- Gorgeous (almost) bezel-free display
- Thin and compact design
- Very comfortable keyboard and trackpad
- DongleBook Pro frustrations
- Awkward home button
- On the pricier end of the scale
The old days of mocking the "Dude, get a Dell" guy have long since passed. The company has taken monumental steps in recent years to move away from boring, utilitarian boxes toward much more inspired designs. One of the latest in this trend is the 2017 edition of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible laptop. It take the stellar XPS 13 and tosses in a flip-all-the-way-around hinge for added versatility.
The More Versatile XPS Machine
The fundamental design of the XPS 13 2-in-1 is very similar to its 1-in-1 cousin, except it boasts a touchscreen display (still with a near bezel-free design) along with a hinge that lets you rotate that screen all the way around, laying flat like a large, heavy tablet. It's slick, compact, and professional-looking.
Like so many other laptops, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 comes in a number of different configurations. The model tested here is spec'd as follows:
- Intel Core i7-7Y75 (7th gen)
- Windows 10 Home 64-bit
- 8GB LPDDR3-1866 RAM
- 256GB PCIe SSD
- Intel HD Graphics 615
- 13.3" FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge touch display
- Backlit keyboard with fingerprint reader
- Windows Hello enabled webcam (720p)
- 1 x Thunderbolt 3 (with PowerShare and DC-in)
- 1 x DisplayPort over USB-C (with PowerShare and DC-in)
- microSD card reader
- Headset jack
- Noble Security lock slot
- Intel 8265 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2
- Primary 4-Cell (46Whr) battery
- Height: 8 - 13.7 mm (0.32-0.54 inch) x Width: 304 mm (11.98 inch) x Depth: 199 mm (7.81 inch)
- Weight: 1.24 kg (2.7 pounds)
You can optionally expand the functionality of this laptop with accessories like the Dell Active Pen ($50 US, $65 Canadian).
Beware the Donglebook Pro
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 definitely suffers from the same "Donglebook Pro" affliction seemingly popularized by Apple. There are no full size USB-A ports to be found at all and while there is a microSD card reader, there is no regular SD card reader. You also won't find a networking jack (which is forgivable) or an HDMI port. Instead, there's one USB-C port on either side, either of which can be used for charging. One doubles as a Thunderbolt 3 port, whereas the other doubles as a Displayport. Still, the dongles await you.
The good news is that every laptop will ship with one USB-C to USB-A adapter, so you'll at least be able to connect one of your "legacy" USB devices this way. When I was on the road, this meant packing the Kingston MobileLite G3 card reader to get pictures off my digital camera. But that's the price you pay for something that's so thin and so compact.
Tangentially related to this, I found the squishy little power button on the right side to be a little finicky. It's too squishy, not giving a confident sense of tactile feedback. I'd almost feel better if the power button were located on the inside, perhaps in the top corner of the keyboard, instead. There is also a tiny round button on the other side, which suffers from the same squishy feel, which you can use to check battery levels without having to turn the unit on.
Traveling with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
I'm still the kind of person who uses a desktop PC as my primary rig, so to put the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 through what paces it might face in my life, I took it on a trip to Mexico. One of the big reasons why I switched to an Ultrabook years ago was because they're just so much easier to carry around, especially through airport security. The Dell is much the same.
It's understandably not as light as a smaller tablet, but it falls into the same kind of range as a Macbook Air. The metal construction and touchscreen probably add some to the weight too. What's great is because of the InfinityEdge display, though, the 13.3-inch laptop has outward dimensions closer to that of a 12-inch laptop. This means that, in a very practical sense, it fits perfectly in your standard airplane tray table. That's me watching Louie through the in-flight entertainment system.
Since this was not a business trip, I didn't find myself carrying the Dell around with me as I drank cerveza and ate tacos. Its primary home was in the hotel room where it very comfortably fit into the in-room safe. That's another huge plus of the smaller size.
In practice, I didn't find that I used the other "modes" as often as I thought I might. Even when watching Netflix or YouTube, I preferred sticking to the usual "laptop" configuration. Other people might like the tent or having it sit on the front of the keyboard such that the screen is closer to you, but I guess that's just not me.
