Hands-on Preview: Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a beautiful convertible

If you’re a Windows user, last year’s Dell XPS 13 was probably THE machine you really coveted. If what you really wanted was an XPS 13 that converted into a tablet, Dell’s just granted you a late Christmas present in the shape of the Dell XPS 13 2 in 1.

Announced at CES 2017, the new XPS is thinner and lighter than its non-swivelling sibling, at 1.24kg compared to 1.29kg of the normal touchscreen XPS 13 and 13.7mm thick at its widest. Thanks to the use of Kaby Lake Core i7-7Y75 (capable of clocking down to a mere 1.3GHz) it’s also completely finless, which allows Dell to use thinner feet on the bottom of the machine.

Screen and performance

The result is a laptop which feels a little closer to to Apple’s MacBook, but with a larger (and brighter) touch screen and better performance thanks to that i7. And that screen really is lovely, with the same edge-to-edge almost bezel-free design that made the original XPS so popular with just about everyone. You can chose either full HD or 3,200×1,800 resolution, but to me the higher resolution option is definitely going to be worth the extra money.

But you do pay a price for that display, and it’s battery life. Dell claims the full HD version gets around 15 hours, but that lovely QHD+ panel brings that down to just eight hours. That’s a big chunk to sacrifice: basically, it’s the difference between being an all-day machine and a plug-it-in-at lunch laptop.

I wasn’t able to run our benchmarks in the time I spent with the XPS 13 2-in-1 but it certainly felt as snappy as any Windows laptop in normal use. There’s some custom power management happening which can clock the machine up to 3.6GHz when needed, but that’s going to be in bursts. If you’re a power creative user who wants sustained high levels of performance, you aren’t really going to want this machine. 

Thin, light, but with enough ports to satisfy

Where the XPS 13 2-in-1 beats anything Apple’s currently shipping is in the plethora of ports on offer. Of course, you’re not going to get Ethernet or full-sized USB in something this thin, but what you get is impressive. 

There’s two USB Type-C ports, one on either side, which means you can happily plug your machine in either left or right (one of my favourite minor features on the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro). However, the two ports differ in one important way: the left hand USB Type-C is also a Thunderbolt 3 port, whereas the right hand one isn’t. Included in the box is a USB Type-C to regular USB adaptor. 

Added to this there’s a 3.5mm headphone port and – take this, Apple – a MicroSD card slot. It’s not quite the full SD card slow which would make all photographers happy, but it’s at least the right direction. 

Similar design, but with a few little extras

The design is the same combination of carbon fibre and aluminium is deepest black that made the XPS 13 look so good, but there’s a small but significant change. The bezel underneath the screen houses two lenses for a Windows Hello-compatible camera, which means you can log in using only your face. This will require Windows 10 Creators Edition, coming in a few months. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a fingerprint reader so you can log in using your finger instead. 

Why both? At the moment, it sounds like Dell simply doesn’t know which way users are going to go, and whether they’re going to prefer finger or face as their fortune in the future. As usually happens in the world of Windows, rather than choose for you Dell is letting you choose – and that’s got to be a good thing. 

Another area where Dell hasn’t compromised is the keyboard. Although the company tested using super-low travel keys, most typists will be pleased to know they passed on them, and used an extra millimetre or so to deliver a slightly deeper action. This is a hard one for me to judge – I’m happy with a very shallow travel – but I felt the difference, so you will to.

You spin me round, round baby right round…

What makes the 2-in-1 really different from the XPS 13, of course, is the fact that, erm, it’s a 2-in-1. Push that screen back all the way and you can rotate it all the way round, leaving you with a tablet instead of a laptop. 

It’s fair to say that I’m convinced about this kind of form factor, but that’s just me. Take Apple out of the equation, and around 20% of laptops over $US1000 are convertibles like this. In the US, that’s higher, and rising. So clearly the idea of a laptop which converts into a tablet is one that a sizeable chunk of people find attractive.

How does the Dell compare to others of this ilk? The fact that it’s already a thin and light device plays into its favour, a it means that it feels more “tablet like” when you use it that way. It’s not as “tablet” as a device with a detachable keyboard, but it’s pretty good.

Should you buy it?

However, even if you leave aside the tablet capability, this is a thin and light 13in laptop that feels really good on your lap, on a desk, or wherever. If you’re like me, and like having a notebook that’s as portable as possible, you’re going to like the XPS 13 2-in-1 even if you never swivel that screen all the way around. I look forward to giving it a proper workout, but based on what I’ve seen so far I think Dell is on to a winner.

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