Review: Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Laptop

Category: Reviews

The new XPS 13 2-in-1 is Dell’s latest offering in what is still a relatively small hybrid laptop/tablet market. It’s not that hybrids haven’t been around for years now, quite the opposite in fact, the first hybrids hit the market a decade ago. The problem they’ve had is that most of them (up until recently) have just been complete shite, but Dell have taken the bull by the horns, embracing the convertible to create what I believe is one of the most satisfying laptops I’ve used in the past few years.

The big change, that has spurred somewhat of a resurgence in the hybrid market, is quite simply power. Convertible machines of the past have relied on underpowered CPUs and GPUs so as to not deplete their batteries, adhering to what the market deemed an acceptable battery life for a tablet device. In doing so the majority of them were left in one of two camps, a laptop with a lower battery life and a poor touch screen or an underpowered tablet that just happened to have a keyboard somehow attached but was too gutless to do any real heavy lifting beyond loading a single webpage. Even booting Windows seemed a task almost too difficult for some I remember testing years ago.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 in laptop mode

Thankfully with the general advancements in technology and the innovative push from larger companies such as Microsoft with their own hardware line, hybrids are no longer the ugly step-child and have come into their own. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a testament to this, its base model contains Intel’s Y series i5 CPU configureable up to an i7 with 16GB of RAM & a 512GB SSD, all whilst staying below A$3k. In fact at the time I’m writing, Dell had reduced it even further, down to under A$2.5k.

The now ever-important headphone jack, battery indicator & USB-C with Thunderbolt are on the left side

In addition to its high specs at a very attractive price point the XPS 13 comes standard with two USB-C ports (one of which supports Thunderbolt 3), a 3.5mm headphone jack, microSD card reader, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth, and a Microsoft Hello compatible finger print scanner built into the laptop’s carbon weaved surface, to the right of the trackpad. All this in an enclosure that’s lighter and thinner than Apple’s 13” MacBook Air (at their thinnest point), and we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet!

XPS 13 ports
The power button, SD slot, a USB-C port & locking mechanism along the hybrid’s right hand side

The display on the XPS 13 2-in-1 is nothing short of amazing. Multi-touch enabled and secured beneath edge to edge Gorilla Glass are 5.7 million pixels in a stunning 3200×1800 QHD+ display. At 13 inches that equates to a pixel density of 276 PPI, that’s higher than the brand new 10.5” iPad Pro. It really does look amazing and something that you just can’t do justice in words or even pictures, you just have to see it in person. The screen also has an anti-glare coating, which when added to its 400-nit rating makes it quite usable outdoors too but still doesn’t compare to e-ink’s grasp on that title.


 

The XPS 13 2-in-1 works perfectly as a laptop, which may sound like an idiotic statement but it’s something that a lot of its competitors can’t say. Ignoring other true hybrids such as Lenovo’s Yoga or HP’s x360 Spectre so called “laptop replacements” like Microsoft’s Surface Pro or Apple’s iPad Pro require a keyboard to be attached in order to function in a laptop style. That’s fine if you’re using their material based keyboard covers on a solid surface but should you actually want to use it on your lap you’ll find out very quickly how incapable both are at being a laptop. Third party manufacturers such as Logitech are making more rigid versions for the iPad Pro but they add a significant bulkiness to the product and they instantly lose their slimness and aesthetic beauty.

XPS 13 keyboard
A full size and full depth keyboard is really nice to type on after recent slimed trends for laptops

The keyboard on the Dell is also quite nice to type on too. I don’t think I’ll ever find a laptop keyboard as good as my faithful 11” MacBook Air but this one at least offers a little competition. Backlit and with a full depression of movement to the keys it feels “nice” to type on. A welcome relief after the half taps of my regular workhorse a new “Touch Bar” equipped MacBook Pro. 

Speaking of Touch Bars with the addition of an actual touch screen there is zero need for whatever Apple think they’re doing with their latest gimmick. I’ve found myself quite regularly reaching up from the keyboard to tap on the Dell’s screen to do similar tasks Apple would have you believe belong in their keyboard, adjusting volume, launching an app, etc. In fact I’d say the touch screen, purely when thought of in competition to Apple’s Touch Bar, is a million times better and gives me access to Window’s pinned apps (think macOS’s dock), search and more all whilst providing a full keyboard that doesn’t have me accidently pressing function keys as I brush my fingers across their virtual surfaces.

XPS 13 tablet mode
The XPS 13 2-in-1 in tablet mode (with my doodling)

As a tablet the XPS 13 doesn’t shine as brightly but that’s not entirely Dell’s fault. For a start just holding the machine whilst in tablet mode is kind of awkward. Instead of the normal smooth surface on the back of an iPad you have a keyboard, fully exposed. Of course pressing the keys whilst folded back on itself doesn’t actually do anything but it does feel strange. Then when you set the “tablet” down on a table or counter you’re resting it again on its keyboard, which despite however robustly it’s built can’t do much for its long term wear and tear.

It’s also significantly heavier than a standard tablet at almost double the weight of a 12” iPad Pro. You can feel it too, as soon as you flip it around into tablet mode your brain expects it to be lighter but your arms relay the reality and you hold it more as a large text book than you would an iPad.

XPS & Apple MacBook Air
The XPS 13, just like the MacBook Air slims to a point at one end.

