Gadgets

The best 2-in-1 laptops you can buy

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The perfect hybrid machine that is both a tablet and a laptop does not yet exist. But in 2021, companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google continued to improve their operating systems for dual-function machines. Windows 11 has features that make it friendlier for multi-screen devices, while Android 12L is on the horizon and promises a streamlined experience for larger displays. With the advent of ARM-based chips for laptops, especially Apple’s impressive M1 series, the prospects for a powerful 2-in-1 device with a huge touch-friendly app ecosystem are at an all-time high.

Of course, these machines still have their limits. Because they are smaller than regular laptops, they tend to have less powerful processors. Keyboards are also typically less rugged, with compact layouts and shallower key travel. Plus, they’re almost always tablets first, so you’ll have to buy a keyboard case separately. (And they’re not cheap.) So you can’t always assume that the price advertised is what you are actually paying for the 2-in-1 you want.

Sometimes buying a third-party keyboard can be just as good, and it’s often cheaper than first-party deals. If you’re looking to save money, the Logitech Slim Folio is a cheaper option, and if you don’t need your keyboard to connect to your tablet, the Logitech K780 wireless multi-device keyboard is also a great choice.

While we’ve usually been careful to include a 2-in-1 budget over the past few years, this time around there isn’t a great choice. Usually we’d go with a Surface Go, but the 2021 model is too expensive. Other alternatives, like cheaper Android tablets, are too weak and don’t offer a great multitasking interface. If you’re looking for something around $ 500 that’s thin, light, and durable, this year you’d better look at a traditional laptop (like the ones on our list of the best budget PCs).

Chris Velazco / Engadget

There are a few basic criteria to consider when buying a 2-in-1. First, look at the datasheet to see how heavy the tablet is (alone and with the keyboard). Most modern hybrids weigh less than 2 pounds, with the 1.96 pound Surface Pro 8 being one of the heaviest. The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 + are a bit lighter. If the total weight of the tablet and its keyboard is close to 3 pounds, then it’s better to get an ultra-portable laptop.

You should also opt for an 11-inch or 12-inch screen instead of a smaller 10-inch model. The larger displays make multitasking easier, and their companion keyboards are much better spaced. Also, try getting 6GB of RAM if you can for better performance – you can find this in the base model of the Galaxy Tab S7 +, while this year’s iPad Pro and Surface Pro 8 start with 8GB of RAM.

While some 2-in-1 devices offer built-in LTE or 5G connectivity, not everyone will want to pay the premium for it. An integrated mobile device makes checking e-mails or replying to messages on the go even more convenient. But it also often costs more, and that doesn’t include what you pay for data. As for 5G, you can wait unless you live within range of a mmWave beacon. Coverage is still patchy and existing nationwide networks use the slower Sub-6 technology, which is barely faster than LTE.

Engadget selection

Best overall result: Surface Pro 8

Microsoft's Surface Pro 8 and Signature Pro keyboard accessories.

Dana Wollman / Engadget

When it comes to 2-in-1, you can’t beat the Surface series. They are powerful, slim tablets with an operating system that is actually designed for productivity. The Surface Pro 8 is the latest from Microsoft and it fixes most of the issues we had with its predecessor. It’s thinner and looks more modern and borrows the design of last year’s Pro X. Plus, it has a 120Hz display that makes scrolling endless spreadsheets or emails feel much faster. Make sure to drop the refresh rate down to 60Hz if you want to get respectable battery life out of this thing. Windows 11 also offers a better split-screen experience for multitasking on the go.

Like most of the other 2-in-1s on this list, the Pro 8 doesn’t come with a key cover – you have to pay extra for that. That’s a shame considering it starts at $ 1,099. Microsoft offers a variety of Type Covers for its Surface Pros, ranging from $ 100 to $ 180 depending on whether you want a slot for a pen on it. But at least they are comfortable and well distributed. You can also get the Surface Slim Pen 2 ($ 130) for sketching your diagrams or graphs, and it also provides haptic feedback for a more responsive experience.

Buy Surface Pro 8 from Microsoft starting at $ 1,099

Best for Apple users: 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021)

Apple iPad Pro (2021) review

Chris Velazco / Engadget

Of course, if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, an iPad is the best option for you. The 12-inch Pro is our pick. Like older models, this iPad Pro has a stunning 12.9-inch screen with a fast 120Hz refresh rate, but this year it uses mini-LED backlighting to offer greater dynamic range. Apple’s M1 chipset is also impressively fast and more than good enough for most tasks. Plus, the latest iPadOS is superior to older versions thanks to widgets and quick note-taking support.

Apple’s new Magic Keyboard offers a satisfying typing experience, and its trackpad means you don’t have to reach for the screen to launch apps. But it’ll also cost you an additional $ 300, which makes it the most expensive case on this list by far. The iPad also lacks a headphone jack and its webcam is positioned inconveniently along the left bezel when placed horizontally. So be aware that it is still a long way from being a perfect laptop replacement. Still, with its slim design and respectable battery life, the iPad Pro 12.9 is a good 2-in-1 device for Apple users.

Buy 12.9-inch iPad Pro on Amazon – $ 1,099

Best for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 +

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 +Cherylnn Low / Engadget

While Windows outperforms iPadOS and Android in terms of productivity, it lags behind the other two when it comes to apps designed specifically for touchscreens. If you’re looking for a tablet with all of the apps you want and only need it as a laptop occasionally, the Galaxy Tab S7 + is a solid option. Even though it was released last year, it’s still the best 2-in-1 with Android. You’ll enjoy watching movies and games on its gorgeous 12.4-inch 120Hz AMOLED screen, and Samsung includes the S Pen, which is great for sketching and taking notes. The Snapdragon 865+ processor and 6 GB of RAM also ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Fortunately, the company has made significant improvements to its keyboard chassis over previous models, with more comfortable and more responsive keys. You could tap this thing for hours and not hate yourself (or Samsung). The battery life is also great, so you don’t have to worry about staying near an electrical outlet. The main caveat is that Android isn’t good as a desktop operating system, and while Samsung’s DeX mode offers a reasonably viable solution, it has a lot of quirks. However, with Android 12L on the horizon, a simple software update could ease some of the pain.

Buy Galaxy Tab S7 + from Samsung – $ 849

Best Chrome OS option: HP Chromebook x2

The HP Chromebook X2 is a 2-in-1 convertible that works as both a tablet and a laptop.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Android may suck as a desktop operating system, but Chrome OS doesn’t. If most of your tasks are done in a browser, the HP Chromebook x2 will serve you well. It has great battery life, an excellent 11-inch screen, and looks great too. HP even includes a keyboard and stylus with the tablet, which hardly any of the competition does.

Chrome still isn’t a great operating system in tablet mode, and the Chromebook x2’s Snapdragon 7c processor sometimes struggles with piling up too many tabs. It’s also a little pricey at $ 600, but you can often find it for $ 400 when it’s up for sale on sites like Best Buy. That makes it a solid choice considering what HP offers for the money.

Buy Chromebook x2 from HP – $ 679

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