For casual browsing, a little Candy Crush (don't judge me), and online video streaming, the XPS 13 2-in-1 held up like a champ and was a terrific travel companion. The lack of a regular SD card slot did get annoying, though. Battery life, even though I was never far away from a power outlet, easily topped over 7 or 8 hours of regular use. Dell claims more. Your mileage may vary.
Keyboard, Trackpad and Windows Hello
I'm not much of a PC gamer by any stretch, but I have grown very accustomed to typing on a mechanical keyboard. I prefer the added key travel and the satisfying "click" of each key press. Typing on a laptop is generally not an ideal experience for me. That being said, I really liked the keyboard on this machine.
The keyboard isn't mechanical, of course, but the keys are both well-sized and well-spaced with enough satisfying feedback for me to type confidently. I like the wider shift keys on either side and the little indicator light for the caps lock is a nice touch too. The soft touch, carbon fiber-look finish to the palm rests makes for a comfortable experience too, though that starts to accumulate with greasy marks quite quickly.
The function keys, by default, perform the multimedia functions like changing the volume. If you actually want to hit F5 to refresh or F11 for full screen, you have to hold the Fn key. The glass trackpad is quite large (not quite Macbook large, but still quite big) and I could confidently do all the multi-finger gestures with ease. The smooth surface is perfect for finger gliding. No complaints there.
While the XPS 13 2-in-1 ships with a Windows Hello-compatible webcam, that method of unlocking your laptop does not work out of the box. You have to wait for a forthcoming update to enable that feature. The integrated fingerprint sensor does work, but it's not particularly fast. I do like that the design is not at all gaudy, looking almost like you left a plain black sticker there.
3DMark and PCMark Benchmarks
In day-to-day casual use, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a perfectly adequate performer. When you start to push its capabilities a little further, though, you start to reveal some serious cracks in performance. Part of this has to do with the 7th-generation Core i7 processor, which is actually a dual core unit. Dell says that it has completed some optimizations to balance performance and battery life, but for users who demand more, this unit may come up short.
The Home Accelerated 3.0 benchmark by PCMark 8 reveals a score of 3181, placing barely above the average notebook and well below a proper gaming PC. Considering that this is positioned as a premium device, mediocrity just isn't good enough.
The Work Accelerated 2.0 benchmark is better with a score of 4470, making it better than 73% of all results. A key difference here is more of a shift toward video chat and writing and less toward casual gaming.
Running the Creative Accelerated 3.0 benchmark in PCMark 8, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 doesn't fare especially well with a score of 3981, better than 41% of results. Again, part of this likely has to do with the CPU, but we can likely attribute the lower scores to the Intel integrated graphics as well. This is not the laptop for video editing.
Aside from playing some Candy Crush (again, please don't judge me), you probably don't want to play any "real" games on this laptop. I tried several of the 3DMark benchmarks and the XPS 13 2-in-1 came up short in all of them. A score of 277 in Time Spy 1.0 places it better than just 1% of results.
In Sky Diver 1.0 (score of 2840) and Cloud Gate 1.1 (score of 4854), the XPS 13 2-in-1 doesn't fare much better, performing only better than 6% and 18% of all results, respectively.
MEGATechie Flipping Versatile or MEGATechie Laptop Loser?
All things considered, I really like this laptop. The display, although "only" full HD and not QHD or 4K, is brilliant with sharp colors and robust saturation. The nearly bezel-free design is beautiful, the keyboard and trackpad are a joy to use, and the slim metal construction makes this an unmistakably premium product. If only it had the performance to match.
For my part, the 360-degree hinge and touchscreen display are of questionable value, though some creative professionals may think differently. If that's the case, though, they probably want more performance than what this machine can offer. The lack of ports can also prove challenging until USB-C becomes the de facto standard for everything.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 ranges considerably in price, starting as low as $999 US and scaling as high as $1,500 US or more, depending on the specs and features that you choose. The SKU as reviewed here, which is near the top of the pack, retails for about $1,999 Canadian, but you can find deals now and then. That places it squarely in the same neighborhood as competing devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and the Apple Macbook Air. For my money, I'd rather get the regular XPS 13.