Late 2014 Tablet Buying Guide: Convertible Designs And Features Compared

There are dozens of tablets on the market, but some are a little more special — with a little effort, they can do double duty as a laptop that will handle all the tasks of your regular work and play. But these convertibles take a few different forms, and finding out which is best is a difficult and complicated process unless you can actually hold one in your hands and try it out. Before you get into the store to make that final decision, how do you make the right choice on which particular convertible laptop or tablet to buy?

There are a few different designs and forms that convertible tablets can take these days — here's a quick overview of the variants and their basic capabilities. If you're looking for advice on a particular device, let us know in the comments below and we'd be more than happy to share our thoughts or suggest some alternatives.

Slates, 'True' Tablets And Kick-Stands

There are tablets out there that start as slim, sleek, self-contained slates but that hide away their transforming capabilities. Microsoft's Surface Pro series is the archetypal transforming tablet — its kickstand is normally hidden away at the back as part of its slim design, but you can flip it out to stand the tablet up over a wide range of motion. That kickstand means that the Surface Pro becomes a tablet you can use equally while you're standing up at a train station or on the bus, and when you get into work and place it down on your desk. It's 90 per cent tablet, 10 per cent laptop.

There are other devices out there that use a variant of the kickstand principle, though. HP's brand new Envy X2 convertible, running an ultra-low-power Intel Core M processor, has a similar rear stand that flips out over a much wider range of motion and allows you to use it anywhere from sitting flat on a desk or standing upright or being held in your hand. As convertible designs go, the kickstand isn't hugely versatile — it's only good over around 90 degrees of motion, generally — but it doesn't add bulk to an otherwise already slim and sleek device.

There are, of course, plenty of tablets out there that are non-convertibles. It's kind of the standard these days — a simple slate with a big touchscreen at the front and a smooth metallic-finish chassis. These devices don't give you any of the adjustability or versatility that you might want for productivity tasks, although they are usually a little cheaper because of it. If you are certain you'll be happy to hold a tablet for the entire time that you use it, they're worth considering when you decide to make a purchase.

Laptop-Tablets And Detachable Keyboards

A kickstand tablet usually means an accompanying detachable keyboard, either one that doubles as a screen cover or one that can be connected over Bluetooth and used wirelessly. This is something extra to carry if you intend to use it only occasionally, which can mean that you'll sometimes leave it behind in the office or at home and find yourself caught short. Detachable keyboards are, though, almost universally better than standalone Bluetooth wireless or wired keyboards, because they're matched in size and key layout with their equivalent laptop or tablet.

There are plenty of devices with detachable docking keyboards that make it easy to switch between portable tablet and productive laptop mode. Asus's Transformer Pad range of Android and Windows tablets, for example, are predominantly tablet-based but gain extra battery life and the advantage of a physical, tactile keyboard and accompanying input/output ports when attach to their included docks. If you only use your tablet for productivity in one place, it's certainly possible to leave it plugged in and powered and connected to all your peripherals.

Detachable keyboard docks are currently one of the best evolutions of the convertible tablet. If you're willing to put up with the extra bulk and the potentially finicky docking process, a tablet with a detachable keyboard dock lets your tablet be a tablet — free of any complicated contrivances like a kickstand — and then transform into a more capable device still with the potential to be relatively portable.

Laptops Gone Wild: 360-Degree Hinges And Twists

If you want all the power of a laptop — and that means the power of Windows 8.1, with a trackpad and full-sized keyboard and all the bells and whistles — and the portability and touchscreen control of a tablet, the best convertible you can buy is a laptop with a 2-in-1, 360-degree rotating hinge. The newest, latest and greatest convertible laptop-tablet hybrid is the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, with its unique segmented watchband hinge design. You can use the Yoga 3 Pro as a laptop the same as any proper laptop — that's exactly what it is, anyway — but that beautiful hinge means its screen can flip around and sit snugly against the laptop's base.

In tablet mode, the Yoga 3 Pro's hinge doesn't protrude any more than when it's in laptop mode, which takes away one of the common complaints with 360-degree hinge devices. The keyboard and trackpad are disabled when the screen moves past that entirely-flat 180-degree point, so you won't accidentally tap any keys or move the mouse cursor around when you're holding it in your hand and swiping away. Importantly, it also has a wide enough bezel on the screen that you won't be tapping the screen with a thumb or finger as you hold it aloft.

There are a few other 2-in-1 folding-hinge laptops out there worth mentioning, like Dell's new Inspiron 13 7000 Series, even though they're not as sleek as the new Yoga. If you value the productivity of having a fully-fledged computer for those regular workday tasks, but having the versatility of a tablet is important to you, then a 2-in-1 is probably the best compromise and most well-thought-out design that you're likely to see at the moment.