2-in-1 laptops are flawed — here’s how we would fix them

Every morning our crew of scribes assembles for our morning gathering to exchange ideas for the day’s tech news over coffee, tea, or scones. We often discuss features we wish laptop makers would include on the devices we review. One of the most heavily debated devices we’ve all taken umbrage with is 2-in-1 laptops. Although we all agree they’ve become more user-friendly over the years, our writers have a few bones to pick with manufacturers that can’t seem to perfect the form factor.

We wrote a similar piece back in 2013 when Windows 8.1 was struggling to find an audience. Convertibles, at that time, were bulky, expensive and came in all sizes and shapes, none of which bridged the gap between tablets and laptops. Many of those problems have since been addressed. Others, unfortunately, have not. So our group of keyboard assassins has compiled our list of the most egregious issues we want manufacturers to address in the foreseeable future.

Include the stylus

One of my biggest pet peeves is the lack of any kind of stylus on most 2-in-1s. A touch screen and Windows Whiteboard seem like a waste when you have no stylus to take advantage of them. Even the simplest stylus can be used to quickly sign documents or enjoy some doodling after a long day of work.

Several affordable Chromebooks will include a cheap plastic stylus, so there is no excuse for $500 to $1000 2-in-1s to not come with one. Allow people the option of springing for a high-end stylus but don’t starve them of the opportunity to learn why one is handy. Maybe you’ll sell more premium styluses once people realize the value they bring to the 2-in-1 experience.

Include a keyboard with detachables

Sorry Microsoft, but the Surface Pro isn’t a 2-in-1 without a keyboard. It’s just a tablet. That isn’t a place Microsoft, or any other PC vendor wants to be competing in because Windows 10 tablet mode is something of a mess right now.

There are a few solutions to this issue. The more difficult one is for Microsoft to optimize the OS for tablets (although we saw how that went with Windows 8) or to create a new one entirely. The latter suggestion almost came true until the hammer fell on Windows 10X. Microsoft promises to bring some of what it learned developing the doomed OS to future versions of Windows 10, but to what extent will it fix tablet mode? Only time will tell. It’s a good thing there is an easier solution…

Include the keyboard with these so-called 2-in-1 devices and you have a proper laptop replacement that can be converted into a tablet when you’re lounging or using a stylus to draw or write. Sure it’s a hardware patch not a solution to software shortcomings, but this way, you give customers what the OS does best: provide an excellent desktop experience and a serviceable tablet mode when needed.

Stylus slot

To paraphrase a popular photography quote, “the best stylus is the one you have with you.” Somehow, this is a lesson that many manufacturers haven’t learned with 2-in-1 laptops, which regularly leads me to believe that none of them actually use one. The frequency with which I’ve either lost a stylus or left it on my desk when I went to work at a coffee shop led me to ignore that they existed even when I had a 2-in-1 laptop with pen support.

The Lenovo Yoga C940 I use when I’m not reviewing a new laptop finally broke that chain by including a stylus in a handy slot on the back of the laptop; I have never once lost it or left it anywhere. Is it as comfortable to write with as a full-size option like Lenovo’s own Precision Pen? Absolutely not, but I always have it with me and that makes it infinitely more valuable. If you are an artist or someone who takes 100% of your notes in digital handwriting then, by all means, upgrade to a nicer pen, but those are the outliers. The vast majority of 2-in-1 owners are looking to take the occasional note, sign the occasional document, doodle or possibly do some basic photo manipulation. For those tasks, a built-in stylus is perfectly adequate and needs to be a part of every 2-in-1 laptop.

Make a better kickstand

I don’t have a solution to this one, but what I do know is that the kickstand on detachables like the Surface Pro 7+, Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable and Dell Latitude 9710 2-in-1, are frustrating to use on anything but a flat surface.

Try using the Surface Pro with the kickstand and keyboard accessory on your lap while sitting or belly while laying down and the slate will start bobbing around like a sinker with a fish on the other end. Also, that thin edge on the bottom of the kickstand isn’t the most pleasant thing to have sinking into your skin.

Add a retractable keyboard

There’s something unnatural about feeling those clicky, clacky keyboard keys when a 2-in-1 is in tablet mode. Yes, I know the keys are disabled, it’s a tactile thing, alright? I wish OEMs could figure out a durable, cost-effective way to institute retractable keys. Lenovo had the right idea with the first ThinkPad Yoga, a 12-inch beauty whose keys receded into the deck as the notebook transitioned from clamshell to tablet mode via the company’s proprietary Lift and Lock system.

Stronger hinges

Not every 2-in-1 is guilty of this by any means, but this needs to be near the top of your priority list as far too often the display on a 2-in-1 laptop will be bouncing back and forth as I try to type because strength was sacrificed for flexibility or weight. This almost completely undermines the utility of the 2-in-1 in any of its form factors.

My poster child for this problem is the original Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, it was a beautiful piece of hardware and a rare 2-in-1 that felt great in laptop and tablet form, but its weak hinge made it unusable in either. Samsung learned its lesson and fixed this with the Galaxy Chromebook 2, now every manufacturer needs to take note and stop shipping 2-in-1 laptops with hinges that are too frail for the job.


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