2016 2-in-1 Comparison Guide
To help you with buying decisions (especially holiday gift giving) we've rounded up the year's leading 2-in-1 tablet/laptop hybrids at a variety of price points. Let's take a closer look at these boundary-blurring convertibles.
For the sake of this comparison, we are including some devices that are essentially tablets with extra functionality, and others that are laptops first.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro fall into the former category. They're standalone tablets with sold-separately keyboard attachments (the Type Cover for US$130 and Smart Keyboard for $169, respectively) that propel them into laptop territory. On the other hand, the Lenovo Yoga 910, HP Spectre x360, Microsoft Surface Book and Acer Aspire Spin 7 are touchscreen laptops-gone-flexible.
As a chromebook, the Asus Chromebook Flip falls in the in-between netbook category. Lenovo's Yoga Book has a truly unique form factor that rolls a drawing tablet, a touchscreen and even a physical pen-and-paper all into one.
Note that the Microsoft Surface Book has two main variants, the base model and the latest and greatest Performance Base model. iPad Pro is available in 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch display sizes, whose specs vary slightly from one another.
The devices in this lineup range from the small and super-portable (Chromebook, Yoga Book, iPad Pro) to full-sized, yet not huge, laptops (Surface Book, Yoga 910, Spin 7).
Although they are both given the "Book" moniker, the Yoga Book is the smallest of the bunch and the Surface Book is the largest. The Yoga would fit in a large purse; the Surface is more of a coffee table book.
Acer's Spin 7 stands out as being particularly thin for its size – it's only 10mm thick when closed.
2-in-1s are already doing your back and shoulders a favor by consolidating other devices. If keeping things lightweight is a priority for you, the best choices are an iPad Pro (weights given are sans Smart Keyboard accessory), Yoga Book or Chromebook.
If you want the lightest possible device that still runs full desktop software, you could go with the Windows-running Yoga Book variant or the Surface Pro 4.
Standalone tablet mode
All of these devices have a tablet mode of sorts. Otherwise, they wouldn't be 2-in-1s. For most of them, that means folding the keyboard behind the display, but the iPad Pro and the two Surfaces can be completely disconnected from the keyboard and used independently.
Every single one of these gadgets has a metal chassis. The inexpensive Chromebook Flip is a little vague on the material question, designating it simply "metal."
When it comes to key accessories, Surface Pro 4's Type Cover is made out of a soft fabric-like material. The Apple Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro is made from polyurethane, microfiber and plastic.
Every 2-in-1 listed has some kind of trackpad functionality, with the exception of the iPad Pro. Unlike the Surface Pro 4, the iPad's companion keyboard accessory is without a trackpad (which iOS wouldn't support anyway).
By "kickstand", we mean an extension that can prop up a tablet independently. The Surface Pro 4 has a built-in back kickstand, so even without the Type Cover, you can prop it up for watching videos, reading recipes while cooking, etc. To do this with an iPad, you'll need a Smart Keyboard, which has an integrated stand, or another kind of case/kickstand accessory.
Most of these other 2-in-1s have attached keyboards with 360-degree hinges, meaning you can prop them up and position the keyboard in a number of handy orientations. The Surface Book doesn't rotate 360 degrees, but you can remove the screen and reattach it backwards for a similar effect.
Only the iPads and the Yoga Book have more than one color variant. Everything else comes in only silver, excepting the black Spin 7.
While the Surface Pro doesn't offer color options, the Type Cover accessory comes in bright blue, black, blue, red or teal. The rose gold option for the iPad Pro is only available on the 9.7-inch size. The Apple Smart Keyboard is only available in black.
The two Surfaces and the Yoga Book are packaged with a stylus. The iPad and Spectre are stylus-compatible, but they're sold separately. The touch screens on the Yoga 910, Chromebook and Spin 7 are strictly fingertip operated.
The smaller iPad Pro has the daintiest display, followed by the 10.1-inch Yoga Book and Chromebook Flip. The Surface Pro fills an intermediary space between the small fry and the 13-inchers. Only the wide, flat Spin 7 hits the 14-inch mark.
The closer the device is to your face, the more you'll notice the display resolution. This is worth keeping in mind if you plan to use tablet mode a lot, which typically means a more close-up view.
Both the Yoga 910 and Spectre offer more than one display configuration. The 910's top-shelf 4K resolution option has the highest pixel density of the bunch, while the wallet-friendly Chromebook brings up the rear with 149 pixels per inch.
In many cases, we're comparing apples and oranges, since each manufacturer offers a different parameter for battery life estimates. Still, the Spectre and Yoga Book seem to be the best picks for getting you through a whole day without charging, unless you spring for a Surface Book with Performance Base.
Note that the Surface Book's battery life estimates are for using it with the keyboard attached. When using it as a detached tablet, battery expectancy drops to only a couple of hours.
