Dell Precision 5530 2-in-1 review: A flexible workstation-class convertible

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  • Editors' rating
    8.1 Excellent

Pros

  • Workstation-class specifications
  • Excellent 4K touch screen
  • Discrete AMD graphics
  • Good speakers

Cons

  • Battery life could be better
  • Heavy to carry and you'll need the power brick

The Precision 5530 2-in-1 has a familiar look-and-feel, as its design is similar to Dell's impressive XPS 13 and XPS 15 laptops. According to Dell this is "the world's smallest 15-inch mobile 2-in-1 workstation", and it packs plenty of punch, but you do pay a premium price for it, with a starting price of £1,897.83 (ex VAT).

Creating a powerful yet portable 15-inch mobile workstation is not easy. It needs to be tough and robust to survive a lot of travel, yet light enough to be transportable regularly. Dell has done what it can to square this difficult circle. The build is tough and solid — I was unable to bow the lid in my hands, for example, and the base feels just as solidly made. Still, it has to be noted that the Precision 5530 2-in-1 is pretty weighty at 2kg, and quite bulky at 354 x 235 x 16mm. Add a protective sleeve and you'll need a sizeable backpack or bag to tote it.

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The keyboard is backlit and has a springy action, although some users may prefer more key travel.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The keyboard isn't perfect for me. While the keys spring up nicely when released, I found the lack of travel a little unrewarding. I'm sure I'd get used to this, but it did prevent me reaching my optimum touch typing speed during the review period. There's a two-level backlight, toggled via a Fn key. The touchpad is large, responsive and easy to use.

My review sample had a 3,840-by-2,160 (4K) touch screen that was a pleasure to view. Dell has squished a 15.6-inch display into the chassis, using its InfinityEdge system to minimise bezels. The side and long top bezels are truly tiny — I measured them at just under 4mm to the panel edge. An additional 1mm for the chassis edge makes the total bezel just under 5mm. The bottom bezel measures 21mm to the panel edge, with an additional 11mm of chassis to accommodate the laptop's hinge mechanism, and is deep enough to house the Dell branding and cameras for 720p video calling and Windows Hello login that won't fit above the screen.

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The webcam position below the screen makes for an awkward camera angle during video calls.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

This is not the ideal webcam location. Video calls present an awkwardly angled view of your face, unless you use the 360 screen rotation to take video calls in tent mode — in which case, of course, the keyboard isn't accessible.  

Quality speakers are vital for a laptop like the Precision 5530 2-in1 that's designed for high-end graphics workloads and presentations. The good news is that the speakers are up to the brief: maximum volume is loud enough to reach across a conference room, and even when maxed out there's minimal distortion and good bass tones.

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Sound emerges from two grilles set towards the outer edges of the underside of the laptop. The chassis curves upwards at this point, so audio is not muffled by a desk, but there is muffling if the laptop is resting on a soft surface — when working with the device on your lap, for example. There are forward, back and pause/play controls on the Fn key row as well as volume up/down.
 
Dell offers two variants of this laptop on its UK website. One has a 1,920-by-1,080 touch-screen, an Intel Core i5-8305G CPU, a discrete Radeon Pro WX Vega M GL GPU with 4GB of video memory, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of NVMe M.2 SSD storage (£1,897.83 ex. VAT). The other has a 4K touch-screen, a Core i7-8706G, a 4GB Radeon Pro WX Vega M GL, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage (£1,889 ex. VAT).

Our review unit had the Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage.

Battery life could be better. In one sample session running some media streaming, writing into online apps and web browsing, the Precision 5530 2-in-1's 75Wh battery depleted 39 percent in four hours, and was down by 56 percent after six hours. The default screen brightness of 40 percent was perfectly fine to work with during this session. This was a very light workload for a workstation-class laptop, and it might be hard to achieve a full day's work away from mains power in more realistic conditions.

Dropping down to the 1,920-by-1,080 screen resolution might improve battery life, but then you'd have to forego the delights of the high-resolution 4K display. So it's likely that you'll need to carry the relatively bulky and heavy 130W AC adapter in your travel bag.

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The 5-LED battery gauge on the left side is a useful feature.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Precision 5530 2-in-1 is not over-generous with ports and connectors. The right side has a pair of Thunderbolt/USB-C ports with DisplayPort and a 3.5mm headset jack, while there are two USB-C ports on the left, one of which is the power input, plus a MicroSD card slot and a 5-LED battery power gauge. Dell often employs this indicator, and it's a really useful feature.

Dell provides two USB-C converters, one to RJ-45 Ethernet and one to USB 3.0. These are potentially useful, although using either will block a USB-C port for other uses — and of course, you need to remember to carry them if you think they'll be needed.

Conclusions

The Dell Precision 5530 2-in-1 workstation is a nicely engineered workstation-class laptop. It's heavy, but the chassis is tough and the 15.6-inch screen — at least at the 4K (3,840 x 2,160) resolution of my review sample — is a pleasure to work with. There's plenty of processing and graphics power available, but battery life may be an issue if you need to work on the move. Be prepared to carry the (sizeable) power brick...

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Specifications

System
Notebook Type 2-in-1

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