I’ve always loved things that are highly versatile and configurable. Take, for example, the Chrysler PT Cruiser GT and its “magic” seats that could transform the car from a turbocharged retro rocket to a virtual cargo van in mere seconds. I liked it so much that it became my first vehicle with more than two doors, front-wheel-drive and an automatic transmission, one that I only sold last year.
So my obsession with 2-in-1 laptops may not come as a surprise—particularly the “convertible” style with 360-degree hinges. What defines a convertible laptop? They have touchscreens and can convert from a laptop to a tablet, often with various configurations that enhance the tablet experience.
I use a late-2017 HP Spectre x360 with 8th-generation Intel i7 chip and 16 GB of RAM because I am something of a power user and also appreciate its gorgeous design. But credit goes to Lenovo for popularizing this style of laptop with its Yoga line. Sometimes these devices are even referred to as “yoga style” nowadays.
Touchscreens on Laptops
First, why even bother to have a touchscreen on a tablet? Steve Jobs, after all, hilariously claimed that a touchscreen on a computer would give a person “gorilla arms,” which may be why Macs to this day do not have a touchscreen. Apple CEO Tim Cook also once said that convertible laptops were akin to converging a refrigerator with a toaster.
Recently, even Apple essentially admitted they were wrong. Or that Microsoft was at least onto something eight years prior with the first Surface.
Sometimes it is just easier to touch the screen directly than move a cursor with a mouse. Take doing exercises on Duolingo, for example:
Or try to click on a bunch of items on the screen en masse. For example, in Quizlet, after adding foreign language vocabulary words, I like to “star” (favorite) the ones I don’t know well, so that I can review only those words and not ones I’ve already learned when practicing flashcards. With a mouse or touchpad, such a process is a lot more tedious and cumbersome.
Of course, the touchscreen on most Windows laptops also allow the use of a precision stylus. This is particularly useful for graphics manipulation. Trying doing the following with a mouse, and it’ll take five times as long.
Why not own both a laptop and a tablet then? There are a few reasons:
- Multiple devices means more gadgets to maintain. E.g., to update, sync, and install software on.
- Having to bring multiple devices means more weight and potentially more power cords and chargers to carry.
- Multiple devices often cost more than just one.
- Multiple devices go against a minimalism/simplification ethos.
Also, a convertible laptop’s different configurations often make it more comfortable and productive to use than either of those specialized devices. These configurations are described below.
Any device—including a large tablet—that is heavier than a phone or paperback book is going to be uncomfortable to hold up with your arm for any extended period of time. In contrast, convertible laptops prop themselves up by themselves instead of relying on your muscles.
Tent mode is great for consuming media as it keeps the keyboard out of the way so that you can position the screen closer to your eyes. The folded back half acts as a super sturdy kickstand so there is absolutely no screen wobble when you are touching the screen.
I usually use this mode when I am reading while eating lunch. It prevents food and liquid particles from landing on the keyboard, which is harder to clean than the glass screen.
I also often use the laptop in tent mode when cycling and watching videos at the same time.
Stand mode is similar to tent mode except that it lacks the advantage of having a “kickstand” to make the screen sturdy enough to press without screen wobble.
However, there are a couple situations where stand mode is advantageous. One situation is when you are propping up the computer on your lap as a tablet. Having the flat keyboard side rest on your thighs is more comfortable than having laptop edges dig into your legs.
See how nicely the computer is propped up. This is much more comfortable than holding up, say, a large iPad—all while preserving the intimate experience of interacting with a tablet.
Of course, a convertible laptop works perfectly fine as a conventional laptop. The only potential drawback is that a 360-degree hinge is usually a little less stiff than a conventional laptop’s, so there may be more screen wobble upon screen touch.
Shown above is the HP Spectre x360 with my former Essential PH-1 with Windows theme. Looking back, that phone with titanium frame and ceramic back looked absolutely fantastic without a case!
Laptop Mode + MOFT Laptop Stand
One issue with all laptops—convertible or non-convertible—out of the box is that their screens are simply too low to look at comfortably for long periods of time. Unlike a desktop computer, where you can usually raise the monitor by adjusting it on its stand or plopping it on a stack of books, there are limited options for doing so with a laptop—especially if you are trying to maintain portability.
Enter the laptop stand by MOFT (or “Mobile Office For Travelers”), which was a wildly successfully Kickstarter project that is now available in the general marketplace. This ingenious invention sturdily lifts a laptop by a couple of inches and helps you maintain good posture. I experience far less neck pain using it.
It folds nicely out of the way when not in use, justifying MOFT’s “invisible laptop stand” tagline. It also weighs next to nothing and takes up an insignificant amount of space in a laptop bag.
Note that on the HP Spectre x360, the MOFT laptop stand blocks most of the air vents on the bottom. For me, that has not been a problem as the Spectre x360 primarily vents out of the rear edge, so it is not like hot air gets trapped in the device. I’ve never had a problem with the computer overheating with the MOFT attached.
The laptop stand also works fine on your lap; it’s no worse than the Microsoft Surface. One added benefit of the MOFT laptop stand is that by keeping the bottom surface of the laptop away from your lap, it cannot roast your gonads as some laptops are prone to do.
The higher screen position also results in a better camera angle for Zoom and other videoconferencing software.
Slate mode is folding the keyboard all the way back so the laptop is like a slate or clipboard.
I rarely use this mode except for when using the stylus, which is rare. If I was more of an artist, I would probably use this mode more.
Ever since the imaginative Microsoft Surface RT came out in 2013, I have never owned a “conventional” laptop again as I got too spoiled by both a touchscreen and different configurations.
I’ve come to prefer convertible laptops with 360-degree hinges over the Surface design and its removable keyboard for a few reasons: 1) they are more “lapable,” 2) the keyboard is much easier to clean than the Surface’s fabric keyboards, and 3) they are more user serviceable. For example, you can fairly easily and relatively inexpensively replace the batteries on the HP Spectre x360 yourself as you can gain access to them by removing a few screws on the bottom of the laptop. This is useful because any portable computing device will eventually suffer from significant battery degradation. In contrast, the Surface usually has garnered some of the lowest iFixIt repairability scores possible due to its sealed design.
The MOFT stand makes the convertible laptop design even more versatile by propping it up to a more comfortable viewing position that allows you to maintain better posture. This gives it an additional edge over the Surface design, which is incompatible with MOFT.