What's the difference between a 2-in-1 and a convertible? Is there a difference? [quick poll]

There's been a small semantics debate amongst the Windows Central staff: what's the difference between a "2-in-1" and a "convertible"? Cale and I say that a 2-in-1 has a detachable keyboard (ala Surface) while a convertible has a 360° hinge between the permanently-paired touch screen and keyboard base. Dan and Zac disagree and say the two terms are interchangeable.

Looking around at how manufacturers and retailers market these devices, there's no agreement across the industry either. Some lump 2-in-1s and convertibles and tablets into the same group, others break them into distinct product categories. There's not even agreement on if it's a 2-in-1 laptop or a 2-in-1 tablet.

So let's settle this the simplest way possible. I'll show you a device, you tell me what you'd call it. There are no right or wrong answers — these terms are vague and I want your help in defining what kind of device they're applied to. So let's settle this debate… or give wildly conflicting answers and leave it open for future generations to settle.

Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.

69 Comments
  • Very interested to see the results!
  • Transformable...
    No, seriously, that's a convertible, no doubt about it. Next question, please.
  • convertible, convertible, 2 in 1, tablet 
  • Voted the same generally.
  • Voted exactly the same way.
  • Laptop, Convertible, Tablet, Tablet :-)
  • to fun man
  • Laptop, 2 in 1, tablet, tablet
  • I voted for the XPS 13 to be a laptop :D
  • To me, it is very much a laptop, without question.
  • Laptop, Laptop and Convertable, Laptop and convertible and tablet, tablet ;)
  • First is claerly a simple laptop.
  • Laptop, Convertible, 2 in 1, tablet.
  • Same here.
  • Because of this very confusion, I always specify so I am clearly understand. For example, since I am most interested in a Surface Pro type deivice, I will always call it a "Detachable 2-in1". Kind of unrelated, but isn't it interesting there is still not a single detachable 2-in-1 device released or announced that has Intel Kaby Lake & Thunderbolt 3? I find it bizarre.
  • Announced: Asus Transformer 3 (non pro model)
  • Thanks for pointing that out. Wasn't aware of that design. Though I can't say I like that keyboard cover. The Transformer 3 Pro would have been an ideal device if it had Kaby Lake. Much better having the kickstand.
  • If the screen detaches, it's a 2-in-1. If it just flips around a hinge, it's a convertible, or just a laptop. I don't really use the language convertible but I definitely don't feel like a 360 hinge qualifies as a 2-in-1 or a tablet. We're waiting for an HP Spectre x360 and we've only ever referred to it as a laptop or ultrabook.
  • Really? So my Yoga 2 13, which is a hinged 4-in-1 (as advertised), how does that fit in to your equation?
  • Hate to break it to you, man, but your "advertised" 4-in-1 is just a convertable. But hey, if it makes you feel any better, some of the coolest sports cars around are also convertables!
  • I bet they're all computers.  Am I right? :D
  • Wrong,,, try again... The correct answer is cars.
  • This Dell XPS 13 is a Convertible because of its permanently attached keyboard that still allows us to position it according to our needs prioritizing the essence of a laptop first and foremost before giving the sweet touch of a tablet. Surface Book is an absolute 2-in-1 because of its separable yet customizable 2 form design. Surface Pro should have a different ring to it, the fact that you have the tablet first without undermining its power that can deliver a laptop class sophistication.
  • After thinking about the survey some more I would vote: Laptop, convertible, tablet, tablet. The only 2n1 is the Surface Book.
  • Though the Yoga 2 13 is a hinged 4-in-1 so how does that fit?
  • That's a Yoga.
  • I think if it can become a "tablet" by folding the keyboard backwards, its a convertible. If it becomes a tablet by detaching, its a 2-in-1. Personally, I think its not a true tablet if the keyboard is attached (especially permamently). So the Yoga is a convertible laptop. I also think if you are going to insist on requiring either "tablet" or "laptop" as opposed to "device" be attached to "2-in-1", it should be based on the "default" state of the device. If the best experience comes from it being a laptop, then its laptop, otherwise its tablet. Basically, whatever it was first before the manufacturer decided to make it a 2-in-1. Did they take a laptop and make the keyboard detachable or did they take a tablet and make a keyboard for it? I think you can get this feeling from the quality of the keyboard itself. If its similar to the touch cover from the Surface Pro 1, its a 2-in-1 tablet. If the keyboard setup is similar to the concept in the Surface Book (physically, not functionally), then its a 2-in-1 laptop. Also, if its sold *without* the keyboard, its by default a 2-in-1 tablet no matter how good the keyboard experience is. So, here, there's definitely some gray area, but I think a lot of devices fall firmly in one or the other. You'll get ones here or there that don't are too in the middle though. The Surface Pro 4 is a 2-in-1 tablet. The experience with keyboard can emulate all of them in my opinion though.
