Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
Dell is no stranger to peaks and troughs when it comes to being in fashion. Luckily, it’s a brand that’s in the ascension once more, helped by a subtle rebranding and excellent products to match. This rise has been greatly helped by the excellent XPS 13, one of the best Windows laptops in the world. The firm’s latest update to the range, the XPS 13 2-in-1, is a convertible touchscreen version. With tablet functionality and the option to use the Active Pen, it continues to help Dell blur the lines of its target market.
Dell offers four configurations of the XPS 13 2-in-1, maxing out at £1,669 for 512GB SSD with a Core i7 and 8GB RAM.
This is one of those products that begs to be touched and used. The design is stunningly thin, yet the right side of substantial, with a metallic frame and plastic detailing in all the right places.
The 13.3in InfinityEdge display has incredibly thin bezels. Indeed, Dell claims the unit is actually the size of an 11in laptop when closed. This is a bit of a stretch, but it’s certainly one of the most compact 13in models out there measuring 304x199x13.7mm. During our time with the XPS, we were able to perch it upon our knee on our commute.
The chassis also houses a microSD slot, two USB-C ports, a lock slot and a headphone jack. The whole thing, when closed, has an elegant taper to it, with a professional blend of silver and black colours. The presence of the soft finish of the body when opened also helps to add to the premium look and feel of the laptop. Unlike the 13in MacBook Pro, the Dell keeps traditional scissor mechanism buttons on its full-size keyboard. There are, however, two hinges that let you spin the screen around and use the unit as a tablet. As the dimensions of the screen are laptop-size, you probably won’t find yourself using it in portrait mode, but in landscape mode you can take advantage of the touchscreen and Active Pen (sold separately for around £80).
You may not use it as a full-on tablet, but the fact the option is there, along with pen input, is all the more attractive when Dell has achieved it without compromising the usability of the device as a traditional laptop.
Like the firm’s other XPS models, the build quality is great. The screen doesn’t bend easily under pressure, there’s almost no flex to the keyboard and even when you pick the laptop up by one edge, it doesn’t feel like you’re mistreating it.
If you’re going to spend as much time using a laptop on the road as in the office or at home, the XPS 13 2-in-1 is a perfect fit.
Dell’s laptops are extremely flexible when it comes to specifications and customisation. The entry-level model ships with a seventh-generation Kaby Lake Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM and 128GB solid-state storage. It’s good to see the firm opt for Intel’s latest chips, though these are the low-voltage versions.
Also on-board is an Intel HD graphics card, a widescreen HD
(720p) webcam with dual mics, 802.11ac 2x2 Wi-Fi connectivity and powerful stereo speakers. There are two cameras that sit oddly at the base of the screen (due to the InfinityEdge display) that are Windows Hello-ready (the tech that allows for retinal security identification). Bar the still debatably annoying lack of a USB-A port or full-size SD slot, this laptop won’t disappoint with the functionality on show compared with other barer ultrabooks on the market.
There are two screen options when you buy an XPS 13 2-in-1: a 1080p display or a more pixel-dense QHD+ one with 3200x1800 pixels. This is the ‘step below’ 4K, and there’s an argument to be made that 4K in a 13in laptop is overkill anyway.
Dell sent us the 1080p version and, consistent with it being the cheaper option, its performance is very good if not quite worldbeating. To the naked eye colours look well-saturated and fairly deep, but our colorimeter tells us it actually only covers 85.6 percent or sRGB, 61.6 percent of Adobe RGB and 64.2 percent or DCI P3.
Graphics professionals who need wide colour gamut coverage should check out the QHD+ version or something like the 4K Razer Blade Stealth, which has incredibly rich display colours. We don’t think anyone else needs to worry, though, particularly as the good 1100:1 contrast keeps the screen looking punchy.
The backlight maxes-out at 305cd/m2, which again isn’t a class-leading statistic, but was enough to let us use the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 out in the park to write some of this review. It does use some potentially annoying auto brightness management you can’t switch it off, but that’s probably more an annoyance to laptop testers than real people.
Perhaps the most serious reason to consider not buying the XPS 13 2-in-1 outside of its price is the kind of processor it uses. All versions have Core i-series processors, but they are Intel’s Y-series ones.
These are the most power-frugal of Intel’s premium laptop chips, with less raw power on tap than the corresponding U-series Core i5 or i7. U-series chips are what you’ll find in the majority of thin laptops, as only ultra-ultra skinny ones tend to use the kind seen here. You may have bumped into them before when they were called ‘Core M’, in previous generations.
The good news is that for everyday use and general productivity tasks, one of these
Y-series chips won’t feel obviously slower than a quad-core desktopgrade CPU. They’re fast, Windows feels responsive and they even perform well in most benchmarks.
Our review model has a Core i7-7y75, and it scored 6906 in Geekbench 4 and 2558 in PCMark 8. This is the sort of score you might get out of a ‘normal’ Core i5 laptop CPU, but efficiency and small size are the real aims of this kind of processor.
For our sort of day-to-day usage, which at its most taxing involves Photoshop editing of large images and a bit of light video editing, it’s absolutely fine. If, however, you’re regularly going to be maxing-out the CPU, you might want to find something with a bit more power.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is also poor for gaming, as the Core i7-7y75 has a much worse graphics chipset than the Core U-series ones seen in the normal XPS 13. Where we can normally make our standard test games, Thief and Alien: Isolation just about playable at 720p with graphics settings chopped down, we struggled here.
At minimum settings, 720p, Thief runs at 15.6fps, dropping to a painful 4.9fps when we switched up to 1080p, high settings: how you’d want to play the game ideally. Alien: Isolation runs at 20.8fps at 720p, and 9.3fps with the
resolution at 1080p and the graphical quality increased. None of these results are playable unless you have very low standards.
If you care about laptop gaming, you probably shouldn’t buy the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. However, we could have told you that from a quick look at the specifications.
One benefit of the high-efficiency brain is that it doesn’t need fans, so is silent 24/7. After a few hours of testing, the rear of the underside had become a bit warm, but not worryingly so. There appear to be no issues with heat management here.
The main benefit of the CPU style is battery life. While this model has a much smaller battery than the normal Dell XPS 13, with 46Wh to the non-hybrid’s 60Wh, stamina is still very good. Playing a video on loop, it lasts 10 hours 13 minutes, at 120cd/m2 brightness – enough for all-day use. It runs longer with light use still, but it comfortably outlasts the HP Spectre 13 and Asus ZenBook 3.
It ships with Windows 10 Home, which works well in tablet mode but is exceptional in laptop mode. Windows has refined it in the latest Creators Update. We found it to be an easy match for the MacBook/ macOS Sierra combination as well as any other PC out there running Windows 10.
With Windows Ink, you can use the Active Pen to take notes, annotate documents and explore the newer creative features of Windows 10. We must admit that if you are keen to fully embrace digital note taking or illustration this isn’t the machine for you (try the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 or the Lenovo Miix 720), but the ability to be able to use those functions while still investing in a fully-fledged laptop will make the XPS a tempting choice for some.
The XPS 13 was already excellent, and it’s a smart move from Dell to release this hybrid edition without compromising the design and functionality of the original vision. The XPS 13 2-in-1 is an ultrabook that will fit in to any home or work environment. The thin bezels, excellent keyboard and thoughtful design are marred only by a high price. The hybrid form is wellexecuted too, although it’s worth considering about whether you’ll appreciate a folding touchscreen when it comes at a premium. Then again, this is the future.
Henry Burrell and Andrew Williams