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The perfect hybrid machine that’s just as good a tablet as it is a laptop still doesn’t exist. But throughout last year, companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google continued to improve their operating systems for machines that do double duty. Windows 11 has features that make it friendlier for multi-screen devices, while Android has been better optimized for larger displays. Plus, with the rise of ARM-based chips for laptops, especially Apple’s impressive M series, prospects for a powerful 2-in-1 with a vast touch-friendly app ecosystem is at an all-time high.
Even the best 2-in-1 laptops still have their limits, of course. Since they’re smaller than proper laptops, they tend to have less-powerful processors. Keyboards are often less sturdy, with condensed layouts and shallower travel. Plus, they’re almost always tablets first, leaving you to buy a keyboard case separately. (And those ain’t cheap!) So, you can’t always assume the advertised price is what you’ll actually spend on the 2-in-1 you want.
Sometimes, getting a third-party keyboard might be just as good, and they’re often cheaper than first-party offerings. If you’re looking to save some money, Logitech’s Slim Folio is an affordable option, and if you don’t need your keyboard to attach to your tablet, Logitech’s K780 Multi-Device wireless keyboard is also a good pick.
While we’ve typically made sure to include a budget 2-in-1 laptop in previous years, this time there isn’t a great choice. We would usually pick a Surface Go, but the latest model is still too expensive. Other alternatives, like cheaper Android tablets, are underpowered and don’t offer a great multitasking interface. If you want something around $500 that’s thin, lightweight and long-lasting, you’re better off this year looking at a conventional laptop (like those on our best budget PCs list).
When you’re shopping for a 2-in-1, there are some basic criteria to keep in mind. First, look at the spec sheet to see how heavy the tablet is (alone, and with the keyboard). Most modern hybrids weigh less than 2 pounds, with the 1.94-pound Surface Pro 9 being one of the heaviest around. The iPad Pro 12.9 (2022) and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S8+ are both slightly lighter. If the overall weight of the tablet and its keyboard come close to 3 pounds, you’ll be better off just getting an ultraportable laptop.
You’ll also want to opt for an 11-inch or 12-inch screen instead of a smaller 10-inch model. The bigger displays will make multitasking easier, plus their companion keyboards will be much better spaced. Also, try to get 6GB of RAM if you can for better performance — you’ll find this in the base model of the Galaxy Tab S7+, while this year’s iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 8 start with 8GB of RAM.
Finally, while some 2-in-1s offer built-in LTE or 5G connectivity, not everyone will want to pay the premium for it. An integrated cellular radio makes checking emails or replying to messages on the go far more convenient. But it also often costs more, and that’s not counting what you’ll pay for data. And, as for 5G — you can hold off on it unless you live within range of a mmWave beacon. Coverage is still spotty and existing nationwide networks use the slower sub-6 technology that’s barely faster than LTE.
Best overall: Surface Pro 9 (Intel)
There’s no beating the Surface series when it comes to 2-in-1s. They’re powerful, sleek tablets running an OS that’s actually designed for productivity. The Surface Pro 9 is Microsoft’s latest and great tablet, and it builds upon the already excellent Pro 8. It features speedy 12th-gen Intel CPUs and all of the major upgrades from last year, including a 120Hz display and a more modern design. It’s the best implementation of Microsoft’s tablet PC vision yet.
Don’t confuse this with the similarly named Surface Pro 9 with 5G, though, which has a slower ARM processor and inferior software compatibility. Built-in cellular is nice and all, but the Intel Pro 9 is a far better PC.
Like most of the other 2-in-1s on this list, the Pro 9 doesn’t come with a keyboard cover — you’ll have to pay extra for that. That’s a shame, considering it starts at $1,000. Microsoft offers a variety of Type Covers for its Surface Pros ranging from $100 to $180, depending on whether you want a slot for a stylus. But at least they’re comfortable and well-spaced. You can also get the Surface Slim Pen 2 ($130) for sketching out your diagrams or artwork, which features haptic feedback for a more responsive experience.
Best for Apple users: 12.9-inch iPad Pro
If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, the best option for you is obviously an iPad. The 12-inch Pro is our pick. Like older models, this iPad Pro has a stunning 12.9-inch screen with a speedy 120Hz refresh rate, as well as mini-LED backlighting. This year, it includes Apple’s incredibly fast M2 chip and more battery life than ever before.
Apple’s Magic Keyboard provides a satisfying typing experience, and its trackpad means you won’t have to reach for the screen to launch apps. But it’ll also cost you an extra $300, making it the most expensive case on this list by a lot. The iPad also lacks a headphone jack and its webcam is awkwardly positioned along the left bezel when you prop it up horizontally, so be aware that it’s still far from a perfect laptop replacement. Still, with its sleek design and respectable battery life, the iPad Pro 12.9 is a good 2-in-1 for Apple users.
Best for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+
While Windows is better than iPadOS and Android for productivity, it lags the other two when it comes to apps specifically designed for touchscreens. If you want a tablet that has all the apps you want, and only need it to occasionally double as a laptop, the Galaxy Tab S8+ is a solid option. You’ll enjoy watching movies and playing games on its gorgeous 12.4-inch 120Hz AMOLED screen, and Samsung includes the S Pen, which is great for sketching and taking notes. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip and 8GB of RAM keep things running smoothly, too.
Last year, Samsung dramatically improved its keyboard case, making the Tab an even better laptop replacement. You could type for hours on this thing and not hate yourself (or Samsung). The battery life is also excellent, so you won’t need to worry about staying close to an outlet. The main caveat is that Android isn’t great as a desktop OS, even with the benefits of Android 12L. And while Samsung’s DeX mode offers a somewhat workable solution, it has plenty of quirks.
Cherlynn Low contributed to this report.
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