Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: Hands on with a beautiful convertible
If you’re a Windows user, last year’s Dell XPS 13 was probably THE machine you coveted. If what you really wanted was an XPS 13 that converted into a tablet, Dell’s just granted you a late Christmas present in the shape of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.
Announced at CES 2017, the new XPS is thinner and lighter than its non-swivelling sibling, at 1.24kg compared to 1.29kg of the normal touchscreen XPS 13, and 13.7mm thick at its fattest point. Thanks to the use of an Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7Y75 CPU, which runs at a base frequency of 1.3GHz, it’s also completely fanless, and this has the benefit of allowing Dell to use thinner feet on the bottom of the machine.
Screen and performance
The result is a laptop that feels a little closer to Apple’s MacBook, but has a larger (and brighter) touchscreen and better all-round performance thanks to that latest generation processor. And that screen is lovely, with the same edge-to-edge almost-bezel-free design that made the original XPS so popular with just about everyone. You can choose either Full HD or 3,200 x 1,800-resolution panels, but there’s a big price for the extra pixels – battery life. Dell claims the Full HD version gets around 15 hours, but that lovely QHD+ panel brings it down to a mere eight hours. That’s a big chunk to sacrifice: basically, it’s the difference between being an all-day machine and a plug-it-in-at-lunch laptop.
I wasn’t able to run our benchmarks in the time I spent with the XPS 13 2-in-1, but it certainly felt as snappy as any Windows laptop in normal use. At full tilt, Dell’s new XPS go all the way up to 3.6GHz when needed, but that will be in bursts. If you’re a power creative user who wants sustained high levels of performance, you aren’t really going to want this machine.
Thin, light, but with enough ports to satisfy
Where the XPS 13 2-in-1 beats anything Apple is currently shipping is in the plethora of ports on offer. Of course, you’re not going to get Ethernet or full-sized USB in something this thin, but what do you get is impressive.
There’s a pair of USB Type-C ports, one on either side, which means you can happily plug your machine in on the left- or right-hand side (one of my favourite touches on the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro). However, the two ports differ in one important way: the left-hand USB Type-C port is also a Thunderbolt 3 port, whereas the right-hand one isn’t. Included in the box is a USB Type-C to regular USB adapter.
Added to this, there’s a 3.5mm headphone port and – take this, Apple – a microSD slot. It’s not quite the full SD card slot that would make all photographers happy, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
Similar design, but with a few little extras
The design is the same combination of carbon fibre and aluminium that looks so good on the regular Dell XPS 13, but there’s a small change. The bezel beneath the screen houses two lenses for a Windows Hello-compatible camera, which means you can log in using only your face. This will require Windows 10 Creators Edition, coming in a few months. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a fingerprint reader so you can log in using your finger instead.
Why both? At the moment, it sounds like Dell simply doesn’t know which way users are going to go, and whether they’re going to prefer finger or face as their fortune in the future. As usually happens in the world of Windows, rather than choose for you, Dell is allowing you to pick – and that’s got to be a good thing.
Another area where Dell hasn’t compromised is the keyboard. Although the company tested super-low travel keys (as with the MacBook and MacBook Pro), most typists will be pleased to know they passed on them, and used an extra millimetre or so to deliver a slightly deeper action. This is a hard one for me to judge – I’m happy with a very shallow travel – but I felt the difference, so you will too.
You spin me round, round baby right round…
What makes the 2-in-1 different from the XPS 13, of course, is the fact that, erm, it’s a 2-in-1. Push that screen back all the way and you can rotate it all the way round, leaving you with a tablet instead of a laptop.
It’s fair to say I’m convinced about this kind of form factor, but that’s just me. Take Apple out of the equation, and around 20% of laptops over $1,000 (around £800) are convertibles like this. In the US, that’s higher, and rising. So clearly the idea of a laptop that converts into a tablet is one that a sizeable chunk of people finds attractive.
How does the Dell compare to others of this ilk? The fact that it’s already thin and light plays in its favour; it means it feels more “tablet like” when you use it that way. It’s not as close to a pure tablet as a device with a detachable keyboard, but it’s pretty good.
Should you buy it?
Even if you leave aside the tablet capability, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a thin and light 13in laptop that feels really good on your lap, on a desk, or wherever. If you’re like me, and like having a notebook that’s as portable as possible, you’re going to love the XPS 13 2-in-1 even if you never swivel that screen all the way around. I look forward to giving it a proper workout, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I think Dell is on to a winner.