If you’ve been following the laptop space for the past two years, you’ve probably noticed that the detachable laptop is on the rise. Several high-profile models that were formerly traditional 2-in-1s (i.e. an old-school-looking laptop that can also bend backwards) have slowly been converted to detachable keyboard form factors.
This isn’t a new idea by any means — the Surface Pro has been a thing for years. But as more and more companies add the form factor to their premium lines, it seems the space in general is heating up to the idea that Microsoft was right all along.
Recent examples include:
- Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, once one of the best traditional convertibles you could buy, this year has gone folio-style detachable.
- Lenovo has pulled back on the convertible option in some ThinkPad lines in recent years. For example, the new Z-series doesn’t have a convertible option — the company told me it considered adding one early in the planning process, but found convertibles were a much smaller market than clamshells. But there are now detachable ThinkPads (and the keyboards still have the TrackPoint).
- Asus’ ExpertBook line has just received its first arm-driven detachable, the ExpertBook B3 Detachable.
- Speaking of Dell, the Latitude line, which is known for some of the best business convertibles out there, now has a few detachable models as well.
I’ve asked a few companies about this decision over the past year and the answers have all been variations on what you’d expect: Customers just aren’t really interested in traditional 2-in-1s. And as someone who has used a lot of them, it’s not hard to see why.
There are traits inherent in the laptop form factor – especially with the direction it’s headed today – that conflict with what you’d want from a good tablet. An example: weight. In general, laptops over three pounds are just too heavy to comfortably hold and carry as a tablet. (I suspect this is part of the reason that 15-inch convertibles, which some companies were pushing in the late 2010s, have largely died out.) There’s also the fact that holding a convertible like a tablet often means that you have to hold the keyboard (which feels a little weird) or press the keyboard into the ground (which can lead to scratches and generally dirt).
Bezels are also becoming more of a problem. Premium laptops are moving towards higher screen-to-body ratios, and smaller bezels have long been a prominent element in what many reviewers are willing to refer to as a “modern” look. But good tablets need to maintain some level of bezel, because people need something to hold, and holding (and swiping and possibly accidentally clicking) a usable part of a tablet’s screen isn’t optimal.
For a long time, the 2-in-1 was a compromise: it was hard to fit laptop-grade internals into a tablet, and a full keyboard deck gave them a place to live. But as processors become more energy efficient and more companies embrace hybrid architecture, that becomes less and less true. (I mean, come on, the M1 now powers the iPad.) And it allows businesses to focus on the reason customers have loved convertible laptops all along. It’s not just a touch screen and it’s not just tent mode. It’s portable — and detachables provide that in a way that convertibles couldn’t.