02 Aug Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Review: Making A Great Design Even Smaller And More Flexible

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is very flexible

Over the last four years since Dell recommitted to be in all PC price points in all channels in all countries, the company has made most of the right moves in their PC business, resulting in 17 straight quarters of growth. One of the product lines I admire most at Dell is the XPS notebook line, which I believe was the first Windows notebook line to challenge the Apple MacBook. For years, Dell has been very consistent with XPS on the experience, design, commitment to quality and risk-taking on value-add features.

Dell loaned me their latest XPS notebook, the XPS 13 2-in-1, and I used it as my primary device for a week and tertiary for a month. I’d like to share with you my experiences.

My tested use case

The use case I tested the XPS 13 2-in-1 against was a classic productivity load you may expect a business person or student to have. I installed and used following software:

  • Desktop: Office 365, OneNote, Outlook, Edge, OneDrive, Google Sync and Backup, Chrome, G Suite Sync, Snipping Tool, WhatsApp, and Skype.
  • Microsoft Store: Store, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Photos, Camera, News, Mail, Calendar, Weather, Skype, Music, BrightSpace (for the interns)
Dell sampled me the mid-range configuration priced at $1,299 which included a 13.3”, 1080P InfinityDisplay, fanless 7th Gen Intel Core i7 Y-series processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage, and Windows 10 Home.

Overall

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a beautiful looking system with a machined aluminum and carbon fiber industrial design with an edge to edge InfinityDisplay. It is the smallest 13” 2-in-1 you can get, and is very flexible as it can be used in notebook, tablet, tent and movie mode, and with an active pen. As the system uses Intel’s lowest wattage Intel Core i7, the system is fanless and therefore silent, but also gives up a bit in performance, but I could run Office 365 just great with just a few slowdowns. I was expecting a bit better battery life as the system uses a 4.5-watt processor. I highly recommend anyone looking for a tiny 13” 2-in-1 or a notebook that the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 be in your consideration set.

What I liked

This is one premium, modern looking system and has the hallmark XPS notebook look, with its sturdy machined aluminum chassis with steel hinges and carbon fiber deck and bottom. Its Infinity Edge display looks very modern, which is striking when you first see it. This is the way all displays will look in the future. This system is very flexible as it is a 2-in-1 and can be used as a notebook, tablet, and in movie and tent mode. I used it primarily as a notebook and a little in movie mode.

The laptop is super light, but not the lightest at 2.7 pounds, but I think this weight is impressive given its machined aluminum chassis. Other notebooks use plastic which, of course, much lighter, but less premium. And at 13 inches, it is small and thin enough to slip into a backpack or briefcase with ease. I was also struck by how shallow the base was and it fits well onto the smallest of airplane tables. Weight and size combination is beneficial to people in business who need to pack light or students who carry around a laptop to class or between meetings at work every day.

The 1920×1080 13.3” touchscreen InfinityDisplay is beautiful and sensitive to the touch. 1080P movies look excellent. For an extra $149, potential buyers can get a 4K InfinityDisplay. If looking at photos at closer to their native resolution is important to you and you’re willing to trade-off some battery life, go for it, it’s gorgeous. The pen is sold separately for around $50.

The performance was acceptable doing office work with Office 365 and multiple Chrome windows open. I only noticed a few slowdowns, but I was looking for them and doubt many would if it’s not designed apps, gaming or video editing. The snappy performance was a surprise as this uses Intel’s lowest wattage processor family, the Y-series Core i7. I’ll attribute the good feel to an improved Kaby Lake processor and a Dell feature called Dynamic Power Mode that conserves power and then gives you speed boosts when you want one. The system is fanless and silent. I loved that part of the experience and wish more systems didn’t include a fan or did a better job lowering its hum.

The battery life is good, but not the best. The system lasted about 9 hours for me doing office work which is good but a little shorter than other 2-in-1’s that last 10 or 11 hours but also consider that the system is very tiny and there are trade-offs between size and battery life.

I liked the audio on this laptop and it is impressive given that the device is only .54 inches when closed and is so dense.

The fingerprint scanner works well and takes just a couple minutes to set up. It’s simple to use but still doesn’t replace the ease of Windows Hello facial recognition which also comes standard on the system.

While the notebook is a very tiny system, it is a premium one and supports ThunderBolt 3 over USB-C. This is a great and unexpected feature on a system like this and will provide a lot of fast, future, external upgrades like a dock or even an external GPU. Also, a surprise is the inclusion of a microSD slot on the tiny chassis. Finally, the 802.11ac WiFi was appreciated, particularly in 2×2 mode. This is better than expected WiFi specifications for this kind of unit and hard to do in a metal chassis.

Room for improvement

As I say with all my reviews, there is always room for improvement as there are no perfect products. It’s as important to recognize that there are trade-offs in any product’s design. The power button is located on the side of the computer and is very small and hard to find. The system turned on a few times in my backpack. Camera placement is a challenge, particularly when doing video conferencing as it shoots from the chin up. My interns were aghast at the thought of this. For video conferencing, I ended up using a secondary, external camera not only for the position but for the 1080P resolution.

Finally, to make it truly a mobile experience, I would like to have seen an LTE option, particularly a Gigabit LTE option.

Wrapping up

Dell has a winner on its hands with the Dell XPS 2-in-1, which isn’t surprising as nearly every XPS laptop has been just that. Dell takes the industrial design and experience from its predecessors, the Dell XPS 13 and XPS 15, and makes it very portable and flexible as a convertible 2-in-1.  I highly recommend anyone looking for a tiny 13” 2-in-1 or a notebook that the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 be in your consideration set.