Help Me, Laptop! I Need an Affordable 2-in-1 with Pen Support

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These days, laptops can do just about anything, including transforming into a tablet and working with a stylus. But can they do it at an affordable price? That's what forum member n3xw4rr10r wants to know.

2 in 1 with pen support with logoThey're in the market for a laptop or 2-in-1 system with solid pen support. And before you ask, yes, they already know about the new Surface Pro, but a starting price of $799 is a bit too high for their liking.

Luckily, there are a few systems on the market that meet n3xw4rr10r's criteria. We've got the Acer Switch Alpha 12 ($544.99), the Lenovo Miix 510 ($669, or $696 with pen) and the Surface Pro 4 ($623.96, plus $129 for the keyboard). Each detachable has its own strengths and weaknesses, so I'm going to touch on a few key categories before I make my recommendation.

Design

Of our three choices, the 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.3-inch Surface Pro (pictured below) is by far the lightest at 1.7 pounds (1.8 pounds with the Type Cover). The 11.8 x 8.1 x 0.6-inch Miix weighs in at 2.7 pounds with its cover attached, while the Alpha 12 (11.5 x 7.9 x 0.6 inches) is the heaviest at 2.8 pounds. On both the Miix and the Surface Pro, the bottom half of the rear panel flips outward to create a kickstand, while the Alpha 12 makes use of a rear-mounted bar to keep the device upright.

microsoft surface pro 4 nw g05Regarding ports, the Alpha 12 and the Miix are future-forward, featuring a USB Type-C port in addition to a full USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack. However, the Alpha also offers a microSD card slot in case you want to expand the memory. The Surface Pro has a USB 3.0 port, a microSD slot and a mini DisplayPort, which will let you hook it up to an external monitor with the right adapter.

Display

The Miix was the clear favorite in the display category, at least when it came to color.

miix 510 leadThe tablet's 1920 x 1200 panel delivered vibrant color with sharp details. The screen can reproduce an excellent 114 percent of the sRGB spectrum, compared with 101 percent from the Alpha 12 and 100 percent from the Surface Pro. It also topped the 99 percent ultraportable average.

When we measured for brightness, the Alpha 12 averaged 432 nits, topping the 304-nit average and besting the Surface Pro (382 nits) and the Miix (307 nits).

Pen

The Surface Pro is the only 2-in-1 that comes with a pen. However, with 1,024 levels of pressure, it's not the most sensitive stylus available. That would be the $40 Lenovo Active Pen, which boasts 2,048 levels. Acer's $50 Active Stylus  has only 256 levels of pressure, which means the pen will still have the ability to adjust the thickness or slimness of a line based on how heavily or lightly you press against the screen, but it won't be as accurate.

miix 510 cover and penAlthough it's less sensitive than the Mixx, the Surface Pro's stylus is the only pen that has an eraser, which makes it easier to fix mistakes. Also, pressing the eraser will launch the OneNote app, so you won't have to go hunting around for it. Acer takes things a bit further with its Hover Access software, which lets you customize the various buttons on the pen to quick-launch apps such as Windows Journal, OneNote and the Snipping Tool

Performance

Despite being a little older, the Surface Pro's 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-6300U processor with 8GB of RAM managed to stave off the competition. The tablet hit 6,811 on Geekbench 3, our synthetic performance test. The Alpha 12 and the Miix's 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U CPUs delivered 6,398 and 6,313, respectively.

microsoft surface pro 4 nw g03The Surface Pro's 256GB SSD also proved to be the fastest with a speed of 318.1 megabytes per second on our File Transfer Test (duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files). It absolutely dusted the the Miix (181.8MBps) and the Alpha 12 (152.4MBps), which also have 256GB SSDs.

Although all three systems feature integrated Intel HD 520 GPUs, the Switch had the best performance on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark with 64,550. The Miix wasn't too far off with 62,498, while the Surface Pro notched 60,424.

Battery Life

When it comes to battery life, there's no beating the Surface Pro. It lasted 6 hours and 5 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). The Miix tapped out at 5:25, whereas the Alpha 12 clocked in at 4:49.

Bottom Line

If I had to recommend a 2-in-1, it's going to be the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

microsoft surface pro 4 nw g06Despite being a little long in the tooth, the $623.96 system offers the best performance and battery life. It also bundles the pen with the detachable instead of tacking on an extra $40 or $50. However, the pen isn't as sensitive as Lenovo's Active Pen, and the Surface Pro's display is nowhere near as pretty as the Miix 510. You'll also have to spend another $129 to get the Type Cover keyboard, which makes it almost as expensive as the new version set to debut.

At $544, the Acer Switch Alpha 12 is the least expensive of the bunch, but it pales in comparison to the Surface Pro. If you can get over the lack of a USB Type-C port and a not-as-vivid panel, the older Surface Pro is the way to go.

 

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5 comments
  • Ken Kobayashi Says:

    Surface Pro 4 is " 1.7 pounds (1.8 pounds with the Type Cover)"?? I'm pretty sure the Type Cover weighs more than 0.1 lb. Also, the article lists the prices for the cheapest configuration (which for the SP4 is a core M processor) while quoting the performance specs for more expensive configurations. Complete failure as a comparison article.

  • lee sze yong Says:

    Surface 3 or Asus T102HA, cheaper (and lower spec) than the recommendations here

  • jerry Says:

    Anyone recall the IBM 360P? circa 1993 it was a convertible pen laptop - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qP8FpKAiME

  • djtimyd Says:

    What happened to affordable? Looks like this is just a standard list of the mid to high range 2 in ones. Even if you discount all the Chinese tablets, what about the Acer Switch specifically mentioned in the forum? How about the Asus Transformer Mini T102ha? Comes with a pen and keyboard for less than $300? Yes, the surface is more powerful, but it's also more money. When I was shopping for an affordable tablet, I knew it wouldn't be a powerhouse. Short of the OP asking for specific on performance (all he said was pen support, laptop or 2 in 1, and less than $700), the list should have included all the budget machines, with both the one I listed AND the forum suggestion both being available from the Microsoft store. And if you wanted to include the Chinese tablets, your list increases ten fold.

    YMMV

  • Zdravko Says:

    If you will already spend around $750 for all the pieces for surface pro you also might consider the Lenovo Yoga 720. The sales they run often bring it into the $750 range and the pen can be had for $25ish on Amazon. It's a great convertible with all the bells and whistles.

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