Dell's popular laptop is now available as a hybrid, but as our review reveals, there are compromises.
Looking for a hybrid version of Dell’s much-loved XPS 13 laptop? The XPS 13 2-in-1 could be what you’re after, but you should aware that there are more differences between the two models than a flip-over screen.
The 2-in-1 is also slimmer than the XPS 13 laptop – 13.7mm at its thickest point, compared to 15mm. But to get that size reduction, Dell has used lower-powered Intel Y-series processors rather than regular Core i chips.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it's one of the differences between the two models. Let’s take a closer look at how they compare, starting with the design.
The good news comes with the design, which matches the most recent Dell XPS 13 for looks and arguably steps beyond it regarding quality. The exterior is clad in stiff, sturdy-feeling silver aluminium, and it’s finished with soft-touch carbon-fibre-effect plastic inside.
Just a few millimetres surround the display at the top and sides, which is nice, but there’s a substantial bezel at the bottom. That’s where the camera lives, which is not so good. It means every time you do a Skype video call, the people you’re talking to will spend much of their time looking at your double chins and pondering whether you ought to have your nose hairs trimmed. The only good thing to say about the position of the camera is that at least it’s not off-centre.
The screen, though, is great. It’s bright, nice to look at for extended periods. Most models have a Quad HD+ display (3,200 x 1,800 pixels), but we reviewed the Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) model – and to be honest, the latter would be our selection. It’s sharp enough for a screen of this size, while the Quad HD+ display is likely to result in considerably shorter battery life.
The XPS 13 2-in-1’s party trick is that the screen rotates so that you can use it in either “tent mode” with it propped up like an A-frame, or rotate it all the way round and use it as a tablet. Tent mode is useful if you’re showing a one-on-one presentation or watching video on a flight.
As a tablet, the XPS 13 2-in-1 suffers from the same problem as other flip-over hybrids: it’s comparatively heavy – too heavy to use a tablet for any length of time, unless perhaps you have it on your lap.
However, the hinge is fantastic. It’s perfectly balanced between stiffness and ease of movement, giving a solid and reliable feel.
Like its older sibling, the XPS 13 2-in-1 has another party trick: the screen automatically adjusts its brightness settings according to what’s displayed onscreen, something that has plagued the XPS 13 since the “Infinity Edge” screen was introduced to the range. This doesn’t bother us, but you can’t turn it off (it’s separate to auto-brightness, which adjusts brightness according to ambient light), which means the display is unsuitable for professional image editing.
Touchscreen, touchpad and keyboard
The display is touch-capable, of course, and it’s also stylus-compatible, so fans of Windows Ink will be happy.
For those who prefer to keep their hands on or near the keyboard when using it in laptop mode, there’s good news: the trackpad on the XPS 13 2-in-1 is perfectly acceptable, and the keyboard is excellent. The keys are a good size, with no side-to-side wobble, and the depth of travel is good. They’re clicky without being too noisy, and everything feels just right. We could imagine writing a lot on this laptop without too much trouble.
Making a thin and light design always involves some sacrifices, however, and in the case of the XPS 13 2-in-1, the one you’ll notice first involves the ports. There’s a USB Type-C port on either side (one of which supports Thunderbolt 3), along with a microSD slot and headphone jack – and that’s it.
Dell does include a USB Type-C to Type-A adapter in the box, but you’d better get used to carrying it and a plethora of other dongles with you until the rest of the world catches up and everything moves to Type-C.
The other compromise is performance. Dell is using Intel seventh-generation Y-series processors – either a Core i5-7Y54 or i7-7Y75, depending on the model – and these are effectively updates of the previous-generation Core m5 or m7 chips.
The upside is these processors provide lower power consumption and better thermal management, which means the XPS 13 2-in-1 can manage without a fan. The downside is they’re significantly slower than full-powered Core i chips. We tested the higher-end i7-7Y75 model with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe solid state drive, and achieved an overall benchmark score of 31. That’s not terrible – and it should be suitable for all but the most resource-hungry tasks – but it’s well short of the score of 50 we managed with an XPS 13 laptop running a Core i7-7500U processor.
The trade-off is battery life that’s more than decent. It lasted 7 hours 54 minutes in our video-playback test with the screen calibrated to a fairly bright 170cd/m2, which means it should provide a full day’s worth of work with room to spare.
It is worth noting, however, that the Dell XPS 13’s larger chassis includes a larger battery and therefore lasts almost as long as the 2-in-1.
The longer we spent with the XPS 13 2-in-1, the more we warmed to it. It’s a well-designed, very usable device. But it’s also pricey, starting at $2,299 and ranging up to $2,799 – although if you’re quick, you can get $400 cash back on selected models (until 10 August 2017).
The entry-level model includes a Core i5-7Y54 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB PCIe SSD and 13.3in Quad HD+ display, while the higher-end versions offer a Core i7-7Y75 chip and, depending on the model, double the RAM and storage.
For similar pricing, you can pick up the full-powered XPS 13 laptop – so the question is whether you’re prepared to trade that performance for the added versatility of the 2-in-1.
This review is based on an article that originally appeared at alphr.com.