One of the more interesting problems facing the PC industry is that most of the PCs made in the last five years are still usable. Computer users have many other ways to get online, so personal PCs are used less on a daily basis than they were a decade ago.
As a result, convincing consumers to upgrade their PCs is a difficult proposition for PC makers, as business users and consumers hold on to their devices longer than ever.
The downside of holding on to older machines, of course, is slower processors and hard drives, as well as lower-resolution screens. People also miss out on newer trends, like 2-in-1s.
Vendors truly felt these convertibles would take off, but they have yet to really set the PC world on fire. Part of this is due to price; 2-in-1s are positioned at the high end of the laptop market. But many people just don't see a need for them, so this category makes up less than 15 percent of laptops sold today.
Even all-in-one PCs with touch and higher-resolution screens have seen slower demand as many people hang on to older models.
This was the situation recently when my college-aged niece asked me to help her choose a new laptop. She is by no means a techie and mainly uses her laptop for school, social media, and watching videos.
Her price range was very much in line with budget laptops on the market. Since I mostly test higher-end PCs, I did not have a lot of familiarity with cheap laptops, and decided that the first step in helping her was to go with her to a Best Buy and show her the options.
Her older machine was a 15-inch model that was more than five years old and weighed over 5 pounds. Her first reaction when I showed her the new models was how light and thin most of them were. She also was amazed with the brighter and clearer screens. But her only reference point had been a non-touch clamshell. Now she was faced with more options than she expected.
So I showed her ultra-slim clamshells, touch-based clamshells, Lenovo's Yoga and various 2-in-1s. Her head was spinning, so I explained what I considered to be the most important things to look for in a new PC.
First, processor speed does matter. This is especially true when it comes to handling video and graphics. In her case, to meet her price range I suggested an Intel Core i5 series processor and not a lower-end chip such as a Core i3 or less. Second, I explained that she should buy the most RAM she could afford; in this case she went with 8GB. And I suggested she buy the most storage she could afford, so she chose a 500GB hard drive. All flash-based storage versions added between $200 to $400 to the cost of a basic hard drive system. I also said to get the highest-resolution screen she could afford.
(For more, see Core i5 vs. Core i7 and Core i5 vs. Core i3.)
When she went into the store, she did not even know about 2-in-1s or touch screens. I explained that the other big consideration was the idea of getting a future-proof machine that would meet her needs for the next five years or so. In this case, I pushed for a Yoga-style convertible with a touch screen.
At first she could not imagine why she needed a touch screen for Windows, even though Windows 10 is touch-enabled. As far as she was concerned, the mouse and keyboard for text and navigation worked just fine. But I explained that over the next five years, many new apps and services will be touch-enabled, so having a 2-in-1 or convertible gives her more flexibility in the way she may use a laptop.
SSD vs. HDD: What's the Difference?
So she went with a 13-inch Yoga-like touch model, and she loves it. She even uses it in tent mode for watching videos and sometimes as a tablet.
When someone starts thinking of back-to-school PCs and laptops, or new business PCs or laptops, this idea of buying one that more or less future proofs a device for another four to five years needs to be a part of the decision process. And after seeing how delighted my niece is with a 2-in-1, I see this form factor as another way to make sure a person is ready for the next generation of apps and services that will take better advantage of touch and tablet modes, making their laptop a better long-term purchase.
Check out PCMag's roundup of the Best Laptops, Desktops, and Tablets.