The XPS 12’s 12.5-inch Full HD screen is mostly a thing of beauty. It’s rated at a very bright 400nits which helps outdoor visibility, and uses an IPS panel for generally good viewing angles – essential on any high-end device, but especially one that can be used as a tablet. With a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels sharpness is excellent, with no sign of unwanted artefacts. Blacks are also nice and deep, while colours pop – partially thanks to the screen’s glossy finish.
However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows; the protective layer of Gorilla Glass, for example, does cause some annoying reflections. Dark detailing falls a little short too, even on maximum brightness, with the two subtlest black shades being indistinguishable. There's also a surprising amount of backlight unevenness along with the tiniest hint of bleed from the bottom bezel. That said, the Dell XPS 12’s screen is still a pleasure to use overall and most content looks great – it’s just not quite the best we’ve encountered.
Dell has done a truly superb job on the XPS 12’s side-facing stereo speakers. In fact, we would even go so far as to say that this is the best-sounding convertible we’ve yet heard.
There’s plenty of volume to fill a small room, and all with minimal distortion. The high-end is detailed and crisp too, with plenty of body, and there’s even a bit of bass for those action-heavy moments or thumping tracks. In other words, external speakers are (as ever) recommended, but certainly not essential.
As the XPS 12 offers specs comparable to any high-end Ultrabook, it pretty much breezed through most of our tests. Heading the charge is a dual-core Intel Core i7-3517U, which runs at 1.9GHz by default but can turbo clock up to 3GHz and supports up to four virtual cores. This is plenty of processing grunt for almost any task you’d want to do on a laptop, and so it’s probably safe for most users to go down the Core i5 route instead.
Likewise, memory is flexible. Most will be happy enough with 4GB of RAM, but you can take that up to 8GB if you multitask intensively, use your laptop for video editing, or use other RAM-hungry applications. For storage, meanwhile, you can choose between a 128GB or 256GB SSD. Our test sample came with maximum specs in all areas, but will set you back £1,300 for the privilege, rather than the £1,000 base price.
As usual, graphics is the weak point, with the integrated Intel HD 4000 barely managing 3D gaming. In Stalker, for example, the Dell XPS 12 only managed a 24fps (frames per second) average at Medium Detail and 720p rather than the screen’s native 1080p. Considering this is hardly what you would call a demanding game these days, cutting-edge titles will fare even worse.
Mind you, gaming aside the XPS 12’s performance is all good news, and this continues with its noise levels. We rarely heard more than a gentle hum in regular use, and even under load its fans become very audible but not actually annoying.
We’ve been a bit disappointed with the battery life of powerful Windows 8 touch laptops and convertibles overall (though our more stressful battery test also means these results can’t be directly compared to pre-Windows 8 laptops). Amongst this high-powered crowd, the XPS 12 more than holds its own.
With five hours and 40 minutes, it matches the Toshiba Satellite U920t almost exactly and easily beats the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, yet sports a higher screen resolution than either rival (powering more pixels requires more energy). Indeed, careful use should see the 12 lasting throughout the working day without issue.
At £999 for the base XPS 12 with a Core i5, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, Dell’s latest convertible is quite affordable even compared to similarly specced Ultrabooks which can’t transform into a tablet. The Acer Aspire S7 13-inch, for example, costs the same but doesn’t turn into a tablet despite its touch-screen, is far noisier under load, doesn’t offer flexible specifications, and isn’t as nice to type on, leaving its memory card reader, thinness and weight as its only significant practical advantages.
To use the £999 Yoga 13 as another rival example, Dell’s convertible gives you a higher-resolution screen, arguably better transforming system (since it’s easier to do and doesn’t leave its keyboard facing out), slightly longer battery life and a backlit keyboard for the same money, so really it’s a bit of a bargain.
The Dell XPS 12 won’t match detachable laptop/tablets for their convenience or battery life due to its weight and thickness, but if you’re after a premium Ultrabook with tablet functionality built-in and don’t mind its lack of digitizer stylus, the XPS 12’s unique inner-bezel flip system works a treat looks super stylish. Throw in a Full HD IPS screen, excellent speakers, a great keyboard and flexible specs under the hood with good battery life, and this well-built machine is a recommended contender if you’re after a powerful Windows 8 convertible.