Gizmodo Laptop Buying Guide 2014: Convertible Designs & Styles Compared

If you're buying a new tablet or laptop, it's probably because you want it to be portable, but powerful at the same time. Some devices are more capable for all-out productivity, while some trade off a tiny bit of old-fashioned design for a huge leap forward in compactness and portability. We've compared a few of the various types of convertible PCs out there, to see which is the most convenient for regular or occasional use.

Although 'convertible' covers any laptop that is more than the regular keyboard-and-screen setup a la MacBook that you're used to seeing, there are three main different types of convertible: your flips, twisters and slates.

Slates: Versatile, Compact, Powerful

A slate refers to a tablet with no attached keyboard — imagine a flat, rectangular shape like an oversized smartphone. That's straightforward enough so far. But the most popular type of convertible are tablets with a detachable keyboard. You get the benefit of the old fashioned clamshell laptop design, with a keyboard forwhen you need to be productive. Some slates like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 even include kickstands.

Kickstands: Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 is the convertible tablet du jour, but other convertibles of this type include the fleet of tablets that include folding covers and cases like the Lenovo Miix and ThinkPad 10. With a folio cover you can make any all-in-one tablet like the Dell Venue 8 a convertible, although you'll pay extra for the privilege.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Australian Review

With each iteration the Surface Pro gets thinner and more attractive, its chamfered edges get more precise and more smartly designed, and the high-grade materials it's built with are even further refined. As convertibles go, the Surface Pro 3 has to be the pick of the litter — its kickstand is by far the most advanced, with the combination of a single-point flip-out for regular desktop use and a second mode which is minutely adjustable over an even larger range of motion.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2: Australian Review

Another great, although recently discontinued, kickstand tab design was Sony's VAIO Tap 11. If you want to search farther afield and for more out-of-left-field choices, you can take a look at the older Surface Pro 2, which sacrifices a bit of power and kickstand flexibility but still looks great, or even a kickstand Android tablet like the Lenovo Yoga range. The Yoga tablet has a twisting kickstand that folds out from its storage place in the body of the tablet, letting you adjust its position as needed — although you miss out on Windows 8.

Detachable Keyboards, Docking Designs

The most rational, simple, and straightforward convertible tablet design you can buy is an all-in-one tablet with a detachable physical keyboard. This design comes with compromises — usually the bulk and heft of a full-size physical keyboard and the internal circuitry that goes along with it — but for an everyday mix of portability and at-the-desk use, it can be a good choice if you are able to make the right decisions based on your specific needs. Some keyboards, like Microsoft's Type and Touch Covers, are super-thin and don't add bulk.

Asus has long been king of the detachable-keyboard tablet roost, with a range of Transformer Android tablets including the Transformer Pad. If you want a full-fat, high-powered Windows 8 device, though, you'll want to take a serious look at the VivoTab.

The Asus VivoTab, along with its competitors in other tabs like the Acer Iconia W5, houses its circuitry in the body of the tablet behind the touchscreen, so the detachable keyboard is purely for productivity whenever you need it. In some higher-end models, the extra space in the body of the keyboard chassis is devoted to an extra-large battery pack, which can dramatically increase the screen-on life of your convertible tablet device.

Unlike the tablet-focused and portability-focused designs of the Surface Pro and other kickstand tablets, an all-in-one tablet with a detachable keyboard dock is again similar to a laptop in that if you want to carry around all of its components, it's generally a little bulky because of the extra mass of that add-on keyboard and battery booster.

If you're happy to carry around the tablet on its own for short day-trips away from its keyboard and charger, it's a great convertible choice. If you don't think you'll need the keyboard all the time, consider a kickstand device or make sure your all-in-one tablet can be charged easily without the keyboard accessory attached.

2-In-1 Flip And Twist Designs, 360-Degree Folding Hinges

A 2-in-1 design is the closest you'll find to a regular laptop PC while still including some convertible functionality. The 2-in-1 design starts out as a regular laptop — a closed, clamshell design with the screen resting against the attached keyboard and regular notebook layout. Open that clamshell up and you can use your Dell Inspiron 13 7000 or Toshiba Satellite P50W or Sony VAIO Fit as a good ol'-fashioned laptop, with the screen facing you and a keyboard and touchpad arranged in front of you for easy typing and navigation.

On a 2-in-1 laptop like the Dell XPS 11, though, there's an extra feature that helps you out when you're standing or travelling or don't want or need to use the trackpad and physical keyboard.

A 2-in-1 laptop has a 360-degree folding hinge, letting the laptop's screen fold all the way around to what is traditionally the base of the device. Because of that folding hinge, the screen sits flat, and the laptop becomes an all-in-one oversized tablet. When the screen rotates past 180 degrees, the keyboard is disabled, so you don't accidentally hit any keys or buttons. HP's Pavilion x360 explains it well — you can use it as a regular laptop when you need to work, a stand when you want to watch a video, a 'tent' when you want to play a touchscreen game, and a tablet when you're on the move.

A 2-in-1 laptop is one of the bulkiest convertible designs that you can buy, but at the same time you retain the most traditional laptop functionality of the entire range. It's up to you to decide whether you want to make that portability sacrifice over something sleeker like a kickstand tablet or a detachable-keyboard tablet, though, depending on how often you'll use the feature and where you'll be using it.

There are other convertible designs that don't fit perfectly into any of these categories, because they take a unique approach to solving the problem of simultaneous versatility and productivity. The Asus Taichi, for example, has two screens — one on the front of its hinged lid, and one on the back — and can be used as a tablet, as a faux-kickstand, or as a regular laptop. Dell's XPS 12 uses a frame around its screen to let it rotate, flipping into tablet mode or laptop mode depending on your needs.

If you do your research, you'll be able to find a convertible tablet design that suits you. For most people, a detachable keyboard is useful, and portability is more important in the long term than that extra bit of productivity for every now and then.


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