Editor's Note: May 27th, 2020 We added the HP Elite Dragonfly to this roundup.
If you just can’t decide between a traditional laptop and a tablet, a convertible 2-in-1 gets you the best of both worlds: a tablet for kicking it on the couch and a laptop for when you need to buckle down and work. Most 2-in-1's have a 360-degree hinge, which means you can prop it up like a tent or swing the screen around and use it as a tablet. Not sure which one to spring for? Don't sweat it. To find the best of the best, we put these versatile machines through a number of tests.
After hours of testing, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1(available at Amazon for $2,000.00) is our top pick. Its compact build and stellar performance make it a great option for most people. But not all 2-in-1's are created equal. Whether you're looking for a more diverse selection of ports or a brighter screen, we've got something for every kind of buyer on this list.
These are the best 2-in-1 laptops we tested ranked, in order:
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
HP Spectre x360
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
HP Elite Dragonfly
Lenovo Yoga C940
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga
Lenovo IdeaPad Flex
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Dell’s XPS 13 has long been one of the best-engineered laptops on the market, and the 2-in-1 version of Dell’s flagship keeps a lot of the same features that make the standard XPS 13 so impressive. Its performance was among the best we tested, with our mid-tier configuration boasting a 10th-gen Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. Battery life came in squarely at seven hours, which is just about enough to get you through the workday, and a bright 1920x1200 screen will suit you even if you’re working outdoors. Most importantly, it has the same super-thin bezels as its non-touch sibling, meaning you get a 13-inch laptop in a tiny package more similar to competing 11-inch laptops.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is lacking a few things compared to the non-touch model, though. Facial recognition is strangely absent, though you can use the included fingerprint reader for quick logins. The keyboard is also incredibly shallow—even more so than this year’s non-touch version—which means typing for long sessions isn’t as comfortable as other laptops. It’s not as bad as Apple’s disastrous keyboards of the past few years, but it’s still far from ideal. Finally, its storage is soldered onto the motherboard just like the RAM, which means you can’t upgrade it later on like you can with the non-touch version—so buy what you think you’ll need for the future, not just what you need now.
Still, even with those notable downsides, Dell is still ahead of the pack in terms of performance and product design. The trackpad is near-perfect, the touch screen hinge is smooth as butter, and the laptop is thin enough that it’s actually decent to use as a tablet, especially with the sold-separately Dell Active Pen. And even with that super-compact design, it still bested most of its competition in performance, which is no small feat. For that reason, it’s still the best overall 2-in-1 you can buy right now.
I’m Whitson Gordon, and I’m a freelance tech writer charged with testing laptops here at Reviewed. I’ve been writing about tech professionally for almost 10 years, from building computers to setting up smart homes, and served as the editor-in-chief of Lifehacker and How-To Geek before freelancing for publications like the New York Times, PCMag, and Reviewed. This isn’t just my day job—it’s my calling. I’m obsessed with researching, testing, and finding the best possible gadget in a given category, so much so that my brother made it a central joke in his best man speech at my wedding.
I’m particularly picky about laptops, which need to achieve a delicate balance of processing power, battery life, portability, and build quality. If a keyboard, trackpad, and hinge aren’t going to stand the test of time, then the laptop isn’t worth buying. Thankfully, manufacturers have innovated a lot in recent years, finding new ways to stand out from the pack.
Here at Reviewed, we test laptops for their processing capability, graphics, battery life, and screen brightness. We use popular benchmarks like Geekbench and 3DMark to gauge how well the laptop multitasks, runs games, and more. We also test multiple platforms, from Windows laptops to Macs and Chromebooks alike.
To test battery life, we set up our laptops to continuously cycle through various websites at a brightness of 200 nits—which is around 60% for many of these 2-in-1 models—until they run out of power, estimating how much work you can get done on a single charge. We also use each laptop for an extended period of time, rating each on factors like build quality, price, portability, and design.
What You Should Know About 2-in-1 Laptops
2-in-1 laptops tend to be more expensive than their non-touch counterparts, so you aren’t likely to find many good low-end models in this category. When we look at 2-in-1 laptops, we consider both performance for most everyday tasks and build quality that will last you beyond a year or two of use. Still, you’ll likely have to make some choices about what’s most important to you. You’ll need to consider:
Performance: The CPU, graphics chip, RAM, and storage inside your PC determine how well your computer can multitask, handle intensive tasks like gaming, and store all your files. The better the specs, the snappier the laptop will feel as you work.
Build Quality: Not only do you want a laptop that can take a beating (since you’ll probably be lugging it around with you), but you want one with a well-built keyboard and trackpad since they’re your primary form of interaction with the machine. A poor trackpad or finicky keyboard can really kill the experience.
Touch Screens, Portability, and Features: 2-in-1s have gained in popularity, but that touch screen and pen cost money to include. And cramming all those powerful components into a small, easy-to-carry package can often cost more than a larger laptop with fewer design constraints.
