Dell XPS 12 convertible Ultrabook review

Dell XPS 12 convertible Ultrabook review

Summary: The swivel-screen XPS 12 offers clever design, solid build quality and a high-quality (if reflective) screen. Battery life is not great, though, and this system is severely lacking in connectivity — even by ultrabook standards.

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  • Editors' rating:
    7.5
  • User rating:
    6.3
  • RRP:
    £999.00

Pros

  • Cleverly designed and solidly built convertible tablet
  • Tactile keyboard
  • High-quality 12.5in. screen

Cons

  • No Ethernet port
  • No SD card slot
  • Moderate battery life
  • Heavy when used in tablet mode

Dell's XPS 12 convertible Ultrabook is an attempt to be all things to all people. By day, it can function as a standard office ultrabook, running Windows 8 in desktop mode and the usual range of productivity applications, with the added benefit of a touchscreen. By night, it can transform into a tablet-style device running the Windows Metro interface — and of course there's nothing stop you using it in tablet mode in the office, to deliver presentations or perform other business functions.

That's the idea, anyway. But does the combination really work? For the price of even the entry-level version of the XPS 12, you can buy a tablet and a laptop, so it really does have to meet both sets of needs well enough to justify the expense.

dell-xps-12-i1
The 1.54kg (3.39lb) XPS 12 measures 31.7cm wide by 21.4cm deep by 0.8-2cm thick (12.48x8.43x0.31-0.79 inches). Its swivelling Gorilla Glass-protected screen has a resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels.
(Image: Dell)

Design

Dell has pushed the boat out with the design of the XPS 12. We've seen convertible laptops before, of course, but Dell's take is entirely different from the conventional twist-and-lay-flat design. The screen swivels inside its silver bezel, rotating around two hinges so that it can be lain flat facing outwards. It's a very clever idea, and the mechanism itself is smooth. The screen gently locks into position inside the bezel via four hinges (two on each of the long screen edges), and it feels very secure.

There's a knack to getting the swivel to function properly. A sharp flick at a screen corner seems to be the best action, fully flipping the screen before laying it to rest on the keyboard. To revert to clamshell mode, lift the lid and then flip the screen — don't try to lift and flip together.

Judged as an ultrabook, the XPS 12's overall weight of 1.54kg (3.35lb) is reasonable. However, that's three times the weight of a modern tablet, so it feels heavy when used in that mode.

dell-xps-12-tablet
(Image: Dell)

Dell hasn't skimped as far as design and build are concerned. The chassis is made from carbon fibre and aluminium, while the screen bezel, base surround and lid are all tough and solid. The keyboard surround has an odd rubberised finish of the type more usually found on smartphone back plates. The same finish is used on the base plate and lid, and both share a neat two-tone grey-and-black checkerboard design.

The screen, which is made from Gorilla Glass, is very reflective. We find that distracting when in "business" mode, but the screen does have a lot going for it. For a start, its resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels puts standard office notebooks to shame. And with the pixels crammed into a 12.5-inch Screen, the display delivers real punch: Colours are rich and bright, text is sharp, and web pages are a pleasure to look at.

The screen's touch responsiveness is very good too, although in Windows Desktop mode, things can be a little hit and miss if you're stubby fingered. You can, of course, always take the traditional mouse or trackpad route, leaving touch for when you're using Metro.

The keyboard is a pleasure to use. The keys are nice and springy, and well spaced. Touch typing is comfortable, and we like the click that the keys deliver. Two things irritated us, though: The cursor keys are a little small, and, more seriously, the double-height Enter key is only half width in the bottom half. We missed it quite a lot until we got used to hitting it with the right little finger.

The Fn keys all have useful second functions such as volume control, media playback, screen switching — even a battery meter callup. The keyboard backlight bleeds out a little from behind the keys, but it can be toggled with a Fn key combination.

Features

There are various iterations of the XPS 12 available, with three standard models available off the page (in the UK, where this review was conducted). The entry-level model runs on a 1.8GHz (up to 2.7GHz with Turbo Boost) Core i5-3337U and costs £999 (including VAT), and a 2.0/3.1GHz Core i7-3537U variant is the most expensive, at £1,299 (including VAT). In the US, there are four pre-configured models, with prices ranging from $1,199 to $1,699.

The entry-level XPS12 comes with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, while the most expensive model doubles both of these to 8GB and 256GB, respectively. Our review unit had a 1.9/3.0GHz Core i7-3517U, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

All XPS 12 variants are equipped with Intel's integrated HD Graphics 4000 GPU, dual-band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n wi-fi, and Bluetooth 4.0.

