laptops can easily serve as your only PC.
Why should you buy this: It’s a great tablet PC because of its thin and light form factor, and it offers a solid physical keyboard, superior pen, and outstanding performance for real productivity.
Who’s it for: Anyone who just can’t decide between a tablet and a traditional notebook
Why we picked the Microsoft Surface Pro:
Microsoft finally updated its popular Surface Pro 4, introducing the 2017 Surface Pro — and dropping the numbering scheme — at a hardware event in May. The new machine closely resembles its predecessor, with only some more rounded edges and recessed venting separating the generations. But don’t let looks fool you, as the newest Surface Pro is a significant update over the Surface Pro 4.
First up is an upgrade to seventh-generation Intel Core processors, which provides a real boost in performance and a significant improvement in battery life. In fact, the Core i7-7660U model that we reviewed was the fastest dual-core mobile system that we’ve tested in our video encoding benchmark. Battery life was solid as well, with the Surface Pro at least hinting at being able to last an entire workday.
In terms of design, the Surface Pro remains a tablet first, even if Microsoft has taken to call it a “laptop.” It’s thin, light, and features a solid pane of Gorilla Glass that covers the entire face of the machine. It features an updated version of its detachable keyboard, now called the Signature Type Cover, that attaches magnetically to the bottom and performs without the lag associated with many Bluetooth keyboards. The Signature Type Cover can be connected via a second magnet that props it up at a more comfortable angle, and it’s covered in the same Alcantara fabric that graces Microsoft’s first traditional notebook, the Surface Laptop.
All that power and convenience doesn’t come cheap, however. While the Surface Pro starts out at a reasonable $800, that doesn’t include the Signature Type Cover ($160) and Surface Pen ($100), which are obligatory. That’s also for a low-end configuration with Intel Core M3, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD, and the Surface Pro maxes out at a pricey $2,699 with the Core i7-7660U, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB SSD.
With a kickstand that can rotate out to 165 degrees, support for the enhanced Surface Pen with a fast 21 milliseconds of latency, 4,096 levels of pressure, tilt sensors, and the ability to use the innovative Surface Dial, the Surface Pro can also work as a kind of highly mobile electronic drawing easel for artistic types. And like all Surface machines, Windows Hello support is provided via infrared camera and facial recognition.
Our Microsoft Surface Pro full review
The best budget 2-in-1
Samsung Chromebook Pro
Why should you buy this: It’s a solid performer that makes good use of Chrome OS, and it also incorporates all the technology needed to fully support Android apps.
Who’s it for: Anyone wants the flexibility of the 2-in-1 form factor but doesn’t care for Windows 10 – or needs to save some cash
How much will it cost: $550
Why we picked the Samsung Chromebook Pro:
The Windows 10 ecosystem doesn’t have a monopoly on the 2-in-1 form factor. If you haven’t bought into Windows 10 or you just don’t have the cash for some of these Windows 10 machines, then you’ll likely be looking for a different option.
That’s where the Samsung Chromebook Pro comes in. Samsung’s machine comes in two flavors, the Pro with an Intel Core M processor, and the Plus with an ARM CPU. The difference in price is only $100, meaning that you’re getting significantly more performance by going with the higher-level machine.
Of course, the Chromebook Pro runs Google’s Chrome OS platform, which is incredibly lightweight compared to Windows 10. However, you can also download Android apps. That helps fill some gaps in services not supported by Chrome OS.
Samsung also includes its S Pen for some nifty drawing and handwriting capabilities. Samsung has included all the technology needed — like an accelerometer — to ensure that Android apps work properly.
The Chromebook Pro punches above its weight class in hardware, too. It sports a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution display, offers multiple Thunderbolt 3 ports, and is equipped with 4GB of RAM, and a 32GB SSD. The memory and storage configurations might seem on the small side, but they’re more than sufficient to comfortably run the lightweight Chrome OS, with its emphasis on cloud storage.
By choosing the Chromebook Pro you’re getting a solid 2-in-1 compared to the Windows 10 machines you’ll find at the same price point. You’re limited in what applications you can run, but the arrival of Android app support will change that to a degree. If you’re good with Google’s Chrome OS platform, then the Samsung Chromebook Pro is a great lower-cost 2-in-1 option.
Our Samsung Chromebook Pro full review
The best for use as a notebook
HP Spectre x360 13
Why should you buy this: It’s fast, has great battery life, offers a lovely display, and swivels around into multiple modes.
