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Laptops

5 ways you should be using your two-in-one laptop

If you're only using your convertible as a laptop or tablet, you're missing half the fun.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Two-in-one PCs have come a long way since the 2012 launch of Windows 8, which was optimized for touch devices. But there are still plenty of skeptics who see them as laptops with a touchscreen they won't use or tablets that disappoint as laptops. 

Frankly, that's totally understandable. It wasn't until I started using a convertible everyday -- one with the display permanently attached to the keyboard -- that I realized more of the design's advantages over having just a laptop. 

Even if you're not a regular tablet user, there are other ways to put the touchscreen to good use thanks to 360-degree hinges used to flip the keyboard around. Once you stop thinking of it as a laptop or tablet and start using the in-between positions, usually called tent and presentation or display modes, that the flexibility of the design pays off. 

From two-in-one to all-in-one

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The keyboard and touchpad on my two-in-one are good, but when I'm at my desk I'd much rather work with a full-size keyboard and mouse. Do this with a regular laptop and you'll end up pretty far away from your screen. 

With a two-in-one, though, you can flip its keyboard under and slide your larger keyboard right up to the screen. This also makes it easier to use the touchscreen when you want. Add in a laptop stand to lift the display up, which can reduce neck and shoulder strain while also putting the webcam in a better position for video chats. 

Echo Show to go

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Amazon's latest Echo Show pairs a 10.1-inch screen, microphones and speakers with the company's virtual assistant, Alexa. You know what it also has? A power cord. Install the Alexa app for Windows 10 on a two-in-one and you've got an Echo Show that you can set up anywhere -- kitchen, living room, bedroom or office. There are laptops with Alexa built in, which means they can be used hands-free, but the app will work on other PCs as well. 

And because you can run off the laptop's battery, you don't need to have an outlet nearby and the two-in-one's flexibility gives you more placement options when space is at premium. If you've gone all in on Alexa for everything from setting reminders to controlling your thermostat to ordering toilet paper, give it a try. 

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Digital whiteboard

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People tend to discount the usefulness of a pen-enabled two-in-one because they're not an artist or they're not a student with immediate note-taking needs. I'm neither of those things, but I regularly use the pen just for organizing my life or making certain tasks easier. Microsoft's Whiteboard app, for example, is good for brainstorming both home and business projects. It's smart enough to turn your hand-drawn shapes into clean, sharp lines and do the same for your handwriting. 

Put your two-in-one in tent mode and others can easily sit around the screen and collaborate. Anyone you share the whiteboards with can simultaneously work on them too -- regardless of where they are -- through a browser or Windows 10 or iOS apps

Kitchen companion

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A tablet is handy to have in the kitchen for tasks such as finding and displaying recipes, creating shopping lists, watching how-to videos, converting measurements and setting timers. A two-in-one can do all of those things as well and doesn't even need a stand. And Windows 10 or Chrome OS allow you to easily resize and arrange windows so you can have everything you need on one screen.  

I recommend using it in tent mode -- horizontally or vertically -- and wrapping your display in plastic wrap to keep the screen clean (yes, the touchscreen will still work). You can also use Microsoft's virtual assistant, Cortana, to work handsfree in Windows 10 or Google Assistant on a Chromebook two-in-one

CNET's top two-in-one laptops

Lenovo Yoga C930 Starts at $1,000 See it on Lenovo
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 Starts at $1,500 See it on Dell
HP Spectre x360 13 Starts at $1,100 See it on Amazon
Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 Starts at $450 See it on Best Buy
Lenovo Yoga 730 Starts at $600 See it on Lenovo

For the kids

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While you might still be firmly in the "touchscreens don't belong on laptops" camp, there's a good chance your kids don't feel the same. Depending on their age, they possibly don't remember a time when screens didn't support touch input, which makes a two-in-one a natural fit. 

For my kids, using one as a tablet for reading and drawing is a given. But when it comes to casual games, they generally use it in tent mode. They've recently started using Duolingo and putting the laptop in this position makes it easier to share the experience without the need for a separate tablet stand. And current Chromebooks support Android apps from the Google Play store, giving you a wide range of options made for touch displays.