Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: A great convertible, but do you really need one?

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a great laptop, but do you really need the convertible features?

4
Price when reviewed 
1,449
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The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is the answer to a question which, I’d argue, not that many people are asking – but that doesn’t make it a bad laptop. In fact, it has many great qualities, from the excellent design to decent performance and the kind of overall build quality that has made the XPS series popular among discerning Windows laptop buyers of late. Yes, it’s that most interesting of beasts the 2-in-1 convertible, with all the benefits and difficulties that entails. For those that are after those benefits you can now get one from Amazon UK for under £1,100 (or the 2017 13.3 as a chepaer option on Amazon US at $549).

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: Design

The good news comes with the design, which matches the most recent Dell XPS 13 for looks and arguably steps beyond it regarding quality. The exterior is clad in stiff, sturdy-feeling silver aluminium, and it’s finished with soft-touch carbon-fibre-effect plastic inside. However, this model is thinner and a little lighter. It sits somewhere between a MacBook and MacBook Pro in terms of size, and it looks and feels like a premium laptop, which it ought to given the price.

Just a few millimetres surround the display at the top and sides, which is nice, but there’s a substantial bezel at the bottom. That’s where the camera lives, which is not so good. It means every time you do a Skype video call, the people you’re talking to will spend much of their time looking at your double chins and pondering whether you ought to have your nose hairs trimmed. The only good thing to say about the position of the camera is that at least it’s not off-centre.

The screen, though, is great. It’s bright, nice to look at for extended periods and, at 1,920 x 1,080, is as sharp as you need at this size. There’s an optional Quad HD+ version (3,200 x 1,800) available, but to be honest, I don’t think you’ll need it. Certainly, if you do opt for higher resolution, the likelihood is you’ll suffer considerably shorter battery life.

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The XPS 13 2-in-1’s party trick is that the screen rotates so that you can use it in either “tent mode” with it propped up like an A-frame, or rotate it all the way round and use it as a somewhat bulky tablet. I don’t see much point in this. Tent mode is useful if you’re watching video on a flight in cattle class with someone pushing his seat all the way back in front of you. Other than that, it doesn’t add much.

The experience as a tablet isn’t anywhere near as good as a real tablet, either. You can read something in portrait mode, but it’s not well balanced. In landscape mode, it feels better in the hands, but it’s heavy.

That said, given the proliferation of these kinds of 2-in-1 convertibles, there are obviously people out there who like it as a form factor. And if you do and I can’t persuade you to buy a tablet and a laptop instead, then the XPS 13 won’t disappoint you. The hinge, in particular, is fantastic. It’s perfectly balanced between stiffness and ease of movement, giving a solid and reliable feel.

Like its older sibling, the XPS 13 2-in-1 has another party trick: the screen automatically adjusts its brightness settings according to what’s displayed onscreen, something that has plagued the XPS 13 since the “Infinity Edge” screen was introduced to the range. Personally, this doesn’t bother me, but you can’t turn it off (it’s separate to auto-brightness, which adjusts brightness according to ambient light), which means the display is entirely unsuitable for professional image editing.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: Touchscreen, touchpad and keyboard

The display is touch-capable, of course, something I’m normally sceptical of on laptops. Anything that takes my hands away from the keyboard is a Bad Thing. What’s more, touchscreens on laptops are often used as a way of diverting attention from substandard trackpads.

Not in this case. Not only is the trackpad on the XPS 13 2-in-1 perfectly acceptable, but I also find that the shallowness of the overall unit means a touchscreen makes more sense here. After using the Dell for a while, I went back to using my MacBook Pro and spent a good 30 seconds trying to jab objects on the screen. That’s never happened before: that the Dell managed to reconfigure my brain so fast is a credit to its design. The screen is also stylus-compatible, so fans of Windows Ink will be happy.

One area that I think will please everyone is the keyboard. The keys are a good size, with no side-to-side wobble, and the depth of travel is good. They’re clicky without being too noisy, and everything feels just right. I could imagine writing a lot on this laptop without too much trouble.

Making a thin and light design always involves some sacrifices, however, and in the case of the XPS 13 2-in-1, the one you’ll notice first involves the ports. There’s a USB Type-C port on either side (one of which supports Thunderbolt 3), along with a microSD slot and headphone jack – and that’s it. Dell does include a USB Type-C to Type-A adapter in the box, but you’d better get used to carrying it and a plethora of other dongles with you until the rest of the world catches up and everything moves to Type-C.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: Performance

Inside the model we tested you’ll find an Intel Core i7-7Y75. This is one of Intel’s newer “Kaby Lake” designs and trades some performance for lower power consumption and better thermal management. That means the XPS 13 2-in-1 can manage without a fan.

It’s complemented by 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM running at 1,866MHz, a 256GB PCIe SSD and Intel HD Graphics 615. That last point will disappoint some, but this just isn’t a machine you should even be looking at if you want a graphics powerhouse for either games or professional use. Our overall benchmark score of 31 puts it towards the lower-end of machines in this price range.

The tradeoff is battery life that’s more than decent. It lasted 7hrs 54mins in our video-playback test with the screen calibrated to a fairly bright 170cd/m2, which means it should provide a full day’s worth of work with room to spare.

In fact, the only way you get better battery life in this power bracket is to move down in power to a Core m-based laptop such as the Lenovo Yoga 900S, an even lower-powered Intel Atom, or some kind of MacBook. It is worth noting, however, that the Dell XPS 13 offers battery life that’s nearly as good as this, and that laptop is more powerful to boot.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: Verdict

The longer I spent with the XPS 13 2-in-1, the more I warmed to it, but the less I could ever see myself using it as a 2-in-1. To me, it’s simply a nice 13in laptop: well designed, with a good combination of power and performance and some great features.

But that begs the question of why I, or anyone, would choose to spend the extra £200 to buy this over the regular Dell XPS 13. Yes, it’s a little thinner, but it’s not much lighter, and you sacrifice the regular ports that make it so much easier to attach those peripherals you still have cluttering up your home.

And that additional £200 pushes the XPS 13 2-in-1 from “expensive but worth it” territory into teeth-suckingly pricey. No two ways about it, £1,449 is a lot of money to spend on a laptop. Yes, this is the price “the market” is currently settling at for premium devices, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. In short, unless you’re so wedded to the convertible concept that you won’t consider anything else, I’d advise choosing the Dell XPS 13 instead. It’s faster, lasts almost as long and is very nearly as thin and light.

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