Who’s it for: Anyone with around $1,000 to spend
How much will it cost: $1,150 – $1,820
Why we picked the HP Spectre x360 13:
The competition among 13-inch 360-degree convertibles is fierce, with many excellent options fighting for the top spot. It’s also an important segment, given that it’s right in the sweet spot of performance and mobility — given the trend of reducing chassis size via smaller display bezels, the 13-inch 2-in-1 is just right to bring the benefits of both traditional clamshell notebooks and tablet form factors, complete with active pen support.
We picked the newly refreshed HP Spectre x360 13 because it offers the best combination of performance, battery life, display quality, and price, among a very loaded field. We had already rated the Spectre x360 13 as one of the best machines around at the end of 2016, and the late-2017 refresh added some impressive performance improvements to go along with a slight design update that makes for an even more attractive machine.
First, HP upgraded the Spectre x360 13 to eighth-generation Intel Core processors, up to the fast Core i7-8550U. The newest CPUs double the physical cores to four and lowers the base clock speed for enhanced efficiency, but with even faster turbo speeds. That means that the new processors provide a significant power boost when being pushed but also increased efficiency for lower-demand tasks. The result is impressive battery life for media consumption and productivity tasks — in our testing of the newest Spectre x360 13, it managed a whopping 14 hours and 18 minutes looping a local video.
HP also sliced off just a tiny bit of thickness and chiseled some edges for a sharper look. That makes the Spectre x360 13 an even thinner and more attractive notebook, that’s both elegant and conservative at the same time. It looks good in a coffee house, but won’t attract undue attention in a conference room.
All the previous things that we loved about the notebook, such as the snappy keyboard and effective touchpad, remain in place. Display options are even more abundant, including Full HD (1,920 x 1,080), Full HD with a privacy screen that keeps your data safer from prying eyes, and high-resolution 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160).
The best thing about today’s 360-degree convertible 2-in-1s is that they work just well as traditional notebooks as their inflexible clamshell cousins, and the Spectre x360 13 is the best evidence of that.
Our HP Spectre x360 13 full review
The best large 2-in-1
Microsoft Surface Book 2
Why should you buy this: It’s a solid performer for just about any productivity task, but converts to a tablet for on-the-go use.
Who’s it for: Business and creative professionals with money to spend on the best
How much will it cost: $2,499 – $3,299
Why we picked the Surface Book 2:
If money is no object, then Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 15-inch reigns supreme as the best overall 2-in-1 choice among large devices. The original Surface Book was introduced in October 2015, which was eons ago in computer time, but the design was so forward-looking that Microsoft saw no need to change it significantly in the new model. However, it expanded the line by introducing a 15-inch version. The Surface Book 2 is not only the best large 2-in-1, but it’s also one of the best laptops, period.
The Surface Book’s claim to fame has always been its detachable keyboard. The 15-inch display contains the main processing components, and can be popped off the base to become a surprisingly thin, light, and powerful tablet. The keyboard base is more of a dock, one that contains Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 discrete graphics, and carries most of the combination’s total 90 watt-hour battery capacity.
The Surface Book 2 also supports the latest Surface Pen, which is a great choice for creative types. And of course, the Surface Book 2 supports Windows 10’s Hello password-less authentication via an infrared camera and facial recognition.
In addition, the Surface Book 2 introduced Intel’s eighth-generation Intel Core processors, specifically the Core i7-8650U quad-core CPU. It also comes with 16GB of RAM in all of its configurations, and up to a 1TB SSD can be selected. You’ll pay for all that power, starting at $2,500 for a 256GB SSD, and ramping up to $3,300 for a full 1TB of storage.
With the GTX 1060 on hand, the Surface Book 2 makes for an incredibly fast machine for advanced applications like AutoCAD and Adobe Premier. It can even play modern games at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution and high graphical detail.
Add in one of the best displays available in a notebook, a solid keyboard, and a very good touchpad, and you have an excellent machine for anyone who needs to get some real work done. And it boasts the longest battery life of any notebook we’ve tested.
Our Microsoft Surface Book 2 full review
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 the machines we’ve 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.
And there’s not much coming anytime soon to give you pause. Intel has just released it’s eighth-generation Core processors, and any machines — like the Microsoft Surface Pro — that don’t already have the newest processors likely won’t be getting them until well into 2018.
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 make sure 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 here. 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.