Hands-on with a hybrid version of our favourite Windows 10 laptop
The Dell XPS 13 is Trusted’s pick as the best Windows 10 laptop you can buy right now, so when Dell announced it was taking that winning formula to a thinner, lighter 2-in-1 design, I was intrigued.
I went hands on with the machine at CES in Las Vegas and was suitably impressed.
Update: Since my hands-on, UK pricing and specification options have been announced. The cheapest model you can buy from Dell's UK store is £1,349. That gets you an up-to 3.2GHz Core i5-7Y54 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a Full HD screen and 128GB of storage. That's a pretty basic specification and probably not the one I'd recommend to most people. The £1,499 model improves the specs to a 256GB SSD, 8GB of RAM and the 3,200x1,800-pixel screen. This will probably be the best option for most people, but that is seriously expensive.
The top-end model with the Core i7-7Y75 processor that I tried out at CES will set you back £1,699. You also get 512GB of storage, a high-res screen and 8GB of RAM. I wish there was a model in between with a Core i7 but with 256GB of storage and a Full HD screen. That'd be the sweet spot. It's possible alternative specifications will be available in high-street and online retailers, but that's all we have for now.
Read on for my original hands-on review.
Related: All the news from CES 2017
So, lighter and thinner. Good news on both fronts: The 1.24kg weight is a fraction lighter than the 1.29kg of the regular touchscreen XPS 13 and it measures in at just 13.7mm thick at its widest. Even better, the XPS 13 2-in-1 ditches cooling fans altogether and makes do with passive cooling instead.
Video: Hands-on with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
The compromise for this thin, light and silent design is performance, but it’s not quite as bad as you’d think. Dell has opted for one of Intel’s Y-series Core i7-7Y75 processors from the Kaby Lake generation, which has a base clock speed of just 1.3GHz. That sounds slow, but Dell has managed to squeeze extra performance out of the chip when it’s most needed, boosting the chip much closer to its 3.6GHz maximum speed when it’s needed. There’s custom power management trickery going on in here, so it’ll be interesting to see how well Dell has optimised it.
This means short bursts of activity, such as opening programs and loading web pages, will perform better than you’d expect and might even come close to higher-specification U-Series processors in very short sprints. It’s in longer, more intense tasks such as video rendering and photo processing that performance will suffer: this is not a laptop for creatives with high demands. A regular Dell XPS 13 or XPS 15 would be better choices in this case.
Related: Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 explained
That thin and light design also means you’ll get fewer ports than the regular XPS 13. There’s a pair of USB-C ports, one of which is Thunderbolt 3-compatible, and they can both be used for charging. There’s a USB-C to regular USB 3.0 adapter in the box. Rejoice!
You also get a MicroSD card slot and a 3.5mm headset jack to complete the package.
The backlit keyboard and Microsoft Precision touchpad are as responsive as you’d expect from a Dell, which is great news.
Actual styling is very similar to the standard XPS 13. You get the same gorgeous carbon-fibre composite keyboard tray and stylish aluminium lid. Dell will also sell the XPS 13 2-in-1 as a business laptop, which will get a black aluminium lid instead. The chunky hinges do rather take away from the otherwise classy design, but it’s a necessary evil for making this a 2-in-1.
A super-thin bezel surrounds the 13.3-inch IGZO screen, which comes in either Full HD or 3,200x1,800 (QHD+) resolution options. It’s wonderfully bright and vibrant, with a quoted maximum 400-nits brightness. It’s no MacBook Pro, but it’s as good as you’ll get on a hybrid laptop. It’s touch-sensitive and you’ll be able to buy an active stylus at extra cost for making notes. There’s no cubby hole in which to store it, which is a little irritating.
Below the screen is a pair of lenses for the infrared webcam, which you can use to log in using face recognition, part of Windows 10’s Hello. This is still a silly position for a webcam and still stares up your nose if you’re doing a video conference. Dell is quick to point out you can place the laptop in Tent mode and use the webcam at a higher position. Sadly, facial recognition won’t be active until the Windows 10 Creators update goes live later this year.
Dell is claiming 15 hours of battery life on the Full HD screen model while the QHD+ panel will manage 8 hours. That’s quite a difference and may give Full HD models the upper hand.
It’s has XPS 13 in the name, but this is a very different laptop to the standard XPS 13. It’s less powerful, but lighter and should have better battery life. It’s a case of horses for courses: if thin and light is your priority and you won’t be doing much in the way of intense multimedia work, it’s very attractive. Still, the regular model will always be better value for those who don’t want a 2-in-1 design.