05 Feb Review: The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is designed to deliver the company’s highest level of performance in a thin and light platform. This platform is unique because it is the first time that Intel INTC -0.21% and AMD partnered together to deliver a single chip with both a high-performance CPU and GPU. With special memory technology and power balancing capabilities, it is designed for the highest possible performance and maximum battery life. Today I’d like to offer my review of the device, and how it fared with my typical daily computing applications.
The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is a striking laptop, both visually and in terms of materials. The entire outside of the laptop is a dark brushed aluminum that looks great and unlike anything else on the market. The keypad is made of carbon fiber and features a huge touchpad. While it isn’t quite the size of the MacBook Pro’s touchpad, I personally think that touchpad borders on too large. The XPS 15 2-in-1 also has a different hinge than the regular XPS 15, which allows for full 360-degree articulation. The hinge still needs some tuning—it cannot be opened easily with one hand, and the display wobbles a bit when you touch it. Hinges aren’t easy—especially for touchscreen laptops—but Dell is improving.
Dell integrated the fingerprint sensor into the power button, which I think is a great design decision. The XPS 15 2-in-1 features an infinity edge display, which means the webcam and Windows Hello facial recognition are still at the bottom of the screen. At this point, I’m done hating on webcam placement because I almost never use the built-in camera and most people cover theirs now anyways.
The overall design of the laptop is more attractive and thinner than the traditional XPS 15 laptop, but there are some compromises. For example, because the laptop is thinner there are no full-size USB ports and only four type-C ports. This is much less of a problem than I would have said 6-12 months ago, but occasionally it is still a nuisance. There is also no full-size SD card slot; while this makes pulling images off my memory card harder, I can now just connect my camera directly via USB Type-C. Also, the memory on this laptop is soldered to the PCB, which means that you are stuck with whatever memory capacity you originally opt for. So, when and if you buy this laptop, consider the higher RAM configurations.
On a day-to-day basis, I primarily used the XPS 15 2-in-1 for Windows 365 apps like Word and Excel, along with many tabs of Chrome. For these lighter workloads, I primarily ran the laptop with battery saver mode on. I did not notice any performance changes, but I did notice that battery life improved to 7+ hours of continuous use from about 4-5 hours in normal power mode. It would be nice if the laptop could somehow utilize AI to identify my primary applications and decide which power mode to put the laptop in, so that I don’t have to do it manually.
Another application I use quite often is Adobe Photoshop CC, the latest version of Adobe’s wildly popular Photoshop application. I found that Photoshop ran extremely well on this laptop, both when plugged in and on-the-go. I was particularly impressed with Photoshop’s performance considering that I was working with 24MP RAW files from my A7iii. Another good measure of Photoshop performance is how the application performs with multiple images open, and it was no issue for this powerhouse of a 2-in-1.
I also used the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 in Adobe Photoshop CC 2019, the company’s latest video editing suite. I edited numerous 4K videos on the XPS 15 and it didn’t hiccup once, though a 4K video with transitions and effects applied managed to push the processor and RAM nearly to 100%. It took about 20 minutes to process the video, but it could easily take hours on a less powerful notebook. While the XPS 15 2-in-1 isn’t a desktop replacement in terms of video editing performance, it should be a lot faster than most other laptops on the market. Certainly, it is faster than nearly all 2-in-1 laptops out today.
One interesting thing that Dell pre-loaded on the XPS 15 2-in-1 was the new Dell Mobile Connect. Dell Mobile Connect connects your smartphone to your laptop so you can see all of your notifications—phone calls, texts, apps, and emails—from a simple application window inside the Dell Mobile Connect app. Because the phone is connected directly to the XPS 15 2-in-1 over Wi-Fi there is almost no latency and you can control your phone and respond to messages and texts without ever having to touch your phone. I found this feature extremely useful during meetings and conferences where it isn’t appropriate to check your phone. This is nice because although many people have smartwatches that display their notifications, responding to those messages without picking up your phone is usually impossible. I really like the non-intrusive nature of Dell Mobile Connect and how well it worked on my Samsung Note9. Setup was easy, and it worked flawlessly every time that I had my phone and laptop on at the same time within proximity of each other.
My primary entertainment use cases are Netflix and YouTube. The XPS 15 2-in-1 features Dell Cinema and a beautiful 4K display, which makes watching YouTube and Netflix quite enjoyable. The sound and picture quality are amazing and the connectivity is solid enough to deliver a buffer-less experience. Both YouTube and Netflix immediately default to 4K content for this laptop. This can be credited to Dell’s own Cinema software, a suite of capabilities that ensures better streaming and image quality when watching videos online. I can attest to the experience being better than I’ve seen on other laptops without it.
Gaming and graphics performance
When it comes to gaming, it’s a little bit of a touchier subject. Though the genesis of the XPS brand is actually in gaming, this is not Dell’s gaming brand—that’s the Alienware series. A comparable laptop for gaming in this category would be something like the new Alienware m15. That laptop sports a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070, while XPS 15 2-in-1 has its unique Intel + AMD combo chip that includes what could be considered a discrete AMD GPU (though it takes up about the same amount of space as an integrated solution). That’s part of what makes the XPS 15 2-in-1 so unique—it has the power of a thicker system in a sleeker, thinner body. According to most benchmarks, the NVIDIA GeForce 1050 Ti GPU inside of the XPS 15 2-in-1 is faster than the NVIDIA GTX 1050 (which powered the previous generation of the XPS 15). The NVIDIA GeForce 1050 Ti is slightly faster than the AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL inside of the XPS 15 2-in-1, but its chassis is 2mm thicker and less sleek. Specs and performance aside, the XPS 15 and the entire XPS line are essentially Dell’s happy medium devices. They look gorgeous and deliver ample capabilities across many different use cases. Over the years, XPS has shifted more towards a productivity and creative platform, but I believe many people still buy them because of their high performance and portability.
I played both Overwatch and Fortnite on the XPS 15 2-in-1 and was impressed. I did not notice any frame rate drops or any kind of lag whatsoever. The laptop did eventually get somewhat loud with the fans going at a pretty high speed, but the noise was tolerable since the game mostly overpowered it. I, unfortunately, did not get too much time to game on this system, but I was able to play full matches of both games without any issue and that’s pretty impressive for a laptop that isn’t really billed as a gaming laptop.
One nice thing I noticed about the XPS 15 2-in-1 was that the fans slowed and quieted down pretty quickly after the game was shut down—it took only a few minutes to return to near silence. This is quite an achievement on Dell’s part—most laptop fans must stay on for quite some time to cool down the system.
Dell’s XPS 15 2-in-1 is possible thanks to the unique partnership between AMD and Intel. Dell has built an all-around solid product and it does quite a good job of both delivering quality productivity and entertainment. I would recommend the XPS 15 2-in-1 for someone that is creatively minded and enjoys a powerful notebook with a good keyboard and a nice, 15” calibrated touch display. I bought the original The XPS 15 notebooks are without a doubt Dell’s direct competitor to the Apple MacBook Pro 15”. By offering two models, Dell lets users decide if they want a high-performance laptop that fits the traditional mold or one that converts into a tablet that can be used for drawing and markup. I personally enjoyed using the XPS 15 2-in-1, and it really amazes me that Dell was able to reduce the thickness by 2mm while still improving upon the original XPS 15. Thanks to the keyboard and battery life of the XPS 15 2-in-1, this was one of the easiest reviews I’ve written.