The introduction of Windows 8 in 2012 saw an influx of touch-sensitive devices. Among them was the Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 13, the first true 2-in-1 convertible notebook. This notebook featured a then-unique 360-degree hinge design that allowed the entire display to fold flush with the bottom of the notebook, effectively turning it into a tablet. Other companies followed suit with similar concepts, including the memorable Dell XPS 12. The overall idea was to have a primarily notebook-only device that could conveniently be turned into a tablet.
We’re going to re-evaluate convertible notebooks in this article to help you make the best purchase decision. Specifically, we’ll be focusing on whether convertible PCs make practicable tablet replacements.
On a related note, if you’re trying to decide between a traditional notebook and a tablet with a detachable keyboard, take a look at our feature: Why You Should (or Shouldn’t) Use a Tablet as a Laptop.
Tablets vs. Convertibles: Convertible PCs Are Bulky and Heavy
The literal biggest argument against trying to use a convertible notebook as a tablet replacement is the fact that most of them are too big and heavy for the job.
Tablets can be surprisingly svelte. The 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro (2017), one of the largest tablet-only devices on the market, is just 0.27 inches thick, and weighs 1.5 pounds. There’s also the recently-released Microsoft Surface Pro (2017); it’s slightly chunkier, at 0.33 inches thick and 1.69 pounds in its trimmest iteration. And you can find plenty of much smaller tablets on the market, such as the inexpensive Lenovo Tab4 with the Android operating system.
Compare those tablets to the lightest convertible notebooks on the market, like the new Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 370. It has a 13.3-inch display, measures 0.7 inches thick, and tips the scales at a shade over three pounds. That’s twice as heavy as the Apple iPad Pro (2017). The 12.5-inch Toshiba Portege X20W was the lightest convertible we found, at 2.4 pounds and 0.6 inches thin.
Although the Toshiba’s 2.4 pounds may not seem like a lot, think about holding it in your arms for an extended period of time. You’ll want the device to be as light as possible. If you want to give this theory a test drive, go to your nearest Apple store and pick up an iPad. Then, go over to Best Buy or Walmart and pick up the smallest convertible PC you can find. The bulk and extra weight of the convertible PC is sure to catch your notice.
Further, the thickness of the device matters when you’re holding it as a tablet. The mentioned Toshiba Portege X20W is very thin for a 12.5-inch notebook, but still about twice as thick as the Microsoft Surface Pro (2017). The keyboard portion on convertible PCs is mostly to blame for the extra thickness versus a dedicated tablet.
Essentially, a permanently-attached keyboard is a luxury you’ll want to forego if you want your device to work best as a tablet. On the literal flip side, an attached keyboard emphasizes that convertible PCs are notebook-first, tablet-second devices. Speaking of keyboards, let’s get to the next caveat of convertible PCs.
Tablets vs. Convertibles: Exposed Keyboards Are No Fun
Most convertible PC models sold today leave their keyboards exposed in tablet mode. This mostly applies to models that feature 360-degree hinges, where the display folds backwards to be flush with the bottom of the notebook.
These convertibles are smart enough to disable the keyboard and touchpad while the display is folded over, of course, but they remain exposed. Needless to say, while holding them as a tablet, the exposed keys make for an awkward feel under your fingertips. On some 2-in-1 notebooks this can even result in broken keys after prolonged use.
So far, Lenovo has been the only company to try and mitigate the exposed keyboard experience, utilizing a “lift and lock” keyboard feature on its ThinkPad Yoga line. The frame surrounding the keyboard keys rises up and sits flush with the tops of the keys when the display is folded over. The surface doesn’t feel totally smooth under your fingers, but it’s a far better alternative than leaving them to stick out. Either way, the non-symmetrical feel and exposed keyboard on most convertible PCs are a constant reminder they’re not a perfect tablet replacement.
Tablets vs. Convertibles: Takeaways & Conclusion
Let’s revisit the key points in this article. As a reminder, we’re defining convertible PCs as those that have a permanently-attached keyboard.
- Even the lightest convertible PCs are significantly thicker and heavier than tablet-first devices, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro (2017).
- Convertible PCs with 360-degree hinge designs typically leave their keyboards exposed in tablet mode, which results in an awkward feel in tablet mode.
Although the above may seem obvious if you’re in the know, the whole idea of going through this is to force you to prioritize what you’re really after in your next computer. Look at your usage habits; if you’re planning to use the device in your arms all day, a tablet-first device is a better fit than a convertible PC for the reasons noted above. The Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) and the Apple iPad Pro are two excellent choices.
However, if you plan to use your device primarily as a notebook, then a tablet-first device might not be the best choice. Just as convertible PCs aren’t the best tablets, tablets aren’t necessarily the best notebooks. It all comes down to your usage patterns. (As we noted in the intro, definitely take a look at our feature: Why You Should (or Shouldn’t) Use a Tablet as a Laptop.)