The Dell XPS 12 is a terrific example of exactly how everyone ought to make convertible laptop/tablet devices. There is lots to like — including powerful specs — but niggling issues with price, weight and a few software bugs pull this clever convertible down a little.
Editor’s Note: this is an Aussie review of the Dell XPS 12. For a review from our US counterparts, go here.
What Is It?
The XPS 12 is a nifty little laptop-come-tablet device from Dell. It’s part of the company’s Windows 8 line-up, and with the click of a latch, it, quite-literally, turns into a clever little 12.5-inch tablet. Unlike other devices that offer this convertible functionality like, say, the ASUS Taichi, the Dell XPS 12 only uses one display rather than separate displays on and inside the lid. By mounting the display centrally to a thin, aluminium frame, the XPS 12’s screen is able to do a clever little backflip and become a tablet.
One important thing to note: the display can’t actually be removed to make it a stand-alone tablet, so you’ll always be carrying a laptop dressed like a tablet about.
Underneath the 12.5-inches (1920×1080) of acrobatic insanity is a 1.7GHZ Intel Core i5 (Ivy Bridge Processor), a whopping 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid state drive and integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000. That configuration will set you back $1699, but the model we tested was the Core i7 model which bumps the processing speed up to 1.9GHz and the price tag up to $1999. All the other features remain the same between the two models.
Dell continue to fashion the XPS notebooks out of the same carbon-fibre material, presumably to cut down on weight, smooth out the surface of the device and make it look more like a sports car. It looks great and it fits in with the design ethos of the new convertible notebooks too.
This backflipping screen has to be one of the cleverest things I have seen this year in hardware. Dell reduces the need for a second screen which lightens the load you’re lugging about and reduces the strain on the battery. Speaking of the 47-watt hour battery, you’re likely to get about 5.5 to 6 hours on this battery before you’re completely drained. That was tested under reasonably heavy use with the brightness maxxed out, the Wi-Fi on and streaming video.
The keyboard is a handsomely-spaced affair with enough travel to make it feel like a fully fledged ultrabook rather than just a convertable tablet. The buttons when fully depressed feel almost rubbery in texture and spring back up beautifully as a subtle encouragement to keep you typing. It’s nice to have a physical keyboard to compliment an on-screen keyboard, too.
As far as raw power is concerned, you won’t be left wanting with the XPS 12. Dell knows that there’s not a lot of aftermarket customisation you can do to this device, so it has given you the works to be going on with, including a huge 8GB of RAM and the latest ultra-low voltage Core i5 and Core i7 processors. While the clock speeds of both units comes in at under 2.0GHz, they’re both still capable of turbo-boost mode, which bumps them up to 2.6GHz and 3.0GHz respectively. This isn’t a device that’s about to be superseded any time soon.
To compliment the under-the-hood power, the XPS 12 is stacked with a modest selection of ports, including the two USB ports and the external display port. You don’t get a disc drive here, but it’s probably a good thing considering it’s already tipping the scales at over 1.5 kilograms.
Finally, the backlit keyboard is a must-have for any laptop device worth its salt these days.
While the carbon fibre design enveloping the XPS 12 certainly looks nice, it leaves you a little wary as to how strong the whole thing is. It’s actually quite soft to the touch, and makes you think that it wouldn’t stand up to much if you dropped it or treated it too badly one day.
Also on the strength card is the questionable durability of the acrobatic screen. Sure it’s nice and taut when you pull it out of the box and start flipping, but after a few weeks it will likely start to feel a little loose. Also, the aluminium frame that the screen flips around in feels a tad flimsy.
The multi-touch trackpad, while nice and large, often misbehaves in that it zooms in on pages you merely wanted to scroll down on and the fact that it takes it a second or two to wake up every time you need to scroll about. It’s not a hardware issue, rather the problem lies with the after-market software Dell uses to help you customise the trackpad. There are a lot of great customisation options in the mouse-tweaking suite, but you’re going to have to play around with a few settings first to get it to a point where you like using it.
Integrated graphics mean that this is no high-end gaming rig which is a shame. Having a do-all convertible is something a lot of people could use. For games like Diablo III you’ll struggle to push a frame rate above 28fps with the settings on medium, and the same with Starcraft II. Most action games are barely passable at low settings on the XPS 12.
As I mentioned, the XPS 12 comes in at 1.54 kilos, which compared to other convertibles like the larger, more slender Asus Taichi, is rather weighty. The sleek, dual-display-toting Taichi tips the scales at 1.25 kilos, and it has a larger footprint and a second screen to slow it down. The XPS 12 feels just a bit stumpy, and the build quality leaves a bit to be desired also. You may notice a few creaks in the body here and there as you carry it around. All that weight is distributed poorly across the device, too. It’s not adequately weighted in the base, meaning that opening the XPS 12 with one finger is impossible. You’ll need two hands to get the job done. Do it with one and your risk flipping the screen as you open the laptop which is properly annoying.
Should You Buy It?
If you just want a device that can act as a laptop at work and a couch-surfing tablet in the evening, then the XPS 12 Duo is the device for you. It’s perfectly usable as a productivity laptop for school or work — and it gives you the option of becoming a tablet when you want a more casual, touchscreen-only experience.
There are a few first-generation problems that stem from this experiment in form-factor straddling, and it’s also just a tad pricey for what it is. The XPS 12 is meant to stop you from buying both a good laptop and a good tablet, and instead give it to you in the one device. For $2000, If you do buy it, though, you’re not heading for obselesence any time soon. If you’re keen on this device and don’t want to shell out, maybe wait a few months or strike when there’s a sweet retail sale going on closer to Christmas.
Processor: Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 (1.7GHz) or Core i7 (i.9GHz)
Display: 12.5-inch 1920×1080
Memory: 8GB RAM
Storage: 256GB SSD
Ports: Mini DisplayPort, 2x USB 2.0
Price: $1699-$1999 RRP in Australia