There's no optical drive and, as on many ultrabooks, connectivity options aren't great: You get two USB 3.0 ports on the right edge, plus a Mini-DisplayPort slot. And that's it; neither Ethernet nor an SD card slot get a look-in. Whichever way you look at it, this feature set is minimal in the extreme.

The right edge also houses a small button you can press to get an indication of battery power. Up to five white LEDs will illuminate when you press it. This is a very neat feature, as it lets you check whether you need to apply some charge without actually switching the XPS 12 on.

The left edge has a headset jack, a volume rocker, a button to lock auto screen rotation, and the power switch. Stereo speakers deliver remarkably good sound — possibly the best we've come across on a notebook. You can crank up the volume without undue distortion, and there's not too much treble. The sound subsystem could handle a multimedia presentation to a small group without recourse to external speakers.

Above the screen, there's a 1.3-megapixel webcam, and beneath it a Windows Home button. This can be used in both notebook and tablet mode: Tap it to toggle between the Desktop and Metro home screens. It's a borrow from Microsoft's Surface tablet, and it works very well.

Performance and battery life

The XPS 12's Windows Experience Index WEI) score of 5.4 (out of 9.9) corresponds to the lowest component score, which went to Graphics (desktop graphics performance). The other scores were 6.4 for Gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance), 7.1 for Processor (calculations per second), 7.4 for Memory (RAM memory operations per second), and 8.1 to Primary hard disk (disk data transfer rate).

This adds up to decent performance for mainstream business and consumer usage, although demanding graphical apps and games will require a system with discrete rather than integrated graphics.

In true ultrabook fashion, you can't access the six-cell battery, whose life is not the XPS 12's strong suit. We'd struggle to get through a full day if that day included a measure of video playback, and suspect that many office workers will need to plug into mains power at some point during the working day.

Conclusion

Dell's swivel-screen solution is extremely efficient, smooth in operation and ergonomic in use. The build quality is solid, and the screen is delightful to look at in both notebook and tablet modes, although it may be too reflective for some tastes.

Battery life is not great, though, and this system is severely lacking in connectivity — even by ultrabook standards.

If you can get by with no Ethernet port or SD card slot and just two USB ports, and you really need tablet and notebook usability in one machine, this is a great way to get it. Note, though, that Dell is currently quoting a shipping date of early April for some XPS 12 models, including the most expensive variant.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 31.7 x 2 x 21.4 cm
Case form factor convertible (swivel-screen) clamshell
Weight 1.54 kg
OS & software
Operating system Windows 8 64-bit
Chipset & memory
Chipset Mobile Intel QS77 Express
RAM installed 8096 MB
Number of memory slots 2
RAM capacity 8 GB
Video
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4000
GPU type integrated
Video connections Mini-DisplayPort
Display
Display technology TFT (active matrix)
Display size 12.5 in
Native resolution 1920x1280 pixels
Connections
USB 2 x USB 3.0
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Bluetooth 4.0
Input
Pointing devices multi-touch touchscreen, touchpad
Keyboard full size, backlit chiclet keyboard; spill-resistant
Camera
Main camera resolution 1.3 megapixels
Audio
Audio connectors headphone/microphone combo
Speakers stereo
Audio processor Realtek ALC3260
Microphone yes
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter
Service & support
Standard warranty 1 year
Battery
Battery technology Li-ion (6-cell)
Removable battery No
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.9 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Core i7-3517U
Solid-state drive
Interface SATA III
Capacity 256 GB
Expand

Prices

Price
Price AUD 1599
Price GBP 999
Price USD 1499

Topics: Laptops, Dell, Reviews, Tablets, Windows 8

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Talkback

15 comments
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  • Dell XPS 12 convertible Ultrabook review

    10.0

    No worries about the ethernet port since tablets do not have them and rely on wifi. One of the best features is that it is running Microsoft Windows 8 which runs all of your current Microsoft Windows applications. Its tiles were made for the touch screen but you still have the desktop for when you are in desktop mode.
    Loverock-Davidson
    • Balancing the score...

      8.0

      Despite being a Microsoft fan myself, I have no love for extremist. You seem about as nutty as shellcodes_coder.


      That said, the Duo itself is a pretty great piece of hardware. Good build quality and standard ultrabook specs that're decent enough to satisfy me.

