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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: A compact, solidly built convertible

sandra-vogel.jpg
Written by Sandra Vogel on
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8.5

Dell XPS 13 2-in1

Excellent
Like
  • Excellent screen
  • Solid build
  • 360-degree screen rotation
  • Good battery life
Don't Like
  • USB-C connectivity only
  • Irritating power switch
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

When the Dell XPS 13 first appeared in 2015, we lauded its battery life and labelled it a 'stylish, slimline business workhorse'. About a year later Dell refreshed the XPS 13, adding Intel's 7th-generation (Kaby Lake) processors among other spec upgrades. Again we were impressed. Just a couple of months on, Dell has yet again updated the XPS 13, this time equipping it with a 360-degree screen hinge to make it "the world's smallest 13-inch 2-in-1". So is it three successes in a row for the XPS 13?

The fully rotating hinge isn't the only change to Dell's XPS 13 2-in-1: this is a somewhat slimmer and lighter machine too. The 2016 Dell XPS 13 measures 304mm by 200mm by 15mm and weighs 1.2kg, while the new XPS 13 2-in-1 comes in with dimensions of 304mm by 199mm by 13.7mm. It's ever so slightly heavier at 1.24kg though. Dell's "world's smallest 13-inch 2-in-1" assertion is based on a report published in November 2016 that considers the total surface area of notebooks.

Elsewhere in the design department, the XPS 2-in-1 has much in common with its predecessor, although there are some significant differences too.

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Dell's 13.3-inch XPS 13 is now available in 2-in-1 format, thanks to its 360-degree rotating screen.

Image: Dell

The chassis is solid and tough, with build materials including aluminium, carbon fibre and steel hinges. This means there's almost no flex in the lid, and the wrist rest is almost flex free too. The wrist rest shares the previous model's carbon fibre finish, which is comfortable and forgiving to the skin.

The backlit keyboard also matches that of last year's model, and again left me fiddling with relatively cramped cursor keys and a somewhat lighter feel under the fingers than I would like. The trackpad is again a pleasure to use, coping easily with the task of taking the cursor right across the screen in a single sweep.

The 13.3-inch screen has the same 'InfinityEdge' design that's characteristic of the XPS 13 series. Minimal top and side bezels -- no more than 4mm (if anything slightly smaller than the previous model) -- remain eye catching. My review sample came with the lowest available display specification: an FHD (1,920 x 1,080) touchscreen. A 3,200-by-1,800-pixel panel is also available. The IGZO IPS panel is sharp, clear and bright with great viewing angles.

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The audio part of the XPS 13 2-in-1's audio-visual armoury is less impressive, output being neither the loudest nor the best quality. It's good enough for videoconferencing and small-scale presentations, but nothing to get excited about.

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The webcam is now centrally positioned beneath the screen, although you'll get a better videoconferencing camera angle with the laptop in 'tent' mode.

Image: Dell

The XPS 13 2016 model was criticised for its awkwardly placed webcam. Sitting in the bottom left corner of the screen, it made for a poor videoconferencing experience. Dell has listened: although the camera is still located beneath the screen -- because of the slimline bezel above -- it is now positioned centrally.

This is an improvement, although still not ideal. The lens still looks up at the user, giving an 'up the nose' view of the face rather than a more flattering front-on view. This is the same problem faced by the similarly narrow-bezel Lenovo Yoga 910.

The key point of difference as far as build is concerned between this new Dell XPS 2-in-1 and earlier models is its 360-degree rotating screen. Mounted on steel hinges, this does what you would expect, allowing the laptop to be used in 'tent' and tablet modes. Tent mode is ideal for raising the camera to a more practical height for videoconferencing -- although of course there are then issues with keyboard use.

It's irritating that Dell has not catered for keyboard lockout when the screen is swivelled for tablet-mode use. I feel the keys are at real danger of damage if they are sitting face down on a lap or being pushed by a thumb or fingers while the laptop is being held in one or two hands.

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It's useful to have a tablet-mode option, although we'd appreciate a keyboard lockout feature.

Image: Dell

This latest XPS 13 has a fingerprint reader that sits on the right of the wrist rest. That's a welcome addition, but some users might find other variations to last year's non-rotating screen XPS 13 less pleasing.

Dell has changed the configuration of the ports. The 2016 XPS 13 had a pair of USB 3.0 ports and a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port plus an SD card reader and a headset jack, but this time around Dell has opted for two USB-C ports, one with Thunderbolt 3 and one with DisplayPort support. Either USB-C port can be used to power the system. Elsewhere, the full-size SD card reader has become a MicroSD card reader, and there's still a 3.5mm headset jack.

On the plus side, there is also the very useful battery power indicator that Dell has included on earlier XPS 13 models. Depress a small button and up to five tiny white LEDs give an indication of whether a charge is necessary. I've noted before how useful this is, and how much I wish other manufacturers would follow suit.

That said, the button for the battery indicator is irritatingly small and therefore difficult to press. The same goes for the power button, which sits on the right edge of the chassis and is one of the most fiddly I have ever used on a laptop: it's tiny, and I had to hold it in for a short while before the system powered up.

Dell has dropped the full-fat Intel Kaby Lake processors used in the previous model, and instead opted for low-power Y series options. Effectively the Y series is Intel's reworking of its old Core M line. It delivers less raw power, but in my testing experience was never troubled by multiple apps and browser tabs. Further, the Y series supports the fanless, passive cooling design that Dell has gone for here. While I did notice some heat on the underside of the chassis as a result of passive cooling, this was not particularly troubling.

Our review sample ran on an Intel Core i7 7Y75 running at up to 3.6GHz, with 8GB of RAM. There are also Core i5 7Y54-based models with 4GB and 8GB of RAM. All variants come with either Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro (we had the former). To see the full range of off-the-shelf models requires two browser windows because Dell rather confusingly separates its 'home' (Windows 10 Home), and 'business' (Windows 10 Pro) offerings into two separate branches on its website.

SSD storage in the pre-configured models is available at 128GB, 256GB and 512GB.

Battery life is very good. My most extended working period of six hours depleted the fully-charged battery to well below a third of its capacity, but I expect it would have lasted significantly beyond seven hours.

Conclusions

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a compact and versatile convertible laptop with a great screen and solid build quality. The use of an Intel Y-series processor should not put mainstream buyers off, and battery life is good enough to get most people through a working day. The repositioned webcam is welcome too. The only downside is a relative paucity of (USB-C-only) connectors.

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