In addition, consider which operating system you need. Windows is still the dominant OS these days, and if you’re going to play games, edit photos and videos, or need certain software for work, you’ll probably stick with Microsoft’s offering. If you spend all your time on the web and want to save some money, though, a Chromebook may serve you well.
Between Netflix, Gmail, Google Docs, and even online photo editors like Pixlr, you can do almost anything in a browser, and many of those web apps even work offline for those rare occasions you don’t have Wi-Fi. Chromebooks have the advantage of being cheaper (since they don’t need as much processing power) and virtually virus- and bloatware-free (since they run Linux under the hood). My main laptop is actually a Chromebook, and as a companion to my Windows desktop at home, it serves me very well—I can even access my Windows PC from my Chromebook through Chrome Remote Desktop.
From there, you’ll need to look a bit deeper at the form factor. You’ll usually find laptops in one of three main sizes, measured by the diagonal length of the display:
13 inches and under: These smaller laptops are great for carrying around, and more than suitable for light work like writing papers and browsing the web.
15 inches: Mid-sized laptops are a bit less portable, and won’t necessarily work in space-constrained spaces like airplane seats. But the larger display is useful for photo editing and watching videos.
17 inches: This is very large, and only recommended if you are doing video editing or other intensive work that requires a lot of screen real estate—and you don’t mind lugging it around.
There can still be varying sizes within those categories—for example, the XPS 13’s smaller bezels make it much smaller than most 13-inch laptops—and sizes in between, like the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga C940. But in general, picking a size range you’re comfortable with can help narrow down the field.
You’ll also want to consider how many USB ports the laptop has, whether you need HDMI and Ethernet, and how comfortable the keyboard and trackpad are to use—this can vary quite a bit from model to model, and it’s important to get something responsive and durable.
Under the Hood
Finally, you’ll need to consider the guts: the processor, graphics chip, RAM, and storage that determine your laptop’s capabilities. For browsing the web and using office software, lower-power chips (like the Intel Core i3 processor) are adequate, though midrange chips like the i5 are ideal if you can get them. 4GB of RAM is usable in a Chromebook, though even web browsing can eat up RAM these days, so 8GB is recommended if you tend to open lots of tabs, use lots of browser extensions, and want a laptop that’ll last you well into the future—I wouldn’t advise 4GB for most Windows users these days.
If, on the other hand, you run more intense workloads—whether that means heavy photo and video editing or running the latest PC games—you’ll want something with a bit more “oomph.” Intel’s higher-end i7 processors will make those video encodes run noticeably faster, and a dedicated graphics card will ensure your games run smooth as butter (instead of choppy like a bad flipbook).
No matter who you are, I recommend erring on the side of more storage rather than less—people often underestimate how much space they’ll fill up with all their music, photos, and videos over time, and it’s a hassle to lug an external drive around. Storage can be expensive, though, so if you can’t afford a 256GB solid-state drive, consider buying a laptop with an SD card slot and using a high-capacity card for cheap, expandable storage.
Keep in mind internal upgradeability, too: many modern laptops solder their components onto the motherboard, meaning you can’t swap in more RAM or a bigger storage drive down the line. So either buy a laptop that keeps its components separate or spend a bit more to buy the specs you’ll need in a couple of years—not just what you need right now.
Other 2-in-1 Laptops We Tested
HP Spectre x360 13t Touch (13-aw0013dx)
With its incredibly small package, HP’s Spectre x360 is clearly gunning for the XPS 13’s throne. Its unmistakably premium design features an all-aluminum build, a convertible touch screen, and beautiful beveled edges. The super-thin bezels pack a 13-inch screen into a much smaller chassis, and unlike the XPS 13, the keyboard is surprisingly deep for the laptop’s size. Two USB-C ports and one USB-A port make for a versatile port selection, battery life hit a clean seven hours and forty-five minutes, and you can log in quickly with facial recognition or a fingerprint scanner.
Unfortunately, while the Spectre has a better keyboard than the XPS, its trackpad suffers because of its incredibly small size. This makes it a bit harder to navigate Windows and kept pushing me toward other laptops whenever I used it. It’s a super sleek laptop, and it checks most of the right boxes, but its usability suffered enough that it doesn’t quite stack up to the other great models we tested.
Most 2-in-1s are primarily laptops with touch screens that can fold back for secondary use as a tablet. If you’re looking for something that’s a tablet first and laptop second, look no further than the Microsoft Surface Pro. The main body is a compact Windows-based tablet, but you can pair it with Microsoft’s super-thin Type Cover keyboard for those longer writing sessions. We tested the 7th generation model with an i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, which should be able to handle just about anything you throw at it: heavy web browsing with lots of tabs, photo, and video editing, and whatever digital art your mind can dream up. (It’s not much of a gaming machine, but it can probably handle some lower-fidelity titles in a pinch.) Just note that the Surface Pen and Type Cover cost extra, so factor all your accessories into the cost of the total package.
The Surface Pro’s display is also great, with a whopping 2736x1824 resolution and a respectable 375 nits of brightness. The Type Cover’s keyboard is better than you’d expect given its slim profile, but the trackpad is a bit small, and the kickstand is a bit more awkward to use than a standard laptop hinge. That said, some people love the half-tablet-half-laptop form factor of the Surface Pro line, and it offers solid performance for the price.
