A new school year sometimes means the need for new tools and resources, and a tablet or laptop might be first on the list for any student. There’s plenty to choose from, depending on what features you need most.

The line can sometimes blur between tablets and laptops, and in the case of a 2-in-1, the idea is to have the best of both. Consuming content is one thing, but getting creative and crafting whatever work or project you need requires having the right tools on hand. Tablets make great canvasses for your art, while laptops are all about the versatility. Between word processing, coding and graphic design, there’s not much left in between.

It’s not always easy to figure out which device to go with. It is an important decision because you need to rely on its functionality. To try and wade through what’s available, I’ve broken things down into sub-categories to form a basis for comparison. Students of all stripes will find the right fit, be it something premium for intensive tasks, or something budget-friendly to get the job done. Here is the list to look for:

  1. Microsoft Surface Book 2 13-inch (Premium 2-in-1 convertibles)
  2. Surface Book 2 15-inch (Premium 2-in-1 convertibles)
  3. Microsoft Surface Pro (Premium 2-in-1 convertibles)
  4. Samsung Galaxy Book 12 (Premium 2-in-1 convertibles)
  5. Apple iPad Pro (Premium 2-in-1 convertibles)
  6. Microsoft Surface Go 64GB or 128GB (“Step-Up” from basic)
  7. Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 (“Step-Up from basic)
  8. Acer Aspire Switch 3 (More affordable)
  9. Apple iPad 9.7-inch with 32GB (More affordable)

Premium 2-in-1 devices

Microsoft has really carved out a piece of this pie by releasing a variation of devices that fall in the 2-in-1 line. Key among them now is the Microsoft Surface Book 2. Looks like a laptop, but can split in two and become a tablet—it’s exactly what you might expect a 2-in-1 to be.

The keyboard base is among the cleanest and most efficient you can find. You will get used to it much faster than anything else you’ve typed on because of how snappy and fluid it is. It is a full keyboard, so you’re not sacrificing size or spacing when typing out documents. All Surface Book 2 variants run a full version of Windows 10, and it lets you switch between desktop and tablet modes. Just attach or detach the keyboard. A powerful processor and extra memory only help when it comes to using apps that require real juice to run properly. Think Photoshop or any video-editing application.

If you want the Surface experience, but in a more traditional tablet form, consider the Surface Pro. This is really the ‘classic’ Surface, at this point, because it’s the design that started it all for Microsoft. You get a 12.3-inch display that is vibrant, responsive and you can watch video on it for up to 13.5 hours per charge. Note that the keyboard and Surface Pen are sold separately, but with them in hand, you truly have a 2-in-1 experience.

That experience isn’t altogether different in a product like the Samsung Galaxy Book 12. Here, you have a 12-inch tablet with an excellent Super AMOLED screen and processing power. That the keyboard and S Pen come included is a real bonus. If you have ever used a Galaxy Note phone before, you will fit right in on this device. Even if you haven’t, you may like having an Android tablet that gives you a premium feel.

If iOS is more your speed, Apple’s iPad Pro 10.5-inch is always an option. This is the more powerful of the iPad lineup, designed to help you be productive and create, rather than just consume. The keyboard and Apple Pencil are sold separately, so you would need those to make it a true 2-in-1. Other accessories abound for the device as well, helping you do more with it when you need to.

The ‘step-up’ 2-in-1 convertibles

If premium is a little too much for what you need, but need to make sure you get solid performance, you have options. The ‘step-up’ category has the mid-range chops to work like a horse, without trying to be a stallion.

Microsoft has aimed to fill this niche with the new Surface Go, which comes with a 10-inch display. There are two versions, one that has 64GB of internal storage, and the other with 128GB. You can expand that much further with a microSD memory card, in case what’s in there isn’t going to be enough.

The Intel Pentium processor in the Surface Go isn’t going to deliver the same level of power as the premium models, however. This about getting robust performance for multitasking. If you work on a lot of documents and some minor visual work on occasion, you should be fine. If you’re in a creative field that demands more, a premium-level device may be better.

The keyboard and pen are sold separately, meaning you would have to get one or both to make the Go a 2-in-1. You also get a 30-day trial for Microsoft Office, giving you a chance to try out the software suite before you commit further.

In a similar vein, you could also try something similar with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. It runs on Android, so you get whatever apps you want from Google Play. It’s compatible with the S Pen, so you get the ability to write on the display. And it works with a magnetic keyboard (sold separately) to give you some laptop-style ability. It’s not as robust or efficient as the Galaxy Book is—plus, the screen is 9.7-inches compared to 12-inches—but it’s good for modest needs.

More affordable 2-in-1 laptops and tablets

Keeping costs low is the story of almost any student’s life. Regardless of the reason, a budget-friendly convertible 2-in-1 might be just enough to get through the school year.

The Acer Switch 3 is made for such a scenario. The Intel Pentium N4200 is modest at best, but that’s the point. You’re not getting a budget-friendly device to run heavy apps requiring a lot of power. With 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage (you can expand that a further 64GB via the memory card slot), this is more tablet than laptop, but browsing and word processing shouldn’t be a problem.

Then, there’s always the regular iPad. At a lower price than ever before for a 9.7-inch screen size, this model has some flexibility. Whether you choose to use it as a second screen to complement a computer, or you have another methodology, there’s a chance it can do it. While not as powerful or multifaceted as the iPad Pro, the App Store is still the same. So is the breadth of accessories you can get for it. Consider this as an option, especially if you’re already in Apple’s ecosystem.

The right laptop or tablet

It’s not always easy to pinpoint what someone else wants in a laptop or tablet. The good news is there are plenty to choose from. Form factors and screen sizes might differ somewhat, but 2-in-1 convertibles have been growing in sophistication. The group already noted above are part of a wider set of models currently available.

Choosing the best fit isn’t always a slam dunk, though your options are good. Consider any of these when looking for your next 2-in1. For everything else in your back to school needs, check out what’s available here.

Ted Kritsonis
Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.