The added weight can sometimes be a good thing, especially when combined with the machine’s steel reinforced hinges. It can quickly and easily be positioned to provide any viewing angle you desire. On a plane? Angle the screen up slightly to not break your neck, using it in the kitchen? Flip it into tent mode and have it stand up all buy itself, touch screen at the ready. It’s positioning as a tablet, without any case or third party tool is incredibly versatile.

But the hybrid’s biggest downfall as a tablet isn’t the machine at all, it’s Windows. Yeah, yeah call me an Apple fan-boy if you like but Windows still has a very hard time cutting it as an “all-in-one” operating system. I think what they’re trying to achieve is quite noble. Regardless of how poorly Windows 8 was it did start them down a path to create a single development platform, something that Apple continue to move further away from – at this point.

Dell have taken the bull by the horns, embracing the convertible to create what I believe is one of the most satisfying laptops I’ve used in the past few years.

Not included but almost an instant added purchase is Dell’s stylus the “Dell Active Pen”. At A$79 it’s not quite as ludicrous as Apple’s $149 “Pencil” but it would’ve been nice to have seen it included with the device as standard. The Pen is powered by one AAAA battery (yes, that’s 4 A’s there) and two 319 Type Coín Cell batteries, neither of which I’d ever seen or heard of before and seem annoyingly difficult to find in a store to replace once dead. Thankfully that doesn’t happen very often, or so I’m told, as they remained almost fully charged for the few weeks I had the review unit.

Using the stylus is quite responsive and whilst the Apple Pencil boasts an ever so slightly faster response rate I didn’t notice any significant lag or issue with the Active Pen. For 90% of us out there wanting to use it to circle things on a document or jot down something on a virtual sticky note it’s more than adequate. Designers and artists may still prefer their more accurate and responsive equipment but for the minor Photoshop airbrushing I did the Pen was fantastic and could easily replace the Wacom stylus I use for similar work now.


In the past Dell’s reputation for battery life has been inconsistent to say the least. Thankfully, for this model at least, things seem to be on the right track. The XPS 13 2-in-1 ran for just over seven hours of consistent, or what I would consider regular use – browsing, streaming, typing on WiFi, etc. It’s not as great as some of Apple’s latest MacBook’s that can (on a stretch) get you ten hours, nor will it compete on the same level as some high end tablet’s but its a solid effort none the less.

XPS charger
The USB-C charger is very small and compact, just like the hybrid itself

As nice as the XPS 13 2-in-1 is, it isn’t without it’s faults either. Getting it open for a start is far harder than it should be. Where most laptop have some sort of lip or recess to allow you to get your thumb in and pry the lid from its base this particular model is completely flush. Constantly I’d find myself having to wedge a finger nail between the plastic and almost twist it open like a 5 cent coin on a battery groove.

It also has the typical Dell trackpad, which after using an Apple trackpad (even one from five plus years ago), makes this thing feel like crap. I have no idea why it’s so hard for PC manufacturers to make a trackpad that’s as responsive and smooth as Apple’s? It’s not terrible by any means and if you have no idea what I’m talking about because you’ve never used a MacBook, you’ll be totally fine with it, but for me it wasn’t the best.

Core i7 but sadly the mobile Y series version

Then there’s the CPU. Using Intel’s Y series (similar to their former “M” series) means that it’s not quite up to snuff with competitor’s like Microsoft’s Surface lineup which use the full flavoured versions of the i5 and i7 range. The Y chips of course are there for a reason, longer battery life, smaller enclosure, it makes perfect sense as to why Dell would use them. As a result it means that more CPU intensive applications cause it to ramp up – forcing it out of its more comatose like state that powers it while you watch Netflix or browse the web. That’s fine, but it can’t perform at the same higher levels as its bigger brother. Most people wont need it, or even notice it for that matter, but it could be a turn off for some.

Fingerprint sensor comes standard across all models

So who is the 2-in-1 for? Road warriors? Couch surfers? Office drones? Code monkies? How about all of the above? Dell’s hybrid truly could be applied to any of those scenarios and then quickly & easily transition to another. All while, and this is the important part, doing so at a reasonable cost.

Where other hybrids sacrifice on componentry or build quality the XPS 13 2-in-1 excels. It’s gorgeous Infinity Screen that I will continue to gush about I feel for quite sometime is a perfect example of this. I would strongly suggest anyone considering a hybrid to take a close look at the Dell and for those considering its non-hybrid XPS 13 cousin, to entertain the added possibilities it might offer.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
8.5

Design

9.0/10

Performance

8.0/10

Features

8.5/10

Battery Life

8.5/10

Pros

  • Gorgeous display
  • Hybrid versatility
  • Robust construction
  • Competitive pricing

Cons

  • Low power CPU
  • Awkward to open

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1 comment

  1. I can’t see why, but there is a rash of prominent longtime Mac owners jumping ship in the “laptop” department. If it was lack of ports, USB-C in general and no ‘real’ USB ports, I might see it, but machines like this with only 2 USB-C ports can’t be the reason for that. Nor the mobile CPU.

    Could it be they just want to touch the screen?

    Even scrolling the screen would help macOS at this point. A Touch macOS is years overdue and probably delayed even further with the emergency Mac Pro, issues with MacBook Pro keyboards and the failure of Touch Bar. (Who would have guessed that??)

    I’m glad Windows people have better computers, if these really are better. Maybe they’re just different and spinning their wheels with not-a-tablet-not-a-notebook devices will distract them from the permanent state of denial they need to maintain about ‘this Windows sucks, but the next one will be good’.

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