The standalone tablets – Surface Book, Surface Pro and iPad Pro – are more strongly informed by mobile technology trends and integrate higher-megapixel front and back cameras. The Yoga 910, Spectre and Chromebook have HD webcams.
Concerning cameras, the Yoga Book and Spin 7 are anomalies. The Yoga Book's front camera has a strange placement on the keyboard portion of the build. More strangely, it has a fixed focus. Considering these two qualities, it's hard to imagine the intended use of the front camera. On the other hand, the Spin 7 doesn't have a camera at all.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the Chromebook has the least amount of built-in storage, but at least this one comes with 100 GB of free cloud storage via Google Drive for two years.
The Yoga Book has the next smallest default amount of built-in storage (though the iPad Pro starts even lower) while the Yoga 910 and Spin 7 have 256 GB apiece. The others have multiple storage tiers.
A few caveats: The 128 GB Surface Book is only available in standard configurations. The 32 GB iPad Pro size is exclusive to the Wi-Fi-only tablets (see "Cellular data option," below).
Memory card slot
MicroSD card slots are more important on the machines that don't have expandable storage. The Surface Book and Spectre have full-size SD card slots for camera transfers, while the Yoga Book, Chromebook and Surface Pro are equipped for microSD.
The iPad Pro, Yoga 910 and Spin 7 are non-expandable.
In typical Apple fashion, the iPad Pro is the only device here that completely foregoes USB ports. Even the little Yoga Book squeezes in one microUSB.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Yoga 910 is most fully equipped, with two USB-C ports and one USB-A port.
These devices have various port, slot and expansion configurations, but they all make room for the humble headphone jack.
Facial recognition login
The Surface Book and Surface Pro have a security feature where your face is your login credentials.
The iPad Pro and Yoga 910 have built-in fingerprint sensors for biometrics-driven security. If the facial recognition feature on the Surface Pro 4 isn't enough for you, then 1) you can buy a fingerprint sensor-equipped Type Cover and 2) what kind of treasure are you hiding?
In terms of processor, you're most likely to find an Intel core i5 or i7 running things behind the scenes. Not all manufacturers have published clock speeds, but we've included them where possible.
All of these 2-in-1s have integrated GPUs, while the higher-end Surface Books also add a discrete Nvidia GeForce graphics card.
Cellular data option
Most of these devices are reliant on an internet connection, but there are couple of options if you want the freedom of being able to surf the web over a cellular data connection.
All Yoga Books have an LTE SIM tray slot, while the iPad Pro has separate Wi-Fi + Cellular models (as opposed to Wi-Fi only) in both 9.7" and 12.9" sizes.
None of these similarly equipped devices are going to really thrill an audiophile, but the Yoga 910 is the only option with a branded speaker set.
Memory on the Yoga Book and Spin 7 is fixed at 4 GB and 8 GB, respectively. The other devices have multiple options.
These 2-in-1s can all be rigged for video output, though an adapter or two may be necessary.
The iPads run the latest version of Apple's mobile software, while the Chromebook runs its namesake OS. The Yoga Book is available either as an Android-based mobile device, or for US$50 more you can get one with full desktop software. The rest of the lineup is equipped with either Windows 10 Home or Pro.
As one would expect, the Windows machines run key desktop applications like Microsoft Office. But app selection has been continuously improving, so even the iPad Pro and Yoga Book mobile options have capable Office options and other full-powered apps available. Only with the Chromebook are desktop-rivaling apps very limited.
This entire lineup has some kind of split-screen functionality. This feature is a boon to productivity that helps blur the line between a mobile device and a desktop.
While the Windows devices allow you to manipulate the number of windows, window sizes and orientation to your heart's content, don't expect the 2-in-1s with souped-up mobile operating systems (iPad Pro, Android Yoga Book, Chromebook flip) to be so accommodating. Your window sizing, viewing and placement options will be limited.
You can voice control all of these devices to some extent. iPad Pro/iOS 10 has Siri, while Windows 10's similarly-capable virtual assistant is called Cortana. Even the Chromebook Flip has built-in Google Now support.
Many of these devices – or at least their base models – were first released last year. Newest to the market are the Yoga 910, Yoga Book and the Performance Base Surface Book, which hit the market in October.
We purposely chose our favorite picks from a variety of price ranges. The most powerful 2-in-1s flirt with the US$1,000 mark, especially with the addition of accessories. In terms of value alone, the ultra-versatile Yoga Book might be our first pick, but the Chromebook Flip is even more budget-friendly.
Keep in mind, though, that the Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro will each require a separate keyboard purchase to truly become 2-in-1s, jacking their prices up closer to (if not above) the $1,000 threshold.
For more details on these hybrids, check out News Atlas' coverage:
In addition, a full review on the Lenovo Yoga 910 is coming soon.