      Had it not been missing a digitizer (be it Wacom or N-Trig), the device would've received a 9 out of 10.
      ForeverCookie
    • It's not a tablet

      5.0

      The title of the article even says it's a "convertible ultrabook". which means it ought to have necessary features to operate as a laptop (including a NIC for fast network speeds). This seems to be another case of Dell trying to appeal to a bunch of small niches with a product (and price) that won't appeal to most. If they are marketing this as a slightly more capable tablet, then it is substantially overpriced.
      jvitous
      • Get an adapter

        There's a cheap and easy solution to the lack of an ethernet port: buy a USB 3.0 to ethernet adapter for about $30, or a USB 2.0 to ethernet adapter for even less.

        Also, I'd say that being able to run a full version of Windows makes this a MUCH more capable tablet.
        m.gear
    • Ethernet

      Many corporate accounts still install their images via ethernet. Sure, once in the field the data is transmitted via wifi.
      beau parisi
    • Desktop mode

      5.0

      You can also install "Classic Shell" from CNET Download and it gives you the ful "Start" button to access apps and settings. It also allows you to boot directly to the Desktop instead of the Win 8 tiled interface. Best of both worlds.
      ryork272
  • I've had it for nine days now...

    9.0

    Man, I seriously am in LOVE. I dj on cruise ships, and being able to use this in tablet mode when it's a bit windy out on deck - brilliant.

    I had been reading reviews for this computer for a LOOOOONG time... and I was only a touch apprehensive because of the battery life. But when I reviewed my own portable use over the last 4-7 years with previous laptops, I can't recall ever needing battery-only for more than 3-4 hours at a time... so yeah - this xps 12 doesn't rock out for 8 hours... but it still meets my personal requirements.

    Keyboard: awesome
    Trackpad: meh, it's got it's moments that are irritating. I've made some adjustments, and it's better now that i've made it less responsive on double-click.
    Screen: 10/10
    256GB SSD HD: flawless
    i7: duh, amazing
    wi-fi: who's crying about no ethernet?! what decade are you people in?! i haven't used ethernet since like 2004.
    Coolness factor: OFF THE CHARTS! I can't tell you how many people walking by stop and gawk when I convert from tab to lap or vice versa... all like "wtf was THAT!!"

    yeah, if battery were stronger she'd get a 10/10.

    But guess what: perfection doesn't exist.
    djjohnthomas
    • Thanks for the Insight

      7.0

      Thanks for the person experience Johnthomas.

      Reviewers don't get to do a review from personal experience over time, just a few days then they must move to the next one in their endless cycle minus any corporate slant required (CNET anyone).

      Personally, I have a rule of NO INTEL GRAPHICS! It's a garbage chip so I'll have to wait for nVidia to start getting dropped into systems. Second, too small, the work I do calls for 15". 12" is just too cramped of visual real estate.

      Once these 2 metrics are met, I'm signing up! My iPad may just finally get it's retirement.
      JazonO
    • Having tried one

      I have to agree in the most part with all of what you say.

      The only annoying thing for me was Win8. I'm sure the more you use it the better it becomes but initial impressions do not impress. It does however provide an interesting game called "Where's IE gone now"
      Little Old Man
      • Install Classic Shell

        5.0

        If you don't like Win 8, install a small app called "Classic Shell". It looks and acts just like Win 7 desktop, "Start" button and all. It has a setting that allows you to boot directly to the Desktop and avoid the Win 8 interface entirely. You can download it directly from CNET Download - no viruses. Good luck!
        ryork272
  • What a machine =)

    9.0

    I've had mine (i7, 8GB, 128GB) for almost a month. The only thing I could ask for is the wacom digitizer that the Surface has. I bought a 1TB external drive to go with it, and got myself a much smaller laptop bag =)

    It is pretty much all that and a bag of Doritos.
    bergmann620
    • Huh?

      5.0

      All "what" and a bag of Doritos? You make no sense.
      ryork272
  • $1500 !

    3.0

    You have to be kidding right ? There are currently some stellar deals on standard ultrabooks, this is just too expensive for something that's not a brilliant ultrabook or tablet.
    Alan Smithie
  • Bah! Not ethernet or video card options...

    5.0

    Those 2 alone did it for me. I was so looking forward to that being my next purchase. I have a Dell Studio (with Adobe CS4 Web Prem) from 2010 and got my wife a high-end Inspiron in 2011.

    This was going to be my next purchase, but without a video card option and no ethernet I'd be limited spending that much $$$. I have places where ethernet is the only option for internet. Thanks for the review!
    Nate413
  • What is the battery life!!!!

    5.0

    Why am I forced to "rate" it in order to "join the conversation"???? Sandra, please tell what the actual expected battery life is!! Your comment that its a weak point and one would be hard pressed to make through a day on a single charge tells us nothing. Battery life is arguably the most important feature of a mobile device. Your review is subpar and should be revised to address key points, such as expected battery life. Get with it girl!
    ryork272