HP's 2nd-gen Elite Dragonfly is a laptop built for business class. Though most "business" laptops are boring, the Dragonfly is stunningly designed. It's lightweight, slim, and yet still comes with a full array of ports including USB-C, USB-A, and even a full-size HDMI—no dongles required.
The dragonfly even comes with a built-in Tile tracker, meaning you can more easily find it if you were to lose it or it got stolen. Tile trackers aren't foolproof, but it's an extra bit of peace of mind—especially if you travel a lot.
In our tests, the Dragonfly blew us away with a whopping 8 hours and 50 minutes of battery life—far better than any Windows laptop we've tested in recent memory. The main drawback here is the price (it starts at nearly $2,000 as reviewed) , and the fact that it has an older 8th-gen Intel vPro processor.
The older processor isn't a huge deal (Intel's vPro program prioritizes steady supply and support and the chip is fast enough), but if you're spending your own money and not putting it on the corporate card we'd recommend the faster, cheaper, and very similar HP Spectre x360.
If you want to spend a little less, the Yoga C940 is just an all-around good laptop. Whether you’re a business person or a college student, it has a little something for everyone, from strong performance to its convertible design. The build is robust, too. I didn’t notice any flex anywhere in the bottom or top portions.
As for performance, the Yoga packs one heck of a punch. Armed with an i7-1065G7 processor and 12GB of RAM, this 2-in-1 laptop can handle heavy workloads like running many open tabs at once and streaming live video. Although it’s not designed for computer games, I was able to play Rise of the Tomb Raider on medium graphics. It doesn’t quite match up to the XPS 13 2-in-1, but for a few hundred dollars less, it’s a great bang-for-your-buck alternative, especially considering it comes with Lenovo’s Active Pen.
The really cool thing about this machine is the 360-degree hinge, which doubles as a soundbar. When I listened to Lizzo (my Queen) on Spotify, her vocals sounded crisp and punchy. The sound really fires out at you. This hinge itself also allows you to swing the screen all the way around, so you can prop it up like a tent for movie watching or use it as a tablet. This design is great for the classroom or international flights.
Our review unit was the 4K display model. While the display is incredibly bright and vibrant, it saps the battery pretty fast. After running our primary battery test, which cycles through popular websites on a continuous loop, the Yoga petered out in a little over six hours. The underside of the laptop gets uncomfortably warm under heavy workloads, too.
If I’m being honest, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga is my personal favorite laptop on this list. The keyboard is so pleasant to use thanks to its (relatively) deep travel, the trackpad is so quiet you barely hear it click, and it offers a wide port selection. Unlike many thin and lights, you get USB-C, USB-A, HDMI and an Ethernet Extension Connector (which requires a dongle for Ethernet connectivity but doesn’t waste a USB port when doing so). The new aluminum build on the model we tested is sleek and durable, though I still love the black soft-touch material on the lower-end builds too. The red TrackPoint nub is a favorite among ThinkPad loyalists, and a fingerprint scanner and facial recognition allow for super-fast logins (provided you haven’t closed the webcam shutter).
While the user experience is top-notch, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga has some significant downsides, too. Our test unit came with a 10th-gen Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD, but performance was middle of the pack at best. That configuration is quite expensive, though, and it isn’t even fully loaded—the 1080p display only hit 272 nits of brightness, well under the promised 400 nits and less than most of the other laptops we tested. Upgrading to the brighter 4K display would cost even more, which just puts this outside the realm of most budgets—even considering the included pen.
In terms of usability, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga is one of my favorite laptops I’ve ever used, but it’s just too expensive for most people given the performance. If you value the typing experience more than performance and are willing to shell out the cash, it’s a fantastic machine—just not the best value for most people.
Laptops with built-in touch screens inevitably add to the cost of your machine, which means it’s hard to find a decent 2-in-1 under $500. The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex manages to squeeze one in, though it only has 1080p resolution and 255 nits of brightness, which won’t get you very far outdoors. Still, it gets the job done if you want to fold back the display and do some drawing or watch a movie in tablet mode. The Flex 15 comes equipped with an Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM, which means a bit less performance than you can find in other similarly-priced laptops. But if you absolutely need that touchscreen, you’ll have to sacrifice somewhere. The 8GB version is about $50 more and will feel noticeably faster when multitasking or opening lots of browser tabs. You can also add more RAM and storage down the line since it is user-upgradeable.
Otherwise, the hardware is pretty nice for a budget machine: the keyboard is a bit shallow but feels very responsive, the trackpad is smooth and accurate, and the 2-in-1 hinge feels strong. You even get a fingerprint reader for quick login and a privacy shutter on the webcam. You’ll need to upgrade Windows 10 S from the Microsoft Store app and the 15-inch screen size may be a bit large for some, but otherwise, it’s a decent machine—you can just get better performance for your money if you’re willing to forego the touchscreen.
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.