Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 - Performance, screen, battery life

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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 – Screen

There are two screen options available with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: a Full HD panel and 3,200x,1,800 QHD+ panel. My model is a US configuration that combines a Core i7 with a Full HD screen. In the UK, you’ll only get the Full HD screen with the Core i5 model; the Core i7 options both get the QHD+ panels.

Technically, the panel is very good – but it’s ruined by over-aggressive automatic brightness that can’t be turned off. It uses “content-aware automatic brightness”, which turns the screen brightness up and down based on what’s on the screen. This is a “feature” of some other XPS machines, too, although it isn’t something I’ve noticed before using the 2-in-1.

Anyone who’s seen this sort of dynamic contrast tech on a television will know how irritating it can be, and it’s in full effect here. Switch from a dark web page to a light one, and for the next five seconds the screen will judder its way down to a lower brightness.

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I can see why Dell has done it – to save power and save your eyes – but I’m quite happy to set my own brightness, thank you very much. There’s no way to turn the feature off in any of the Windows 10 or Dell settings either, and even sneaking into the pre-boot BIOS came to nothing.

Related: Best monitors from £100

It’s a shame, because the screen is otherwise pretty good. I couldn’t accurately measure its maximum brightness because each time I tried, the screen dimmed to 300 nits to compensate for my all-white calibration image.

However, Dell rates it at 400 nits, and that looks about right to me. I was at least able to measure it covering 88% of the sRGB colour gamut, which is fine, albeit not outstanding for photographers. Still, it looks vibrant and contrast is very good indeed.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 – Performance and Software

The XPS 2-in-1 comes in two performance configurations: Intel Core i5 with 4GB of memory and 128GB of storage; or Core i7 with 8GB of memory and 256GB or 512GB of storage.

My recommended specification would be the Core i7 with 256GB of storage and a Full HD screen. But Dell hasn’t made that specification available in the UK, so you’ll have to pay the extra money for a QHD+ screen even if you don’t want it.

Related: Intel Core i explained

The Core i7-7Y75 runs at a minimum speed of 1.6GHz and will peak at 3.6GHz. However, it won’t be able to achieve the latter for very long because of the aforementioned passive cooling.

It’s surprisingly sprightly in short sprints: opening web pages and loading photos is handled pretty quickly. Just don’t expect to manage batch photo processing or video editing; it simply isn’t designed for such tasks. The regular XPS 13 with its more powerful “U”-series processors is a much better bet.

You’d be wise to uninstall the McAfee LiveSafe software that Dell continues to force upon users. Its tentacles go as far as installing itself onto your web browsers and popping up annoying notifications when you don’t want them.

There are other problems, too. Sleep and hibernation behaviour is incredibly inconsistent, continuing a series of problems that’s beset a number of Windows 10 devices over the past couple of years.

It’s been a particular problem for Dell on some of its XPS models, although this is the first time I’ve experienced it on a review unit.

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I’ll put the computer sleep but it will immediately wake up again, staying powered up while in my bag or sitting on my desk overnight. That results in huge battery drain, a toasty bag and a lot of eyebrow furrowing.

Following the steps of troubled buyers before me, I was able to get the device to hibernate without sleeping at all, but waking up your PC from hibernation is far slower than waking it up from a sleep – something I find incredibly frustrating. What’s the point of having a get-up-and-go sort of device if you have to hang around for 20 seconds before actually getting up and going?

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 – Battery Life

Dell reckons the XPS 13 2-in-1 is capable of handling 15 hours of office tasks, which appears a little generous to me.

In slightly more strenuous, web-based tasks such as video streaming and writing documents and emails, I didn’t often get beyond a full working day – a little over seven hours at around 40% brightness was around the limit. Push it a little less, however, you’ll definitely make it to the crucial eight-hour mark. If you have a USB battery pack, you’ll be able to top up very slowly using a USB cable.

It lasted 9hrs 45mins in our lightweight Powermark test, which is around the same as the regular XPS 13. It lost 11% of its charge in an hour of Netflix streaming, implying around nine hours of non-stop streaming at under half brightness.

Should I buy the Dell XPS 2-in-1?

I can’t find many reasons to buy the XPS 13 2-in-1 over its significantly superior sibling, the XPS 13. In fact, the biggest selling point for me is Windows Ink. But frankly, I’d much rather use a Surface Pro 4 – it’s more powerful, more versatile, cheaper and comes with a stylus.

Price, too, is a sticking point. The cheapest model costs £1,349 for a fairly weak specification; for the next model up – the one I’d actually recommend – you’ll have to pay £1,499.

Dell XPS 13 2 in 1

By comparison, £1,399 will get you the vastly more powerful XPS 13 with a proper Core i7-7500U processor, or the supremely thin and light Asus ZenBook 3. Or you might fancy a Core M5-powered 12-inch MacBook, which is arguably better built and has the extra joy of macOS, which is better-suited for low-power processors. Of course, none of those alternatives offer the 2-in-1 form factor. But do you really need it?

Even if you decide to disregard the alternatives, the XPS 13 2-in-1 doesn’t come close enough to perfection to justify its cost. Sleep and hibernation issues, annoying screen dimming and silly webcam placement mean that it falls some way short.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 is a beautifully built machine, but better rivals mean it isn’t a sensible choice.

Verdict

Expensive and slightly flawed, the XPS 13 2-in-1 is a rare miss from Dell.

Watch: How to choose a laptop

Score in detail

  • Performance 7
  • Keyboard 8
  • Design 6
  • Screen Quality 8
  • Build Quality 8
  • Value 6
  • Touchpad 6
  • Heat & Noise 9
  • Battery Life 8
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