Dell XPS Duo 12 Review
- 1080p IPS screen
- Premium materials throughout
- Innovative flip-screen system
- Good, backlit keyboard
- Flexible, powerful specs
- Great speakers
- No SD card slot
- No pressure-sensitive stylus
- Relatively heavy
- Review Price: £999.00
- Flip-screen transforms laptop to tablet
- 12.5-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS screen with 10-point touch
- Core i5 or i7 CPU, 4-8GB of RAM, 128GB/256GB SSD
- Backlit keyboard
Everyone has their own take on the Windows 8 convertible tablet/laptop, but Dell’s hybrid Ultrabook is unique. Rather than twist, like the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist, or detach, like the Asus Vivo Tab, the Dell XPS 12 flips its screen around a local hinge that’s integrated into its bezel.
It’s a bit difficult to describe, but looking at the pictures you probably get the idea. This is a preferable transformation approach to the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13’s whole screen-flip mechanism, as it doesn’t leave the keyboard facing out at the device’s base when in ‘tablet mode’.
But the XPS Duo 12’s appeal doesn’t end at the innovative way it transforms either. Its design and build are inspired by the very premium Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook rather than the cheap and cheerful Dell XPS 10 Windows RT convertible, so it looks and feels superb.
Under its metal and carbon-fibre hood the Dell XPS 12 is just as impressive, sporting a 1080p, 400nits IPS touch-screen, up to a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. That’s some serious power for its £999 starting price, so can this be the convertible laptop to rule them all?
Dell XPS 12 – Design and Build
There are no two ways about it: just like the XPS 13 before it, the Dell XPS 12 is a beautiful bit of kit. The lid is black, soft-touch carbon fibre, which gives a distinct and attractive pattern. Though it picks up the occasional echo of a fingerprint, it’s generally easy to maintain, and quite rugged too.
This soft black area is surrounded by anodised aluminium trim, which is in fact the frame that holds the swinging ‘tablet’ part of the laptop. Opening the XPS 12 up, we’re treated to nicely consistent internals. The screen is surrounded by a glossy black bezel and fronted by a seamless sheet of Gorilla Glass, while the keyboard and its surrounds are finished in ‘traditional’ black soft-touch plastic.
An aluminium surround (this time without hinges) separates this from the base’s sides and bottom, which are all soft-touch black. This not only makes the XPS Duo 12 lovely to hold and carry, but ensures it stays safely on your lap too. The only design element we’re not fond of is that the power plug sticks straight out from the right-hand side, rather than being L-shaped.
With the use of all these premium materials – glass, carbon fibre, metal and high-grade plastics – it’s no surprise that the XPS 12 is immaculately constructed. It might not have quite the same rigidity as the 13-inch MacBook Air, but there’s not a hint of creak or unwanted flex, and panels fit perfectly. Both the main hinge and the 12’s unique inner flip hinge are also incredibly solid and offer beautifully defined action.
As a laptop, the Dell XPS 12 is quite thin (23mm at its thickest) and reasonably light (1.54kg). The disadvantage compared to a fully detachable convertible design is that you can’t remove the screen from the keyboard and need to carry around the whole machine at all times. As such, it’s on the heavy side for a tablet but we’ll get into that later.
Dell XPS 12 – Connectivity and Webcam
The XPS 12 isn’t particularly generous on its connectivity, thanks largely to its slim, tapering lines. However, it does pack in most of the essentials. On the left-hand side there’s a rotation lock button, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a spring-loaded power slider, a volume rocker and a stereo speaker. The right-hand side, meanwhile, houses a second stereo speaker, battery indicator button with five white LEDs, twin USB 3.0 ports and a mini DisplayPort.
As you might have noticed, the big absentee here is an SD card reader. Even if Dell couldn’t have fitted a full-size one, a microSD reader would have been better than nothing. We also feel that on a consumer laptop, it’s nice to have an HDMI option in addition to DisplayPort. Of course this can be achieved using an adapter, however you won’t find one included in the box.
On the wireless side of things, the Dell XPS 12 comes with the usual Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 4.0 combo, with no option for mobile broadband. The front-facing webcam captures HD video but, as usual, doesn’t provide amazing quality. That said, it’s perfectly adequate for video chatting, which is after all its primary function.
Dell XPS 12 – Keyboard and Typing
The XPS 12’s keyboard is, if anything, even better than the already good effort on the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook. Layout is flawless, while keys are well-spaced too. Just like Lenovo’s laptop keyboards, keys are slightly concave, though they don’t have the classic Lenovo ‘smile’ shape.
They also offer good feedback, with a decent amount of travel and reasonably firm click, and for typing in the dark there are two levels of white LED backlighting. While the overall typing experience on the Dell XPS 12 doesn’t quite match the mighty Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, it holds its own against the best of the rest.
Dell XPS 12 – Touchpad
Again, the large, glass touchpad will be familiar to anyone who has seen one of the other high-end XPS models. It’s finished in smooth matt black which matches its soft-touch surroundings nicely, also making it lovely under the finger. It’s not quite as responsive as most of the touchpads we’ve encountered recently, but a quick tweak of the settings mostly resolves things.
As with most premium Ultrabooks and convertibles these days, the touchpad’s buttons are integrated into the pad’s surface. We’ve often found this can be a little hit and miss, however Dell’s implementation is flawless with great action on each button and no dead zone whatsoever.
Dell XPS 12 – Tablet and Touch
Like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, the convertible XPS 12 is a bit big and heavy in its tablet mode, and for this reason it’s best to view it as a laptop first and a tablet second. However, if you can rest it on a surface – such as your lap or a table – then it’s a joy to use. The soft-touch back in tablet mode provides a comfy grip, while the rounded edges mean it doesn’t become too painful on the fingers.
The Dell XPS 12’s unique flip-screen approach doesn’t just lend itself well to being used as a tablet either. If you’re sitting across from someone at a table using this XPS in ‘laptop mode’, you can just flip the screen to show them what you’re working on.
Like all high-end convertibles, the XPS 12 supports 10-finger touch, which is nice for local multiplayer touch gaming. Ironically, its high 1,920 x 1,080 screen resolution makes many elements in Windows 8’s ‘classic’ desktop mode too small to press with complete assurance, but then that part of Win 8 wasn’t really designed for touch anyway. Still, with many rivals offering digitizer stylus input, this is one area where the 12 falls a little short.
Dell XPS 12 – Screen
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 XPS 12 – Speakers
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.
Dell XPS 12 – Specs and Performance
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.
Dell XPS 12 – Battery Life
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.
Dell XPS 12 – Price and Value
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.
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Score in detail
Screen Quality 8
Battery Life 8