New laptops with fancy hinges and sliding mechanisms can perform acrobatics that will put your yoga instructor to shame. But do you really need a notebook that can do tricks? Shop for a computer these days and you'll see laptop/tablet hybrids, convertibles, docking laptops, ultrabook 2-in-1 convertibles, detachable hybrids, and slates with keyboard docks. Here's an overview that includes all of them, and can help you decide which type is right for you.
Convertible Hybrids The convertible hybrid is a form factor that has evolved over the past decade or so. It refers to a system that typically looks like a clamshell laptop when closed, but can either flip, twist, or slide its screen so it resembles a slate tablet. In this configuration (aka, Tablet mode), you primarily interface with the system's touch screen, and the keyboard is either hidden under the display or faces away from the user on the other side of the laptop. A convertible hybrid's screen always remains attached to the keyboard so you can never lose it. Not that it matters too much from the user's perspective, but the components of the system can reside in the keyboard base or behind the display. The screen of a convertible can move in one of three ways:
Flip: These convertible hybrids let you flip the screen completely around the laptop body, usually using a dual-hinge design. The system resembles a clamshell laptop when you first take it out of the box. You can then flip it through various modes: Laptop; Stand (where the keyboard faces down, and the screen is right side up facing the user); Tent (where the keyboard faces up, but the two parts are folded in a "tent" position, and the flipped screen faces the user); and Tablet mode, which is the least complicated. But in Tablet mode, the keyboard faces out (and therefore faces whatever surface you put the device on). Examples of convertibles with a flip-mechanism design include the Lenovo Yoga series and the Dell XPS 11$1,199.99 at Dell.
Pivot: Systems that pivot allow you to twist the screen 180 degrees around a central axis, whether that pivot point is on the middle of the laptop's hinge (like on the Lenovo ThinkPad x230t$1,451.67 at Lenovo or the HP Elitebook Revolve 810$1,419.99 at Amazon), or in the middle of the screen (like the Sony VAIO Flip 15, the Dell XPS 12$999.99 at Dell, or the Acer Aspire R7-572-6423$944.99 at Amazon). Like convertible hybrids with flip mechanisms, hybrids with pivoting mechanisms can be used in Laptop, Tablet, or Stand mode, but not in Tent mode. With a pivoting convertible, the keyboard never changes. It's always pointing up, so you don't have to worry about feeling the keys when you hold the system in Tablet mode, or exposed keys on the bottom of the laptop catching on table edges. On the down side, pivoting mechanisms can be fragile or overly complicated with locks and latches.
Slide: These devices start out looking like slate tablets. To convert them, you slide the screen up and expose the keyboard; the end result resembles a clamshell laptop. They act like the slider cell phones that were popular in the mid 2000s. The keyboard always faces up or is protected, as with traditional laptops or convertible hybrids with twisting mechanisms. However, sliders will likely have only two modes: open like a laptop, or closed like a tablet. When open like a laptop, the angle may be fixed, as on the Sony VAIO Duo 13$1,312.58 at Amazon, or adjustable, like with theToshiba Satellite U925T$799.99 at Amazon. Having only one open angle makes them less flexible to use on your lap or while standing, and the adjustable sliders are less elegant-looking and more susceptible to damage than traditional laptops.
No matter which type, convertible hybrids give you the benefit of a permanently attached keyboard you can't leave behind or lose, and more space in the chassis for components like bigger battery cells. They're a good choice if you need a tablet-like interface only part of the time, since they are relatively heavy and bulky (3 to 6 pounds), and would tire your arm faster than carrying a standalone slate tablet.