Taking IT seriously
Convertibles, hybrids or 2-in-1s are one of the fastest growing products in the PC industry. They all mean the same thing in essence – a device which is trying to be both a laptop and a tablet.
But there are some big differences between a convertible laptop and a convertible tablet:
A convertible laptop comes in various different styles but is likely to have a screen which flips or folds to transform it into a tablet. In general, they are less powerful than comparably-sized laptops, as they use mobile processors that are designed more for cool, quiet operation than they are for speed.
A convertible tablet is more like a regular tablet with a removable keyboard. The keyboard either attaches magnetically or via a case which creates a laptop-like experience. The keyboard may connect over Bluetooth in some cases.
Which one is right for you depends hugely on what you want to do with it. Do you want a laptop on which to do regular work but that can also shapeshift into a tablet for the odd task? Or do you want a tablet which you can also do a bit of typing on when the need arises?
A convertible laptop is likely to be bigger and heavier but is likely to offer longer battery life (there’s more space for a bigger battery). Since it is a laptop first, it will also provide a better typing experience and there’s normally room for things like more physical ports, should connectivity be an issue.
Although a convertible tablet might not have many physical ports, they are smaller and lighter than a convertible laptop, making them great for travelling around. As the device is a tablet first with a keyboard dock/case, using it like a laptop is often fiddly and awkward.
When choosing a brand of tablet or laptop you may also want to bear in mind the operating system that runs it. The operating systems are owned by three companies which all feature in this report – Apple, Google and Microsoft.
- Apple iOS – all Apple products
- Google Android – most non-Apple tablets.
- Google Chrome – Chromebook laptops.
- Microsoft Windows – most laptops and hybrids
You can also use an open source operating system such as Linux. Beginner’s guide to open source.
Score table highlights
None of the companies were rated best for their toxic chemicals policies – most of them got a middle rating. Four companies – Archos, ASUS, Fujitsu and Microsoft – got a worst rating.
Only Archos got our best rating for ‘likely use of tax avoidance strategies’. Everyone else got a worst rating.
None of the hybrid companies were rated in any of our three Animals categories.
Hybrids and conflict minerals
It has long been known that the extraction of minerals has become entangled with human conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Known as conflict minerals or 3TGs, tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold mined in the DRC have been linked to the funding of armed groups, and have helped to fuel a war for over twenty years. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year, the minerals provide a valuable source of income to rebel groups, militias, and criminal gangs. Some of the minerals are smuggled out of the country, along with the industry’s profits, leaving the DRC’s population of 77 million struggling to survive. The minerals go on to be used in electronic products such as laptops, e-readers and mobile phones.
Hybrids are the second worst sector covered in these guides – after e-readers – regarding reporting on conflict minerals. Five of the eleven companies scored worst. Of the six best rated companies, only two were obliged to submit reports to SEC under the Dodd Frank Act – HP and Microsoft.
Conflict minerals ratings:
See our feature on conflict minerals for more information.
Three chemicals are often used in electronics and have been highlighted by Greenpeace as the most hazardous – brominated flame retardants (BFRs), PVC and phthalates.
BFRs and PVC are both organohalogens. Some well-known (and very hazardous) examples of organohalogens include PCBs, DDT, and CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) – all of which are now globally banned by the United Nation’s Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) treaty.
Toxic chemicals policy ratings
Apple leads the way in the electronics industry having phased out PVC and BFR in its products, including its cables, way back in 2008. Apple products are also free from phthalates. So there is no excuse for other companies not to follow suit.
To get our best rating for a toxic chemicals policy, like Apple, a company must have phased out the use of all three chemicals or have set a date by which it will have done so.
Unfortunately, most companies get our worst rating for having no commitment to totally phasing out all three of these chemicals. Companies who get a worst rating for toxic chemicals could also not get a best rating for Environmental Reporting. This affected two companies who would otherwise have got a best rating in the Environmental Reporting category – ASUS and Fujitsu.
Some companies get our middle rating for toxic chemicals because they have some toxic chemical-free products and have committed to phasing the chemicals out, but have not gone that step further to get our best rating by setting a target date for their phase-out.
Best toxics rating – Apple
Middle toxics rating – Acer, Dell, HP, Samsung, Lenovo, Huawei, Toshiba
Worst toxics rating – ASUS, Fujitsu, Microsoft had inadequate policies. Archos provided no information.
Toxic chemical-free models
We checked all the brands and models that are covered in these guides to see whether any of them were PVC-, BFR- and phthalate-free. Those models that were ‘toxic chemical-free’, represented by a [S] next to the brand name on the score tables, received a positive mark in the Product Sustainability column. Models that were PVC- and BFR- free received a half point, whilst models that were free of all three chemicals received a whole point.
PVC and BFR free - Dell XPS 12
Lenova is the only ‘TCO Certified’ brand available in this guide. This is an international sustainability certification for IT products which looks at social responsibility, ergonomic design, compliance for energy consumption, zero or low use of certain hazardous substances.
On the score table we have given TCO Certified models a Product Sustainability plus point, highlighted by a [T] next to the brand name.
Samsung has allegedly had a ‘no union’ policy since it was founded over 75 years ago. In August 2016, Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, stated that “Samsung is a business model that has lost its moral compass”. In January 2016, the United Nations ‘Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association’ went on a mission to the Republic of Korea and met with Samsung.
He brought up that labour groups have alleged “that Samsung repeatedly undermines employee unions through various means including surveillance, threats and undue pressure on members, disguised subcontracting to avoid selected employer responsibilities and dismissal of members, among other tactics”. Samsung denied the claims. The resulting report recommended that Samsung “should commit to upholding the rights to freedom of association for workers and subscribe to the UN Global Compact and operationalise the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights Principles.”
Samsung has also been heavily criticised for failing to support people who have become seriously ill from chemical exposure at work. SumOfUs highlighted that a worker-safety group had documented more than 200 cases of serious illnesses at Samsung’s LCD and semiconductor factories, including leukaemia, lupus, lymphoma, and multiple sclerosis.  workers, mostly in their 20s and 30s, had died. Samsung was said to be withholding information which would help get compensation. Hwang Sang-Gi, father of Hwang Yu-mi, a former Samsung factory worker who died of leukaemia aged 22, said that the company once offered him 1 billion won ($914,000) in exchange for his silence.
The microchips inside phones are made at semiconductor plants that can use from 500 to 1000 different chemicals. Workers have been staging a sit-in at Samsung’s global exhibition space in Seoul since October 2015, calling for the world’s largest technology company to: 1) compensate all the victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 2) make a sincere and full apology.
Want to know more?
If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table.
This information is reserved for subscribers only. Don't miss out, become a subscriber today.
6 Short Circuit report, Gaia Foundation.
This product guide is part of a wider report into the Electronics Industry. See what else is in the report.