The whole concept of having completely separate product categories is slowly being thrown out of the window. It used to be the case that you could clearly differentiate between a phone, a tablet, a notebook, and a desktop, but that's becoming less and less the case these days. And perhaps one of the best new products to demonstrate this blurring of the lines is the Dell XPS 18 all-in-one desktop tablet computer.
Who said that your desktop PC can't also be a tablet?
The Computer Jack of All Trades
Earlier this year, we took a look at the Samsung 700T ATIV Smart PC Pro. Here was a tablet running full blown Windows 8, but it came with a detachable keyboard so that you could get the more traditional notebook PC kind of experience. The Dell XPS 18 takes this to a whole new level.
As its name implies, the Dell XPS 18 comes with an 18.4-inch display. This is hardly within the normal range of what we could consider a tablet these days, but it functions just fine as an extra large Windows 8 tablet. This means that it has a multi-touch display and it comes with all the Windows 8 gestures that you've come to
love accept. That being said, it is also fully functional as an all-in-one desktop PC, as it too comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse that are pre-paired to the main unit.
Since this is a Dell, the XPS 18 can be configured with a bunch of different spec sheets. The model being reviewed fits in the middle of the range, boasting an Intel Core i5-3337U processor (1.8GHz), 8GB of RAM, Intel HD graphics 4000, and a 500GB hard drive supported by a 32GB mSATA SSD for performance boost. Since it is a "tablet," the ports are minimal: two USB 3.0 ports and a headset jack, plus the embedded webcam, stereo speakers, and power port.
Everything You Need to Get Started
Inside the carefully packed box are an array of accessories. The wireless keyboard and mouse are both by Logitech. The slim keyboard gives you close to the same kind of key travel you get with laptop keyboards, while the mouse is kept quite basic with a couple of extra buttons on the sides. The top of the mouse is held in place only by a magnet and it's by removing the top that you access the battery compartment. The required AA and AAA batteries (Duracell) are also included in the box.
Aside from that, you get the desktop stand, the power brick, the power cable, and the usual supporting documentation.
However You Want to Stand
One the most the critical differences between the XPS 18 and other all-in-one PCs like the previously reviewed Dell XPS One 27 is that the XPS 18 can function as a standalone tablet. It doesn't need to be tethered to a wall outlet in order to function, but you shouldn't expect much more than about five hours of battery life on its own.
Because of this multi-functionality, Dell has also provided the XPS 18 with several ways for you to use it. Shown here are the two kickstands that pop out of the back. They don't look like much, but the kickstands were perfectly adequate for standing up this PC. I wouldn't be too rough with the touchscreen controls when you have it like this, but they're otherwise fine.
And as mentioned above, there is also an included desktop stand. This is more than just a holder, like how you might find with any number of stands for smartphones and tablets. There is the multi-pin connector in the middle, similar to what you find in tablet/notebook hybrids. And then there is a port in the stand that can be used with the provided power supply, rather than connecting the power supply directly to the main tablet unit. I found this to be very convenient.
Lining up the main tablet unit to the stand may seem a little tricky, but it's really not. It doesn't "click" or "lock" into place, per se, but there is a light in the middle that illuminates when there is a successful connection between the two. The stand can also tilt backwards, but it doesn't quite get to being fully parallel with the table. That's too bad, because the pre-installed air hockey game is pretty fun.
Daily Use and Abuse
In day-to-day operation, I really enjoyed the Dell XPS 18. It's no powerhouse, to be sure, but it did a great job as the "family" computer in the dining room and kitchen area of my house. Because it is so accessible, so silent, and has such a quick "wake up" time, I left it on standby most days for when we needed a computer in a hurry. It had no trouble running the basic touchscreen games, streaming full 1080p HD video over the network and handling other daily duties.
The multiple ways that you can use this machine really came in handy. When we wanted to do any kind of "serious" web browsing, we'd leave it in the stand. That said, if we wanted to show a video to someone in the living room, we didn't have to call them over; all I did was take the tablet unit out of the stand and walk over to the living room myself, much like how I would with a smartphone or Android tablet. I wouldn't necessarily travel with something like this, but it's great for portability and flexibility within the home.
The chassis feels reasonably solid and the choice of materials gives it the feel of a premium product. I did find that both the front and back attracted a lot of fingerprints, though.
The Dell XPS 18, as tested, is anything but a powerhouse and the benchmark scores confirm this.
The default performance test (720p) with 3DMark 11 yieled a less than admirable score of 639. To be fair, I was given the error message that the graphics driver is not yet supported by Futuremark, so that naturally had an effect on the score.
Similarly, running the Street Fighter IV benchmark at its default settings on full screen yielded an overall rank of D with a score of 8189 and an average frame rate of 38.80fps. When I dialed all the settings down, effectively removing the background and reducing the character models to minimum detail while retaining the 720p resolution at full screen, I was able to get a rank of A with a score of 13432 and an average frame rate of 58.34fps.
The CrystalDiskMark benchmark scores can be seen above. These kinds of speeds won't break any records, but they're perfectly adequate for average everyday use.
MEGATechie Tablet Living Large or MEGATechie Weaksauce Desktop?
If you're expecting an extra large tablet-sized all-in-one PC to replace your gaming rig, you're probably going to be disappointed, especially at this kind of price point. If you're looking for a media consumption machine that is incredibly versatile and defies conventional categorization, the Dell XPS 18 may be an interesting addition to your list of computing possibilities. You may want to invest in a USB hub or similar USB dock solution, though, as this doesn't have much in terms of ports.
Pricing starts at $899.99 for a SKU powered by an Intel Pentium chip and 4GB of RAM, going all the way up to about $1,399 for a unit powered by an Intel Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM. Considering the flexibility that you have here, this is a pretty good value.