How a 2-in-1 laptop can be your Back to School Swiss Army knife

2-in-1 laptop back to school
(Image credit: Future)

The academic and leisure expectations of college and even high school life are at an all-time high, while most of our funds are at an all-time low. This uniquely sets up the 2-in-1 laptop for a student laptop takeover, potentially saving folks money on school hardware.

How’s that, you ask? That’s because 2-in-1 laptops, whether in their convertible or detachable varieties, can fulfill the computing and entertainment functions of two or even three-to-four devices, depending on your area of focus in your studies.

Also, 2-in-1 laptops are available these days in just about every price range, from $250/£250 to upwards of $3,000/£3,000, so that your specific needs are likely met by a model out there. Whether you need a cheap writing machine or one that can handle high-level graphics manipulation, there’s a 2-in-1 out there that’s likely right for you.

Here are the several major functions that a 2-in-1 laptop can accomplish that would otherwise call for several new devices ahead of the upcoming school year.

Surface Book 2

The Surface Book 2 with Surface Pen and Surface Dial. (Image credit: Future)

2-in-1 laptops are prime for illustration and design

One of the most obvious benefits of 2-in-1 laptops is that their touchscreens can work with a stylus to act as a stand-in for a drafting table or a sketch pad. While you’re on the go or looking to save space in your dorm or work area, these laptops can potentially replace a Wacom tablet in terms of accuracy and quality.

While we’re no artists or designers, we’ve come to enjoy Microsoft’s Surface touch displays and stylus devices the most. The company spends quite a bit of time refining this aspect of their devices as well. For these reasons, we really admire the Surface Book 2 for these tasks, particularly the 15-inch model with its dedicated Nvidia graphics.

HP Spectre x360 15

The HP Spectre x360 15 is a joy for movie lovers. (Image credit: Future)

2-in-1 laptops are excellent for watching movies

With the ability to be oriented in either tent or stand modes, 2-in-1 laptops make for ideal movie viewing devices. They’re like tablets without the need for a kickstand case and likely larger in screen size. 

Whether you go for a budget HD display or an all-out 4K OLED, your needs in terms of content are going to be supported: from the vast reaches of YouTube to the curated originals and syndicated movies and shows on Netflix. Almost every major streaming service has a Windows 10 app or web browser option that can be used in full screen.

For those on a budget looking for a 2-in-1 laptop to watch movies on, we’d suggest something like the Asus Chromebook Flip. But, if you have cash to blow, go for something like the HP Spectre x360 15 with a 4K OLED display – it’ll make that 4K Netflix subscription worthwhile.

Surface Pro 6

The Surface Pro 6 camera is surprisingly strong. (Image credit: Future)

2-in-1 laptops can take photos in a pinch

If you’re the type that likes to take photos of classroom white boards to either replace or reinforce your manually taken notes, some 2-in-1 laptops can do that for you. Of course, these won’t be the highest-quality photos around, as we haven’t seen a 2-in-1 laptop with a particularly amazing camera.

That said, these devices can also record audio via their microphones, so this feature could supplement those photos as well. The best 2-in-1 laptop for this purpose that we can think of, while not technically a laptop without its Type Cover, is the Surface Pro 6.

Surface Pro 6 tablet

The Surface Pro 6 is a great reader's tablet, too. (Image credit: Future)

2-in-1 laptops are fine comic book readers

If you’re a fan of comic books – sorry, graphic novels – and don’t have room for a roving collection of colorful dead trees, consider saving yourself the cost of a tablet and use a 2-in-1 laptop for your comics needs. 

Services like ComiXology, and the Marvel and DC “Unlimited” offerings, make thousands of comic books available digitally, able to be swept through at leisure. Of course, getting a 2-in-1 laptop that can handle this task well will depend a lot on the screen.

We would suggest aiming for comfortability and color accuracy when choosing a 2-in-1 laptop right for comic book reading. With that in mind, the Surface Pro 6 from Microsoft again is a winner.

Surface Book 2

The Surface Book 2 is a surprisingly capable gaming device. (Image credit: Future)

2-in-1 laptops can game well at the high end

If you need some of the other functions of a 2-in-1 laptop in your life, but you also consider yourself a gamer, that’s a tough predicament. Simply put, 2-in-1 laptops aren’t generally great at gaming, but with enough cash you can get something decent at gaming on the side, too.

For this end, we’d suggest either the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Book 2 or the HP Spectre x360 15T. Both laptops offer mid-range mobile graphics options for playing most modern games at 1080p resolutions and middle-ground detail settings.

windows tablet

A 2-in-1 laptop is hard to go wrong with for school. (Image credit: Future)

2-in-1 laptops are great at everything normal ones are

Finally, since 2-in-1 laptops are essentially the same as standard ones when in their traditional orientation, they can perform every single task that a regular laptop can just as well. However, look out for ultra-thin laptops (2-in-1 or otherwise) when compared to regular laptops. 

That’s because these ultra-portable 2-in-1 laptops are generally equipped with Y-Series mobile Intel processors, rather than U or even H-Series Intel chips that can deliver much more power for around the same price. Remember that the design and appeal of the product you’re looking at is also baked into its cost – just consider Apple products.

We don’t have any specific 2-in-1 laptops to recommend here. Just know that any 2-in-1 laptop you decide to buy will be just about as powerful as its more standard counterpart – so long as what’s inside is the same.

Joe Osborne

Joe Osborne is the Senior Technology Editor at Insider Inc. His role is to leads the technology coverage team for the Business Insider Shopping team, facilitating expert reviews, comprehensive buying guides, snap deals news and more. Previously, Joe was TechRadar's US computing editor, leading reviews of everything from gaming PCs to internal components and accessories. In his spare time, Joe is a renowned Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master – and arguably the nicest man in tech.