- ✓Solid hardware construction
- ✓Excellent display
- ✓Clear, loud stereo speakers
- ✓Amazing hardware keyboard options
- ✓USB Type-C used for charging
- ✕Battery life could be better
- ✕Included keyboard option has single angle mount
- ✕Some issues with rotation consistency
- ✕Pre-loaded bloatware
Microsoft set the bar for a laptop/tablet hybrid with the Surface Pro device and has seen success in the marketplace, along with an evolving lineup of computers. Last year I declared that the Surface Pro 3 was the best computer I have ever owned.
It was natural to expect that other computer makers would offer products to compete with the Surface Pro line and we've seen several candidates from Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, HP, and others. ZDNet's Kevin Tofel wrote in November that the Dell XPS 12 was available to challenge the Surface Pro 4. I spent that last couple weeks testing out the new Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 and I am seriously considering it as a successor to my Surface Pro 3.
Out of the box impressions
As you can see on the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 laptop product site there are two different models with a couple additional bundle offers. Dell sent along the $999 configuration (1080p/M5/8GB/128GB) configuration with the optional active stylus pen and optional 'slim' keyboard accessory. The folio case and travel keyboard come standard with all configurations, which is something I still can't believe Microsoft isn't offering.
It's been a while since I checked out a new PC so I was first impressed by the modern and attractive black box that the Dell XPS 12 arrived in. I use Dell computers for my engineering work at the office, but just get the PC handed to me without the retail packaging.
After opening up the package, I quickly realized Dell is serious about competing with the Surface Pro line. The tablet is well constructed with a soft touch black shell and minimal side bezels. The two keyboard accessories are very impressive with large keys, great travel, and good spacing while including folio options to hold the tablet in place. I like the gray material covering both keyboard folios, it is very professional looking while also offering a loop to hold the stylus in place.
- Processor: Intel Core M5 6Y54, up to 2.7 GHz
- Display: 12.5 inch 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution or 3840 x 2160 pixels resolution ($300 increase), Corning Gorilla Glass
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home
- RAM: 8GB
- Storage: 128GB and 256GB options, with microSD card slot
- Cameras: Rear 8 megapixel camera and 5 megapixel front-facing camera
- Wireless: Bluetooth 4.1, Intel 8260 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi
- Battery: User replaceable 3,000 mAh battery with fast charging and Qi wireless charging support
- Dimensions: 291 x 193 x 8 mm and 790 grams/1/75 lbs (starting, tablet only). 2.8 pounds with included Dell Premier keyboard and Folio
The Dell XPS 12 has a 12.5 inch display and the model I tested has a resolution of 1920 x 1080. The side bezels are quite small, less than half that on my Surface Pro 3. The top and bottom are larger and contain the Start button and front-facing camera (5 megapixel). I thought at first that I had a faulty device since tapping on the Start button did nothing on the Dell. Unlike the Surface Pro 3, you have to tap and hold on the Start button to make something happen.
The display has a lower resolution than the Surface Pro 3 and 4, but it still looks great. There is also a 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) resolution option, available for an additional $300, but I did not get a chance to try that out.
There are two Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) ports on the lower left side with a microSD card slot, hidden under a long door, positioned above these two ports. The volume button is located along the top of the left side.
The power button is positioned on the top right side with a security Noble lock port on the bottom right. There is nothing along the top while the keyboard accessory pins are centered on the bottom. The rear camera is centered near the top of the back of the tablet.
The Dell XPS 12 is constructed of a magnesium alloy material with soft touch coating. Gorilla Glass is used on the front display with a glass touchpad on the keyboard accessories.
The Dell Premier keyboard is provided by default and contains 82 keys with 1.9mm travel. The optional Slim keyboard and folio contain 80 keys with 1.3mm travel. Both keyboards have wonderful spacing, key definition, key travel, backlighting, and large glass trackpads. It was a pleasure using both keyboards, but I personally prefer the flexibility to angle the Slim keyboard to fit my desires.
The Dell Premier keyboard has a slot where the tablet rests at a single angle. Dell conducted many studies to determine the optimal angle and it is indeed nearly perfect. However, if you need to use your computer on a train, airplane, or in your lap then you may want to change that angle. The Premier keyboard is better on your lap though since the Slim keyboard tablet mount is not integrated with the keyboard, but with the top of the Folio cover.
