Jon Bentley gets hands on with 2 in 1 laptops
This week's test featured a diverse range of computing products that can just about all be categorised as 2-in-1s. They’re designed to combine the informality of a tablet with the work focused practicality of a conventional laptop, all in one convenient package.
I've been a 2-in-1 user for quite a while. I bought one of the original Lenovo Yogas back in 2012, though I tend to view it more as a touchscreen laptop than a hybrid device. While it's often handy to be able to push the screen back flat while working with it on your lap, or twist it round nearly 360 degrees to watch videos in "tent" mode, I've never used it much as a pure tablet, with its screen bent round the full 360 degrees. This is partly because it's always felt too big and heavy to use as a tablet, and also because I don't think the desktop-biased Windows interface, whether 8 or 10, works particularly well in touch-only form.
I think that's also the main reason I've never been inclined to buy a Microsoft Surface Pro. As I feel I need a physical keyboard with Windows, having a detachable one flopping around, apparently with a mind of its own, is just a nuisance, and Microsoft's admirably precise, bundled, Surface pen doesn't quite make up for the inconvenience. Though one of my tech testers, Paul was an enthusiastic Surface convert I don't think I will ever be.
Apple has approached the 2-in-1 market from the opposite direction with the iPad Pro. Rather than using their full OSX operating system they've transferred their iOS iPhone and iPad interface to a product with a laptop-sized 12.9 inch screen.
I'm a fan of iPads, particularly the Mini which I find usefully larger than even a phablet-sized smartphone, while still being small and light enough to hold for long periods in one hand. It's a great paperback substitute and brings an informality to word processing, web browsing and running through your emails and social media.
At first glance the Pro appears to be just a bigger iPad and I soon found myself appreciating the better speakers while watching video, and the larger screen while reading digital magazines. All in a device that, in contrast to my Yoga in tablet mode, felt remarkably light and pleasant to hold considering its screen size. And when I started using the new Apple Pencil, which currently only works with the Pro, it felt transformed into an innovative device in its own right. Because it's sensitive both to pressure, and the angle at which it's held to the screen, the Pencil makes a very effective drawing tool in apps like Procreate, the revamped Notes and even Microsoft Office. I'm also looking forward to Adobe further improving their touch-based iOS apps to benefit from the Pencil's features.
With the addition of the Pencil I think the iPad Pro is a winner. Though, unless lots more software is written to take advantage of the unique features of the Pencil, I'm aware it's probably destined to be a niche product.
I don't think it's going to replace my Yoga laptop - iOS is too restrictive an operating system for that. Neither is it going to usurp my iPad Mini or for that matter my desktop. But in its own specialised way I think it feels like an exciting new type of device and I'm intrigued to see how the platform develops.