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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 9310 (2020) review: An excellent, but not perfect, convertible ultraportable

dell-xps-13-2-in-1-header.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.9 Outstanding
  • $1,711.24

Pros

  • Solid build
  • 11th-generation Intel Core processors
  • 4K screen option
  • Thunderbolt 4
  • Highly configurable

Cons

  • Keyboard action won’t suit everyone
  • Only two (Thunderbolt 4) ports
  • Moderate battery life with Core i7/4K screen
  • Relatively heavy

Dell offers two versions of its ultraportable XPS 13: a standard laptop and a 2-in-1 device. The standard version of the Dell XPS 13 that I reviewed in April 2020 was powered by a 10th generation Intel Core processor. Now, for the same £1,399 (inc. VAT) starting price as that model, the XPS-13 2-in-1 is available with 11th-generation (Tiger Lake) CPUs and Intel Evo branding. The new XPS 13 also offers Thunderbolt 4 as standard and up to 1TB of SSD storage.

Dell's XPS 13 was well received from the outset, and for many is the leading ultraportable laptop. The 2-in-1 version retains all the characteristics of the standard model, adding 360-degree screen rotation to support tablet, tent and presentation modes. 

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The 13.4-inch Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 runs on 11th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processors with integrated Iris Xe graphics, up to 32GB of RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage. The screen is available at FHD+ (1920 x 1200) or 4K UHD+ (3840 x 2400) resolution, and the device weighs 1.32kg.

Image: Dell

The build quality is exemplary. The chassis is made from two blocks of aluminium, resulting in a lid that's impossible to bow without applying serious pressure and a base that feels solid and tough. At 1.32kg this isn't the lightest ultraportable, with competitors edging close to 1kg, but it's still light enough to tote around, and its power brick is relatively small and light. The sliver exterior is unremarkable and might be prone to scratching, but the black inside incorporates the 'woven glass fibre' finish all around the keyboard and touchpad that Dell has employed for a while, lending the device a subtly distinctive appearance. 

Dell makes a play of its 'variable torque hinge' design, which it says makes the laptop easier to open as well as creating a more stable platform when the touchscreen is being used. Well, I still needed two hands to open the chassis -- one to hold the base down and one to lift the lid. But it is true that you have to prod the touchscreen with a fair amount of force before the whole thing starts to tip backwards. And the hinges are powerful enough to hold the screen at whatever angle you select.

SEE: Windows 10 Start menu hacks (TechRepublic Premium)

Minimal screen bezels mean the 13.4-inch screen sits in a chassis measuring 29.7cm x 20.7cm. It's a slim laptop too, at just 1.435cm, although Dell has sacrificed connectivity to achieve this level of thinness, and that could be a deal-breaker for some. The right side has a single Thunderbolt 4 port and a 3.5mm headset jack, while the left has a second Thunderbolt 4 port and a MicroSD card reader. And that's your lot. 

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Minimal bezels maximise screen space -- here in tablet mode.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet  

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It's great to see Thunderbolt 4, but if you need to connect several peripherals you may feel the need for an expansion hub. With this laptop starting at £1,399 (inc. VAT) you might expect something to be bundled, but all Dell provides is a USB-C to USB-A converter. A Dell USB-C adapter with HDMI, VGA, USB 3.0 and Ethernet connections costs £59.23 (inc. VAT). 

My review unit came with a 4K (3,840 x 2,400) touchscreen, which is truly stunning. The alternative FHD (1,920 x 1,200) display is the less expensive option, and this configuration may well help to extend battery life. I found the 4K screen to be bright and sharp, and nicely responsive to touches and sweeps. Viewing angles are good too. 

Like many laptop makers, Dell has minimised the bottom screen bezel to provide more viewable area. This screen real estate gain is useful for anyone writing, working with spreadsheets or scrolling through web pages. If you're working in tablet mode, with the screen flipped to portrait orientation, you'll also see some benefit from a wider viewing area. 

Decent speakers are becoming more and more important on laptops, for video calls or after-hours video watching. There's good and bad news on this front with the XPS 13 2-in-1: the speaker grilles are on the underside of the chassis and even though they are long and sit on the short edges where they curve upwards, they're not really removed enough from a desk to allow uninterrupted sound output. And if you use the XPS-13 2-in-1 on your lap, audio may well be muffled. 

Still, under optimum conditions, sound quality is good, although it doesn't go very loud – presumably to avoid distortion. The integrated speakers are OK for personal use, but might not cope with projecting audio across a meeting room, for example. 

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The backlit keyboard has good-sized keys, but minimal key travel means that it lacks tactile responsiveness.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The keyboard has nicely large QWERTY keys, a double-height Enter key and sizeable Fn and arrow keys. The power key is unmarked and sits at the right end of the Fn row. The two-step backlight is effective, and Dell says the keyboard has a coating to prevent yellowing and staining. 

There is absolutely minimal key travel, and although typing generates rather loud 'thunks', the lack of tactile response may put some potential buyers off. I had to slow my touch-typing a little until I acclimatised. The touchpad, by contrast, is relatively large, very responsive and a pleasure to use.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 runs on Windows 10 Home on a choice of two 11th generation Intel processors: my review unit came with a high-end Core i7-1165G7, while the entry-level alternative is a Core i5-1135G7. This laptop's ability to wake from sleep in under a second -- an 11th-gen feature -- is game-changing: it's a joy to just open the device and immediately get on with your work. 

