What to consider when choosing between a 2-in-1 or traditional laptop

Surface Laptop and Surface Pro

2-in-1 Windows PCs, that is those that can be both laptop and tablet, continue to rise in popularity. Spearheaded by Microsoft's own Surface Pro, the category is fielding some of the best-designed machines around.

The laptop is a tried and true form factor that continues to be refined, with modern advancements in the internal technology making for thinner, lighter, more powerful portable computers than ever before.

But which should you go for? There's no right or wrong answer, but there are a few points to consider when making your decision.

Portability vs performance

Even though a lot of modern laptops and ultrabooks are super thin, light and compact, for ultimate portability the 2-in-1 still wins out. That's because the keyboard is usually pretty thin, like Microsoft's Type Cover, adding almost no bulk to the tablet portion of the device.

And you don't have to take the keyboard at all if you don't want.

If you're more interested in performance and can spare a little extra room in your bag, maybe a laptop is the better choice. If you're a photographer or videographer, for example, you'd probably benefit from having something with more grunt over saving a couple of inches in the bag and a few ounces on your shoulder.

Gamers should still get a laptop

HP Omen

If you are or you intend to be a PC gamer on the go then you should walk away from the idea of a 2-in-1 completely. Even though many can hook up to an eGPU like the Razer Core over Thunderbolt 3, that only works when you're at your desk.

No-one should ever pack a Razer Core in a bag and take it on the road with them.

Instead, look to the many excellent gaming laptops out there right now. The Windows Central top pick is the Razer Blade, a 14-inch metal clad notebook that's immensely powerful and also very thin and light all things considered.

Windows Ink and digital pen

Even though some laptops and convertibles have touch screens and support Windows Ink through use of a digital pen, there's no better experience than that on a 2-in-1.

When you're using a pen, you don't need the keyboard to be around at all. Handwriting, drawing, marking up documents, it's all an incredibly natural experience and there's no need for a bulky keyboard, even if you can fold it right around.

The Surface Pro is the gold standard, but it's not the only one. The pen is back, and 2-in-1s are where it's at its best.


Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro

By its very nature, the 2-in-1 is a flexible device. It can be a tablet, it can be a laptop, it can be both. Whether you're traveling or at home on the sofa, you don't necessarily always want a laptop and its associated keyboard.

Feet up, beverage in hand, a 2-in-1 will be much more comfortable to use for that Stranger Things binge on Netflix than a laptop. But when you need to go to the office the next day and hit some boring spreadsheets, throw on the keyboard and you're in business.

You need ports, you need a laptop

Unless you're prepared to live the dongle lifestyle, if its ports you'll need on your portable PC, you'll still be better with a laptop. By virtue of its design, there's just more room for more ports, even if they're all USB-C as may soon become the case.

On a lot of 2-in-1s you'll get a USB port, but not a lot else, be it USB-A or USB-C. And that'll mean dongles and docks to hook things up to it, even just an external display.

Those are some points to consider when deciding between the two, it ultimately comes down to what you intend to do with the device. If you've got any other tips to share on helping folks choose, be sure to drop them into the comments below.

More: Best Windows Laptops

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine