What is a convertible laptop? Jargon buster and buyer's guide

Learn the difference between a convertible and hybrid Windows 8 laptop with our guide - and find out more about some of the best models around

18 Apr 2013

In the days of yore things were so simple when it came to computing. We had one device for work and one device for play.

But 'simple' isn't always good - its synonyms include 'plain' and 'walkover' after all.

Thankfully Windows 8 has spawned a new generation of laptops that are anything but plain - switching from laptop to tablet and back again in a matter of seconds.  

HP Envy Lifestyle

Jam-packed with touch-enabled screens, flexible, shape-shifting forms and intuitive design, they're versatile enough to be used whether we're feeling professional or playful.

Learn the lingo

Lined up alongside regular PCs and laptops these youthful multitaskers look like some exhilarating new youth culture among a load of old rockers, but like any respectable subculture the world of convertible laptops has its own language.

And if you want to blur the boundaries between your playful and professional sides with such a device you'll first need to learn the lingo - innit.

So, here's our jargon-busting guide to the world of Win8 convertible laptops, and a heads-up on some of the best out there.

These flexible devices shift between laptop and tablet in several ways - and we're going to introduce you to the main ones here, along with the hottest example around. Contort yourself.

The Convertible

Someone says convertible and you probably think fast cars, dangerous women and bling.

After reading this you'll think something completely different (but probably not as glamorous). A convertible is the name given to Win8 laptops that - funnily enough - convert into tablets.

We've given you plenty of spiel about having two devices in one, and this is the purest definition of that. Convertible laptops switch between laptop and tablet while remaining one complete piece of kit.

So, if your laptop becomes a tablet thanks to a swivel hinge, it's a convertible. If it does so because the screen is on the back of the lid, it's a convertible. If it does it by separating into two individual devices, it's not a convertible - got it?

Example - Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S

Probably the hottest convertible around at the moment is the soon-to-be released Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S. It looks like a regular laptop, but push the screen backwards on its 360 hinge and it will rest against the bottom of the laptop to become a tablet - that's some serious stretching, hence the name.

Yoga _2

They say good things come in small packages and this is definitely the case here. This may boast the power of a full-size ultrabook, but its smaller 11inch frame means it's great for working on the go, and light enough to carry in your bag.

It has a cool Thinkpad-style keyboard which tech reviewers have lathered in praise. But we know what all work and no play leads to, so when you've finished writing that brain-draining report on the train to work, flip over the neat 360 degree hinge and indulge in some me-time in tablet mode.

Here's a video of the current crop of Yoga's being put through their paces at the Gadget Show Live in Birmingham.

The Hybrid

The hybrid is a Windows 8 laptop based on the same principle as the convertible - the only difference is when you switch between laptop and tablet the two devices actually separate.  

A laptop that's been separated from its screen used to mean tears and expense, but now it's the latest thing in computing. Just lift the screen off your laptop and you've got a Windows 8 tablet.

It's okay having a device that covers both work and play, but sometimes after a day in the office you want to change out of your clothes and put on a new outfit. With a hybrid you can leave the office - and your work worries - on your desk by literally sliding the tablet right off the laptop.

Example - HP Envyx2

There seems to be a trend with these mash-up devices to have names which suit them down to the ground. The Yoga flexes and stretches like it's limbering into the lotus position, and the HP Envy x2 will certainly trigger some jealous glances from friends in the office when you slide and go after a hard day's graft.

HP calls the Envy 'the laptop that doubles as a tablet' and that's about the sum of things.

Envyx 2tablet

The two separate thanks to a pretty natty latch feature: slide the latch to the left and the tablet slides right out. It's so smooth it can be done one-handed. With 55% of the Envy's battery stored in the tablet screen, it's great for using on train home from work.

Another cool feature is NFC. Also known as near field communication, NFC was a big look at CES 2013. It allows you to pair up your devices so content can be shared between them. Transfer content between your Envy and smartphone by tapping the two NFC-enabled devices together.  

With Beats Audio and HP Connected Music, there's plenty for hipster indie kids and boyband-loving mums alike too. Connected Music means you can listen to your favourite tunes via your Envy for free. Neat.

HP Connected Music

The Slider

As its name suggests, the slider goes from laptop to tablet by sliding. It's a bit like a convertible, in that it actually remains as one device. But rather than having a conventional lid which opens like a clamshell, the keyboard actually sits beneath the tablet screen and slides in and out in a 'now you see it now you don't' fashion.

So, you have what looks like a tablet, but lift the screen and it will reveal a keyboard - it really is pretty magical.

These may lack the contortionist-like flexibility of the Lenovo Yoga, but they're nice and smooth to use.

Example - Sony VAIO Duo 11

The Sony Vaio Duo is a real smooth operator.

With a full HD touchscreen it feels like you're touring Windows 8 in a stretch limo rather than at your kitchen table. Perhaps fittingly this luxurious laptop-cum-tablet is suited best to sitting down at home rather than struggling your way through a Monday morning on the Tube.

Sony VAIO Duo

Another great feature here is a stylus. Write and draw on the touchscreen and jot down shopping lists and reminders with a funky app called Note Anytime. We first used this when we couldn't find a pen, but it's now become the pen - the times are a changin.

When writing on the screen you'll likely be impressed by how snappy your 'handwriting' looks. Colours are sharper than a tailor-made suit thanks to a 1920x1080 pixel resolution.

The debrief

So, now you know your convertible from your hybrid and your Yoga from your Envy, the mash-up laptop gang are ready to welcome you into the fold.

We all know that once you've joined a gang it can be difficult to get out, but with devices that seamlessly blend work and play in one you won't be wanting to step outside this exclusive circle anytime soon.

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