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Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: A great display meets a noisy fan

Written by Chris Duckett on

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (2018)

Very good
  • Top display
  • Good silicon
  • AMD GPU allows for some gaming
  • Four USB-C port options to power the device
Don't Like
  • Fan is loud
  • Battery life disappears when GPU is engaged
  • Extreme levels of crapware
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

From the start, the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 was loud. It was sitting on my kitchen bench doing what new PCs do -- downloading a lot of updates to Windows from Microsoft -- and in a few short minutes, its fan was whirling away and making noise that gave me flashbacks of the laptops of yesteryear.

This throwback is unlike the rest of the machine, which is a collection of very good silicon.

The XPS 15 is the first device making use of the Intel CPU and AMD Radeon RX Vega 870 GPU combo to cross my desk, and that means it is one of the more interesting devices this year.

The addition of the Radeon GPU is a double-edged sword.

Firstly, it gives a very welcome boost to the graphics capabilities of the device. The XPS isn't going to be a gaming or rendering system, but those who have been struggling with the Intel HD graphics embedded in laptops will appreciate the reduction in chugging and lost frames.

The drawback that comes with the performance bump is the battery being quickly sapped when the Vega is engaged. When playing a desktop-style strategy game -- an application that is a very long way from the likes of FarCry -- the battery was drained in 90 minutes. It would be wrong to single out the XPS 15 for being the sole offender in this task, as the entire category of gaming laptops suffer from this.

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And then there is the Intel-branded configuration tool for the Radeon, which reminds you that this XPS is a "dogs and cats living together" sort of device you never thought you'd see.

Beyond the GPU, the rest of the silicon in our review unit was made up of an Intel Core i7-8705G processor, with 16GB of memory and 1TB of M.2 NVMe storage -- a mighty fine collection of parts that has the high levels of performance expected.

The outside

The XPS 15 2-in-1 comes in a hinged form factor that dictates the keyboard flip-around to reside behind the screen when being used as a tablet, and in tablet mode it is a rather hefty prospect with its greater than 2-kilogram (4.36-pound) weight.

Use the device in tent mode, and you focus on the real gem in the XPS 15: Its display. The screen is a 15.6-inch touch-capable 4k IPS beauty with tiny bezels, and to make sure the top bezel remains as small as possible, Dell has moved the webcam to below its logo underneath the display.

Casual webcam users probably won't be terribly bothered by this new placement, but if you are the sort of person who works remotely and does daily video conferencing, you'd best tell your co-workers you're going to look like you are looking for their heads for the foreseeable future.

Dell touts its new magnet-using keyboard as allowing a 24 percent reduction in keyboard thickness, and that's a nice number, but it is far from the revolutionary experience the literature makes it out to be. As for the trackpad, let's just say that as someone who prefers the ThinkPad approach to trackpads, my experience with this XPS is consistent with previous forms -- your mileage may vary.

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: In pictures

One nice touch by Dell, though, is the integration of a fingerprint reader in its power button. It's a good idea on phones, and it is also a good idea in laptops.

Another nice touch is Dell's embrace of USB-C and Thunderbolt ports for powering the XPS. The laptop has a pair of Thunderbolt ports on its left-hand side, and a pair of USB-C 3.1 ports on its right, which means that when you want to plug in the USB-C power cord, there are four options to aim at -- it's something MacBook owners could only dream of. That said, you cannot run around trying to power the XPS off your phone's USB-C cord; it wants what it wants, and that is the more powerful Dell cable.

For compatibility, Dell has included a handy USB-C to USB-A dongle.

The crapware

The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 comes packed with the usual gamut of Intel and Dell utilities that one has come to expect; however, for the review unit we had, the installation of Windows 10 Home ratcheted up the amount of crapware by an order of magnitude.

Beyond the usual Microsoft attempts to push Candy Crush and Minecraft onto new users, Dell has taken it upon itself to push out promos such as the annoying Dropbox notification that decided to reappear three times after it was dismissed.

It's little wonder that users get annoyed by Windows 10 pushing stuff onto them.

The verdict

At the time of writing, without cashbacks and rewards, the base version of the XPS 15 2-in-1 starts at $1,300, and tops out at $2,200 for the beefiest model on Dell's website. For Australians, the Australia tax is in effect, and the price range is AU$3,400 to AU$4,200 -- or around $2,600 to $3,200 -- although the AU models universally have the fastest chip and generally more memory included in that price.

That's a top price, but you are buying a flagship model in the XPS.

The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is a very good laptop, and there is plenty to like about it. At this point, I should be raving about the quality of the display, but my memory of this machine will be the fan, its incessant noise, and wondering whether the laptop would heat my jeans like the devices from a decade ago.

It's a shame, because this could have been a great device. In a way it still is, but only on paper.


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