As noted, I was sent a high-end configuration to review. Here's how it compares to the entry-level model: 

As reviewed 
Intel Core i7-1165G7, Windows 10 Home, 13.4-inch 3,840 x 2,400 touch screen, Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD 
£1,949 (inc. VAT; £1,624.17 ex. VAT) 

Entry level
Intel Core i5-1135G7, Windows 10 Home, 13.4-inch 1,920 x 1,200 touch screen, Intel Iris Xe graphics, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD 
£1,399 (inc. VAT; £1,165.83 ex. VAT) 

Unfortunately, the battery life of my Core i7/4K screen review unit was disappointing. I fully charged the 51Wh battery and then spent three hours on a typical workload of web browsing, audio streaming and writing into web apps. After this time the battery was down to 50%, so if you go for a high-spec model, be aware that there may be a price to pay in terms of battery life. 

Conclusions 

Dell has added 11th-generation Intel processors and Thunderbolt 4 to the XPS 13 2-in-1's solid chassis and superb 360-degree rotating screen. However, this is not a particularly lightweight 13-inch 2-in-1 and it's short on ports and connectors, while battery life is disappointing -- at least with a Core i7 processor and power-hungry 4K screen. Then there's the keyboard action, which might be the most problematic issue.

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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Operating System Windows 10 Pro 64-bit Edition
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i7 (11th Gen) 1165G7
Max Turbo Speed 4.7 GHz
Number of Cores Quad-Core
Cache 12 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Intel Smart Cache, Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
RAM
Configuration Features provided memory is soldered
Technology LPDDR4X SDRAM
Memory
RAM 16 GB (provided memory is soldered)
Technology LPDDR4X SDRAM
Speed 4267 MHz
Display
LCD Backlight Technology WLED backlight
Resolution 1920 x 1200 (WUXGA)
Widescreen Display Yes
Image Aspect Ratio 16:10
Monitor Features 100% sRGB color gamut, 35 ms response rate, Wide Viewing Angle, anti-reflective, anti-smudge, ±85° horizontal viewing angle, ±85° vertical viewing angle
Type LED
Touchscreen yes
Diagonal Size (metric) 34 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation WUXGA
Environmental Parameters
Humidity Range Operating 50 - 90% (non-condensing)
Hard Drive
Type SSD
SSD Form Factor M.2
Capacity 512 GB
Hard Drive Features NVM Express (NVMe)
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Memory Allocation Technology shared video memory (UMA)
Sound Stereo speakers, dual array microphone
Features MaxxAudio Pro
Input
Type keyboard, touchpad
Communications
Wireless Controller Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 - M.2 1216
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Processor
CPU Type Core i7
Manufacturer Intel
Battery
Capacity 51 Wh
Cells 4-cell
Technology lithium ion
Card Reader
Type card reader
Supported Flash Memory microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 45 Watt, 20 V, 2.25 A
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces 2 x USB-C (supports Thunderbolt 4, DisplayPort 2.0 Alt Mode) (Power Delivery)
Headphone/microphone combo jack
Memory Card Reader Yes (microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC)
Header
Brand Dell
Product Line Dell XPS
Packaged Quantity 1
System
Notebook Type 2-in-1, thin and light
Mechanical Design 360° flip design
Platform Windows
Hard Drive Capacity 512 GB
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Monitor
Diagonal Size 13.4 in
Image Brightness 450 cd/m2
Networking
Data Link Protocol IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11ax, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Interface (Bus) Type M.2 1216
Miscellaneous
Case Material aluminum
Integrated Options Ambient light sensor
Security Fingerprint reader
Included Accessories USB-C power adapter
Dimensions & Weight
Width 11.7 in
Depth 8.1 in
Height 0.6 in
Audio Output
Compliant Standards High Definition Audio
Physical Characteristics
Weight 2.91 lbs
Power
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 104 °F
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Windows 10 Pro 64-bit Edition
Type McAfee (12 months subscription), Microsoft Office (30 days trial)
Video Memory
Memory Allocation Technology shared video memory (UMA)
Input Device
Backlight Yes
Interfaces
USB-C Ports Qty 2
USB-C Features USB Power Delivery
Comment Power Delivery
Shock & Vibration Tolerance
Shock Acceleration (Operating) 140 g
Shock Duration (Operating) 2 ms half-sine pulse
Shock Acceleration (Non-operating) 160 g
Shock Duration (Non-operating) 2 ms half-sine pulse
Vibration Acceleration (Operating) 0.66 g
Vibration Frequency Range (Operating) RMS (random)
Vibration Acceleration (Non-operating) 1.3 g
Vibration Frequency Range (Non-operating) RMS (random)

Where To Buy

Price
$1,711.24

Where To Buy

Dell XPS 13 9310 2-in-1 - 13.4" - Core i7 1165G7 - 16 GB RAM - 512 GB SSD

Part Number: x27310ekpts
Price
$1,711.24