  • Surface/ Surface Pro is a tablet, and Surface Book is 2v1 :-) in this survey its Laptop, convertible, tablet, tablet :-)
  • for me, the dell XPS 13 is a laptop, it does not matter if U have to rotate is 360 degree, the flexibility is what mater to me they why I prefer the Detach types, tablet. 2 in 1 are laptops it dose not matter if it 2, 3 0r 4 in 1.
  • for me, the dell XPS 13 is a laptop, it does not matter if U have to rotate is 360 degree, the flexibility is what mater to me they why I prefer the Detach types, tablet. 2 in 1 are laptops it dose not matter if it 2, 3 0r 4 in 1.
  • for me, the dell XPS 13 is a laptop, it does not matter if U have to rotate is 360 degree, the flexibility is what mater to me they why I prefer the Detach types, tablet. 2 in 1 are laptops it dose not matter if it 2, 3 0r 4 in 1.
  • for me, the dell XPS 13 is a laptop, it does not matter if U have to rotate is 360 degree, the flexibility is what mater to me they why I prefer the Detach types, tablet. 2 in 1 are laptops it dose not matter if it 2, 3 0r 4 in 1.
  • for me, the dell XPS 13 is a laptop, it does not matter if U have to rotate is 360 degree, the flexibility is what mater to me they why I prefer the Detach types, tablet. 2 in 1 are laptops it dose not matter if it 2, 3 0r 4 in 1.
  • Actually, they're all Ultrabooks. The Laptop form factor died out in the 90s to make way for the Notebook form factor. None of them are Laptops.
  • @windows central sorry about the multiple post, it always happen when I am posting for my tablet.
  • Is that from your convertible, 2 in 1, or just plain old tablet-tablet?
  • Easy; Laptop, Convertible, 2in1, Tablet.  
  • Back to the discussion, if u call a 2 in 1 table, then what do you call a tablet when a keyboard is attached?
    2 in 1 is a selling point for manufacture and don't. Change the fact it still a laptop.
  • The Laptop form factor died out in the 90s and was replaced by the Notebook. Get with the new millennium.
  • Convertibles and 2-in-1's are interchangeable terms, IMO. Dell XPS13 is a laptop. Dell Venue is a tablet.
  • For me it's the opposite. If a device cannot be converted between both forms (at least in a near complete form) it's a 2 in 1. Example, The Yoga is a 2-in-1 because it's two devices in one form factor It can transform between a laptop or a tablet like form factor but never becomes an independent form. The Surface is a convertible because it can convert between a pure tablet and a semi laptop. Surface Book is a convertible. Dell's offering is a laptop because it cannot be used as a tablet (ipad like form factor) because of it's only 135 degree hinge.   But it's all a matter of semantics.
  • I think xps13 is clearly a laptop with touch screen. I don't know if anyone voted it as convertable ever noticed that the machine can't fully fold back, not even to say fold flat like X1 Carbon. V8P is clearly a tablet, and I vote convertable and 2-in-1 for Yoga, SP4 respectively.
  • I can get behind that for sure. However I have 2 questions. 1) if a surface pro is a 2 in 1, a surface book is also a 2 in 1. But the Surface book 2 in 1 is clearly different than the surface pro 2 in 1. Couldnt it be that the surface pro is a tablet convertible? Question 2) could it be that a convertible is an idea, like a 2 in 1 is an idea. A convertible is mainly the form of and function but it can somtimes jump into another form and function. Like a surface pro is a tablet that you can snap a keyboard on and make it into a laptop-ish device but its still a tablet (convertible) but a surface book is a 2 in 1 because it is a laptop form and function and then it is a tablet form and function? Just an idea.
  • Well none of this really matters, but IMO:
    A tablet is a computer with the battery and CPU contained behind the screen, and is operated by touch.
    A "2 in 1" is a tablet with a detachable keyboard.
    A laptop doesn't open past 180 degrees.
    A convertible is a laptop that can morph into a tablet mode.
  • And a 4-in-1? What's that? My Yoga 4-in-1 seems to have a hinge and a keyboard. It certainly isn't a Laptop as that form factor died out in the 90s.
  • I feel that to be a 2-in-1/convertible the product needs to be able to function as 2 separate products. The Dell has a bending feature, but it doesn't operate as a tablet so I would just call it a laptop. Whereas the Yoga folds completely and becomes a tablet. That is a 2-in-1/convertible. Yes, I agree that 2-in-1 and convertible are the same.