There are no batteries in the keyboards as they are powered by the tablet through the accessory port. I found that the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 lasted me just over five hours using WiFi with one of the keyboards. My Surface Pro 3 goes more than six hours with the same typical usage.
The Active Pen Stylus can be used similarly to the Surface Pen with a double press on the top button activating OneNote. I don't use my Surface Pen that much, but found the Dell pen to work well in my limited testing.
The Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 runs the latest version of Windows 10 Home. There were 49 updates available on the Dell website for all the drivers and apps installed on the XPS 12. I downloaded the BIOS and a couple other updates to make sure it was running as well as possible, but without a centralized download all option I did not have the time to individually install every update during my testing.
The Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 ran everything I threw at it well and it never ran too hot either. I did notice it would stop rotating from portrait to landscape at times while using it in tablet mode. That was a bit bothersome, but could also be fixed with a software or driver update.
I'm used to a very pure Windows experience on my Surface Pro 4 units so was disappointed when the stupid McAfee prompts started appearing as I was using the Dell XPS 12. There is not an overwhelming amount of bloatware on the device, but there are apps from McAfee, Dell product support apps, Intel utilities, and Dropbox. Approximately 40GB of the 119GB available in storage was consumed out of the box.
Pricing and competition
The Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 is offered in two primary configurations, with the SSD capacity and display resolution being the primary differences. All lowest price configurations include the XPS 12 Premier keyboard with Dell Premier Magnetic Folio. Bundle configurations include the Slim keyboard and Folio and the Active Pen Stylus. In typical Dell fashion, you can fully customize all of the accessory options to fit your needs as you walk through the purchasing process.
The lowest priced model is $999.99 and comes with the 1080p display and 128GB SSD. The 4K display and 256GB SSD model starts at $1,299.99. To upgrade from the standard Premier keyboard to the Slim keyboard, there is a $50 difference. If you like being able to angle the tablet to your preferred angle, then I recommend paying the $50 to get the Slim keyboard folio.
There is no direct Microsoft Surface Pro 4 configuration to match the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 because the Dell models all use the m5 processor and have 8GB of RAM. The closest match is the Intel i5 Surface Pro 4 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD. That is priced at $1,299 without a keyboard, but with a Surface Pen. The corresponding XPS 12 2-in-1 has a 4K display with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD with a keyboard and stylus for $1,399.99.
Summary and conclusions
After owning both the first Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 3, I never thought I would consider any other device for my home office. Dell has shown me that there are other viable alternatives.
My engineering company purchases Dell computers, which results in special discount offers for employees. Thus, while the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 costs a bit less than competing Surface Pro 4 models, you may also save even more through corporate discount offers.
The Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 has no USB ports as Dell moves to the future with USB Type-C and Thunderbolt. For some of us though, that also means new accessories or adapters may be required to use our existing gear.
The Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 is one of the most compelling Dell computers I have ever tested and I'm sure there will be some in the office soon as regular travelers look for a compact package from Dell with the ability to use the computer in tablet mode. If I end up buying one, I'll have to look into the available Dell docks since I prefer to have two displays set up in my home office.
|Diagonal Size||12.5 " FHD (1920x1080) touch|
|Diagonal Size (metric)||31.8 cm|
|Image Aspect Ratio||16:9|
|Features||USB PowerShare technology|
|Clock Speed||2.8 GHz|
|Number of Cores||Dual-Core|
|Type||6th Generation Intel Core m5 6Y57 (4M Cache, up to 2.8 GHz)|
|Processor Number||6th Generation Intel Core m5 6Y57 (4M Cache, up to 2.8 GHz)|
|Storage Drive Capacity||128 GB Solid State Drive|
|Wireless Protocol||802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Video Resolutions||1920 x 1080, 3296 x 2520|
|Data Link Protocol||Bluetooth 4.1, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n|
|Min Operating Temperature||32 °F|
|Max Operating Temperature||95 °F|
|Humidity Range Operating||10 - 90% (non-condensing)|
|Run Time (Up To)||10 hour(s)|
|Product Line||Dell XPS|
|Installed Size||8 GB LPDDR3-1600MHz|
|Video Resolutions||1920 x 1080, 3296 x 2520|
|Type||Windows 10 Home, 64-bit, English|
|Nominal Voltage||AC 120/230 V|
|Frequency Required||50/60 Hz|
|ENERGY STAR Certified||Yes|
|Service & Support|
|Type||1 year warranty|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|Service & Support Details|
|Full Contract Period||1 year|