By Nick Clunn
They’ve both been designed for life on the go — two gadgets meant to make life easier whether you’re on a business trip or enjoying a lazy night on the living room couch. Sure, the differences between a laptop and a 2-in-1 (a laptop-tablet hybrid featuring a flip-screen design that turns your device into a touch-screen slate) may be subtle, but they do exist, and consumers in the market for a new device should take note.
So are you better off with a 2-in-1 or a laptop? It really depends on your preferences, and in some categories, the two contenders are nearly indistinguishable. Where there are ties, the 2-in-1 might actually win out — if portability is an important consideration.
Here’s our assessment:
Portability – A laptop may not exactly be an anchor, but it still requires more muscle to lug around than your typical 2-in-1, which offers both laptop and tablet functionality at a surprisingly low weight (roughly 2.5 pounds). Flip-screen hybrids are also thinner than traditional convertibles, making them that much easier to move around. And let’s not even get started on the amount of effort needed to tote both a laptop and a tablet. Edge: 2-in-1
Versatility – A 2-in-1 with a flip-screen design offers four-way flexibility: tablet mode, laptop mode, stand mode (perfect for watching TV or a movie) and tent mode (a V-shaped easel stable enough for full touch-screen interaction). Designed to be handled, a 2-in-1’s soft-touch exterior also makes it more durable. Simply put, a laptop and its traditional clamshell design cannot compete. Edge: 2-in-1
Power – The longest-lasting laptops can reach the 12-hour mark, with the average clocking at eight to nine hours per charge. But the best flip-screen 2-in-1’s are getting more and more powerful, with the newest on the market offering roughly 9.5 hours per charge. Edge: 2-in-1
Display – The best 2-in-1’s on the market measure 11 inches, the perfect size for playing around on Facebook or cozying up with a movie or TV show. That may not to compare to large laptop displays that can reach 15 or even 17 inches, but that extra size is also what can make a laptop more cumbersome. And with some 11-inch 2-in-1’s sporting 1920 x 1080 pixel displays, the days of laptops having a glaring advantage in picture quality are over. Tie
Processor – Today’s 2-in-1’s are more powerful than ever, and some are loaded with Intel Atom quad-core processors that instantly launch all apps and widgets without draining battery life. Still, a laptop was specifically designed to offer an edge in speed and graphics power, meaning a user committed to constant multitasking or using processor-intensive tasks, such as manipulating 3-D graphics, should probably go that route. Edge: Laptop
Memory – Many 2-in-1’s come right out of the box with 2 to 4 GB of RAM and 64 to 128 GB of storage, making them just as powerful as a laptop, though the latter does offer more space for upgrades. Edge: Laptop
Programs – Gone are the days when 2-in-1’s could only offer mobile versions of the most popular applications (think Microsoft Office), robbing business users of advanced functionality. Today’s high-end 2-in-1’s running Windows 8.1 will let you use just about any business-savvy program. Tie
Browser – The days of laptops having a clear-cut edge are over. Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 8.1, for example, is a full-blown, desktop-classic browser, unlike the mobile versions of Chrome and Safari. IE 11 works seamlessly with Flash and Silverlight sites —and pulls 2-in-1’s into a flat-footed tie with laptops. Tie
Ports – Most laptops come with any port you could need built in, but a 2-in-1 can get all the same goodies — three USB 3.0 ports for connecting keyboards, mice and USB flash drives; a 3.5 mm audio line for connecting to speakers and headsets; full-size HDMI and DP port for connecting to external monitors; and Ethernet — with the simple addition of an external dock. Tie
Games – From Candy Crush and Angry Birds Space to Spaceteam andTemple Run II, a 2-in-1 can handle any app-based game you throw at it. But high-end gamers looking for a marathon session of Guild Wars 2 or League of Legends are probably better off going the laptop route. Edge: Laptop
Consumers in the market for a 2-in-1 equipped with Windows 8.1 may find a winner on Dell.com.