  • I think convertible and 2 in 1 are different. I think a convertible goes from one form function and touches the space of another. Like the Yoga. It bends into a tablet form but its not a tablet by any means. However, a surface book is a 2 in 1. It is a laptop and functions as one. And then it is a tablet and functions as one. But its still one device.
  • All Convertable except the last one, tablet. Convertable means devices with attached accessories that can change shaped (laptop to tablet shape or vice versa with attached keyboard). Tablet is single entity. That's my opinion. (^_^)/
  • Sorry not old tablet, because it came with licence windows 10 from the manufacture.
  • So let's settle this debate… or give wildly conflicting answers and leave it open for future generations to settle.
    Are we really qualified to settle this debate? We are enthusiasts. I dont think that means we can define what these are ;). But I like the idea of trying.
  • I believe that there should be three different versions of a 2-in-1/Convertible: The laptop that can double as a tablet in a pinch. It generally doesn't make the best tablet, but it gets the job done. Best example: the Yoga series. A laptop that has a detachable screen that can function like a tablet. It generally makes both a good tablet and a great laptop. Best example: Surface Book. A tablet that can double as a laptop in a pinch. It generally doesn't make a very good laptop, but it gets the job done. Best example: Surface Pro    
  • A convertible is a car the rest is either a laptop, a 2in1 or a tablet.
  • Laptop, laptop, 2-in-1, tablet.
  • Laptop, 2 n 1, convertible and tablet
  • Hey this is not fair! !! How come the poll is available on Samsung galaxy but not on my 550?? So so not fair. !!!
  • A 2 in 1, is something that can get two uses out of one. Laptops are 1 entity, you have a keyboard and a screen that cannot be detached which makes it one. If you allow that laptop to fold back 360 degrees making it become sort of a tablet, you have made a second use of that 1 thing. The surface pro is a tablet that can be converted into a tablet with a detachable keyboard. A surface cannot be a 2 in 1, because it was never a 1 from the start. It's always going to be a 2, one tablet and one keyboard.
  • ...imo, 2-in-1 is tablet-first and have the option to be a laptop with a stury keyboard base, and convertible is laptop-first with capability of being a bulky tablet with a touchscreen. i may be wrong then since surface book can be a laptop and tablet when detached... :)
  • Pretty simple in my mind. If you can hold it with one hand and has a touch screen it is the same thing. If it doesn't hinge all the way round, then laptop.
  • Plain and simple: 2-in-1 and convertible are the same. For e.g. Surface Pro is as much a tablet as it is a laptop. XPS 13 or Lenovo Yoga are proper laptops that have a touch screen which folds all the way back for a tablet like use. But they are still laptops.Lastly there are just tablets, which cannot funtion like a proper laptop, even if you attach a keyboard to them So three categories and not four: Laptops, 2-in-1s (or Convertibles) and tablets. Out of the three the tablet category is shrinking fast and will become obselet sooner rather than later. and the first two categories will merge into one to an extent we cannot confidently say if the device is more of laptop or tablet.
  • Its a laptop with touch screen.
  • Laptop, laptop, laptop, tablet.
  • What about my Yoga 2 13? That's still a 4-in-1 I take it? If that's the case, it doesn't make much sense to consider that 2-in-1 does not refer to convertibles when 4-in-1 does. Looking at general usage, the ultimate arbiter, and it becomes clear that the terms are used interchangeably. That's the reality on the ground, and it's from usage that definitions are taken. Case closed.
  • Laptop, convertible, 2-in-1, tablet
  • Dell XPS 13 looks to be a laptop.
  • You forgot a category!  What about my ThinkPad laptop with a docking station, that turns my portable into a powerful desktop system?
  • A 2 in 1 usually refers to a computer that folds and can be used as a tablet.  A convertible is a car where you can put down the top and drive around on a sunny day.
  • Laptop, laptop, convertible / tablet, tablet. Laptop is a laptop, whatever the hinge. Surface Pro is a tablet which may be converted to something like laptop with an additional purchase Surface Book is a 2-in-1 as it comes with the keyboard, and works identically to both form factors edit: gotta love the variety of opinions on this :D
  • I wanted to see Surface Book in there as well. I think it's the best example of a 2-in-1: it is both a laptop without compromise, and a tablet without compromise (ok sure a tablet with a bad battery life, only ~4 hours)
  • The best way to settle the debate is to view the terms in the context of when they were coined.  Convertible was a term first used for Windows XP laptops with a screen that users can spin around like the first HP touchsmarts.