The best hybrid laptops

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A guide to buying a hybrid laptop
Since the arrival of the iPad, the tech world has been on an ever-quicker march down the tablet road. But as time goes on, it’s clear that tablets and laptops remain very different devices — but both have a place in the modern world. Not that this stops us wanting a device that blends the best bits of both.

Hybrid devices deliver exactly that. They achieve it in many different ways, but the primary goal is a portable computer that can be used both as a tablet with a touchscreen and a laptop with a keyboard, with as few compromises as possible in either mode.
Microsoft Surface 2
Microsoft Surface 2
eBay loves: Great design and a gorgeous screen.
Watch out for: Windows 8 is still short of killer tablet apps.
Price: from £359

Microsoft’s Surface 2 is a second attempt at the hybrid and is a vast improvement on the first, with a beautiful Full HD display that really makes the most of Windows 8. It’s never going to be as good in tablet mode as an iPad or Android device, but its performance as a laptop is an adequate trade-off for serious workers.
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro
eBay loves: The hinged design works brilliantly.
Watch out for: It’s rather heavy for a tablet.
Price: from £470

Lenovo recognises that, for many people, getting things done is more important than convenience, so the laptop part of the Yoga 2 Pro takes centre stage, Still, its clever flexible hinge give plenty of options, but the whole thing is rather heavy as a result.
ASUS Transformer Book T100
ASUS Transformer Book T100
eBay loves: The original and still one of the best.
Watch out for: It’s Android, so won’t run Windows applications.
Price: from £300

The ASUS Transformer range started the whole craze for hybrid designs. The tablet side is excellent, with a compact keyboard (complete with its own battery and ports) that clips solidly to the screen. It only runs Android, though, so is no use for Windows apps.
Sony VAIO Duo 13
Sony VAIO Duo 13
eBay loves: A gorgeous 13in Full HD screen.
Watch out for: The design can be as restrictive as it is innovative.
Price: from £750

If detaching or flipping won’t cut it, how about sliding? Slide this Sony hybrid’s Full HD screen back and it tilts upwards to reveal a compact keyboard underneath — just like a giant version of the mobile  phones that were popular several years ago.
ASUS Taichi
ASUS Taichi
eBay loves: The only laptop we’ve seen with two screens.
Watch out for: Getting the angle right for two people is awkward.
Price: from £650

We’re not going to pretend this is a superb device, but it’s certainly got a great gimmick — a screen on the front and back of its lid. That means you can use it as a tablet with the lid closed and a laptop with it open, and the screens also act as independent displays. The ASUS Taichi is undeniably niche, but interesting nonetheless.
Multiple designs
Hybrid laptops have been an area of design innovation in recent years, but two methods have emerged as the most popular solution to the problem.

The first sees a simple physical separation of keyboard and screen. The tablet part is effectively a standalone device with its own processor and storage, while the keyboard is simply an accessory that’s connected when needed. The keyboard often packs in an extra battery to improve the laptop credentials, but otherwise the tablet does all the work.

The other design is more like traditional laptop, but with a hinge that can fold back so that the keyboard and screen lie flat on each other. While this obviously makes for a heavier tablet, the fact that the parts stay connected at all times means manufacturers can opt for a full laptop specification — which usually means more performance.

There are a few other designs that subtly alter the hinge arrangement, and detachable keyboards can be made from metal, plastic or even thin rubber. Which of these approaches suits your needs depends on how much you’re likely to use a hybrid in either of its modes.
 
All about touch

So what should you look for in the tablet part half of a hybrid? Most important is a good, responsive touchscreen. Aim for a screen with the increasingly common Full HD resolution, but if not, the limitations of a lower resolution will depend on size. A 1,366 x 768 screen on a 10-inch device is manageable, for example, but less so at 13 inches.

Pay attention to battery life, too. You’re far more likely to be away from a mains socket when you’re using a hybrid as a tablet, so don’t get suckered in by a pretty design that only lasts a couple of hours. If a good laptop can last for at least five or six, a good tablet should be able to comfortably add a few more on top. Read reviews to get realistic battery life figures, rather than relying on a manufacturer’s quoted times.
 
Getting down to work

As for the keyboard element, it’s similar to shopping for a comfortable laptop. Of course you want responsive, durable keys and a good selection of ports, but you also need to pay close attention to the hinge or connection with the screen. Some use simple magnets to keep the two parts together, while others use sturdier clip-in designs, so it’s a good idea to try one in the flesh to see which approach feel right for you.
 
The internals

The design of a hybrid laptop will determine what components it should contain. If it’s a laptop with a folding keyboard, then it should have a powerful laptop specification, such as an Intel Core i3 or i5 processor and a hard drive of 250GB or more. If it’s a tablet with a keyboard, however, then it’s more likely to contain tablet components — perhaps an Intel Atom processor, with 32GB or 64GB of solid-state storage.

There are a few that attempt to be both, such as Microsoft’s Surface 2. This is a tablet first and foremost, with a rubberised keyboard that converts it to a makeshift laptop, but it still has powerful laptop components. Devices such as this are generally more expensive, but they achieve the hybrid goal far more effectively than most.
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