A 2-in-1 laptop is a device that can act as a tablet or standard notebook, thanks to a keyboard and touchpad portion that's entirely removable. There's also the similar convertible build, which features 360-degree hinges that allow a laptop's display to rotate around to essentially become a tablet. In either case, these laptops make a great choice for your student headed back to college; let's explore the reasons why.
A 2-in-1 is portable and compact
Spending long days at college, especially if you're headed back to a cramped dorm in the evening, can be made easier with a lightweight and compact laptop that doesn't take up much room. Classic 2-in-1s — those that have a detachable keyboard and touchpad — are generally about as compact a device you'll find even with everything connected, and you have the option of popping the bare tablet into your bag to be used with an active pen for note-taking.
For example, Microsoft's 10-inch Surface Go, which starts at just 1.15 pounds (0.52kg) and just 0.33 inches (8.3mm) thin, will easily ride around in a backpack or under an arm between lectures and will hardly take up any space on a desk. It might not be the most powerful PC out there and those who deal with specialized design and development work will want something with superior hardware, but if you're taking notes, writing essays, and browsing the web, it might just be all you need at a very attractive price.
A knockout combination of size and power
Microsoft's most affordable Surface is the Go, and it delivers a high-quality computing experience that is perfect for lightweight college use.
If, however, you prefer a more robust notebook that can still be used as a tablet when the need arises, something like HP's 13-inch Spectre x360 might be a better fit. Its active pen compatibility and convertible nature means you can still jot down notes on a tablet during lectures (it's also brilliant for quick sketches and graphs not easily put together with a keyboard and touchpad), yet you can still have a standard notebook with sizeable display — up to 4K resolution — in the evenings when it comes time for as much productivity as possible.
You're also going to see far better performance compared to something like the Surface Go, with up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8565U processor (CPU), 2TB PCIe M.2 solid-state drive (SSD), and 16GB of RAM. The battery will last through your lectures without needing a charge, there are plenty of ports available for accessories, and it's all wrapped up in a gorgeous chassis that weighs in at just 2.92 pounds (1.3kg) and is just 0.57 inches (14.5mm) thin.
Lightweight convertible notebook
A lot of convertible PC for the price
The Spectre x360 shows HP can do jaw-dropping convertible hardware, and it offers a perfect mix of portability, performance, and features for your college student.
A 2-in-1 is extremely versatile
There are quite a few non-convertible laptops that feature a touch display and active pen support — the Surface Laptop 2 is a prime example — but for ultimate versatility, the 2-in-1 reigns supreme.
In the case of the Surface Pro 6, another one of our favorite overall laptops, you're essentially getting a powerful Ultrabook that can be broken down into two separate pieces. A Type Cover provides a comfortable keyboard and Precision touchpad for times when productivity is key, yet if you only want to carry around a tablet for a day, just remove the cover and head out. A Surface Pen allows precise input for note-taking and hardly takes up any extra space in your bag.
The Pro 6 is significantly more powerful than something like the Go, allowing you to tackle more work at once without any friction, and thanks to the built-in kickstand on the rear chassis, it can easily act as a classic notebook with Type Cover attached. During downtime, the tablet alone is also a stellar way to watch a movie or TV show.
Premium build and powerful hadware
The versatile Surface Pro 6 is a premium 2-in-1 for anyone who likes a knockout display, pen support, and the performance to handle a day's work.
A 2-in-1 can still be a performer
If all this 2-in-1 talk sounds great but you know your college student won't get by with integrated graphics — whether for some leisurely gaming or scholastic design and development work — there are 2-in-1s that bring performance above and beyond the Ultrabook norm, including Microsoft's 15-inch Surface Book 2.
Alongside the knockout touch display with 3:2 aspect ratio and 3240x2160 resolution compatible with the Surface Pen, it's packed with up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8650U CPU, 16GB of RAM, and up to a NVIDIA GTX 1060 discrete graphics card (GPU) with 6GB of VRAM. With the base portion attached to the tablet, you have access to all hardware, making the Book 2 an excellent choice for those studying a field with specialized work, or for the student who can't get by without some gaming in the evening. Take the tablet and pen to a lecture for notes to save space in your backpack, and put everything back together in the evening to take advantage of the Book 2's full potential.
Plenty of power
A great pick for some extra performance
The Surface Book 2 brings a premium mix of performance and design, including a detachable touch display, dedicated GPU, and comfortable keyboard and touchpad.
Is a convertible build preferred? Your college student can still take advantage of powerful hardware from a laptop that doesn't come apart, as is the case with Dell's XPS 15 2-in-1. It's a stunning 15-inch laptop that's durable, versatile, and powerful, bringing active pen support, a sleek chassis, gorgeous display, and plenty of ports.
Configure a model with up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8705G CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 2TB PCIe SSD, and a Radeon RX Vega M GL dedicated GPU with 4GB of HMB2 VRAM, enough power for some design and development work as well as some gaming after hours.
360-degree hinges and dedicated GPU
Prefer a laptop that doesn't come apart? Dell's XPS 15 2-in-1 brings stellar performance, beautiful touch display, and premium convertible build, ideal for those who need extra power.
Should you buy a 2-in-1 laptop for your college student?
The answer to this question ultimately depends on your budget and the needs of your student. For example, if a laptop with specialized hardware is required, you're going to no doubt lean toward a mobile workstation, and if you're on a tight budget, a standard notebook that doesn't come apart and doesn't have convertible hinges will almost always be cheaper and will have better-performing hardware than something like the Surface Go.
However, in most other cases, a 2-in-1 or convertible laptop makes a great choice for a college student. Active pen support makes for natural and easy note-taking, the tablet is ideal for watching movies and TV when some escape is needed, and it will still work as a standard notebook when maximum productivity is required. If you're seriously considering a new laptop for your student, be sure to have a look at our roundup of the overall best 2-in-1 options available now.
Cheap PC accessories we love
Take a gander at these awesome PC accessories, all of which will enhance your Windows experience.
Anker 4 port USB 3.0 hub ($10 at Amazon)
Whether on a desktop or laptop PC, you always need more ports to connect things to. This hub gives you an additional four USB 3.0 Type A ports.
Ikea Fixa Cable Management System ($11 at Amazon)
This IKEA cable management kit is your ticket to a clean setup. It's simple and functional.
NZXT Puck ($20 at Amazon)
This clever little accessory has powerful magnets on the rear to make it stick to any of the metal panels on your PC case or anything else. It's great for hanging accessories like headsets.
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