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Flipping your lid: Dell’s XPS 12 reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 5:36 pm 18/02/2013

With the release of the touch-friendly Windows 8 platform, many a laptop manufacturer is trying their hands at engineering a different type of machine. There are clamshells with touchscreens, detachable screens, and now Dell is showing us one design that will really flip your lid. Literally.

Features

The first official touchscreen Ultrabook from Dell to really get its hooks into Windows 8, the Dell XPS 12 tries to be more than just your typical clamshell laptop.

With tablets now well and truly the trend, the XPS 12 is one device that aims to be both the laptop and tablet computer, and aside for incorporating a touchscreen in its design, throws in some good specifications too.

As such, our review unit included a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive, running Windows 8 in 64-bit. With specs like this, we’re inclined to believe it’s the top-end model, though you can find the XPS 12 in another variant with a Core i5, 4GB RAM, and a 128GB solid state drive.

Regardless of the model selected, the display on the XPS 12 is a 12.5 inch Full HD screen, running on In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology, the same type used in Apple’s iPad, and like that model, includes touch control. Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass protects the display from any random scratches or knocks it might suffer.

Above the monitor, you’ll find a 1.3 megapixel camera and microphone, while a Windows 8 touch button sits on the screen just below the frame.

There’s a keyboard on the inside and a touchpad too, while the materials used in this machine include carbon fibre and aluminium.

Ports on this laptop include two USB 3.0 ports – one of which works with eSATA drives – as well as a Mini DisplayPort connector, headphone jack, and AC adaptor port.

Buttons on the left side of the computer include an auto rotate button, power switch, and volume rocket, while the right side features a battery meter.

Performance

These days, it can be hard to work out exactly what you need. Computers are designed for multiple uses, and you may not be able to make your mind up between a laptop or a tablet.

Well hold onto your horses, because that’s exactly what Dell has designed the XPS 12 to be: a hybrid tablet notebook that dares to do both.

In the hands, it’s a reasonably weighty machine. Dell calls the XPS 12 an Ultrabook, but it’s still thicker than the svelte machines that normally carry that branding, which is actually a set of internal design rules and specifications manufacturers have to follow in order to have them called this.

It’s quite noticeable how thick this is, though Dell hasn’t made any compromises, building the touch-based XPS to include some of the strongest materials that have ever graced a laptop, including Corning’s second generation scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass covering the Full HD 12 inch touchscreen, and reinforcing the frame of the laptop with magnesium while adding carbon fibre to the chassis.

It’s certainly one impressive machine, at least from a build level, and we’re particularly enamored with Dell’s idea of what constitutes a hybrid laptop tablet.

Rather than go with the whole “pull the screen out from the keyboard” idea that other manufacturers have gone with, Dell is trying a different tactic, putting the display on a hinge that allows you to push it and change where it faces.

You can either make it face you in the laptop configuration, acting as a touchscreen for a regular laptop, or push it and rotate it to the cover of the laptop, disconnecting it from the keyboard and mouse in the laptop frame, and switching the entire thing to act as if it were a very thick and powerful tablet computer.

This is helped by a metal frame where the display normally sits, allowing the hinged screen to maintain rigidity while you’re flipping it around.

While we’re sure Dell could have come up with other ways of making this work, and we can recall older tablet style PCs having the entire screen pivot, Dell’s logic of just making the display change positions actually makes a lot of sense, and means it’s really easy to convert this touchscreen notebook into a tablet computer.

The screen is also very impressive, with Dell making the 12 inch display capable of showing a 1920×1080 resolution with pretty solid viewing angles, hardly surprising given that this screen needs to be used as both a laptop and a tablet.

Also useful is the inclusion of some high powered internals – Core i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage – with all of these specs helping to make this computer have a speedy experience. As such, Windows 8 seems to adore this computer, with the touch experience flying here and apps switching quickly.

There are some issues though that popped up in the reviewing process, though, and it’s not a perfect machine.

One of these is the wake-up speed, which seems to be all over the shop. Pop the laptop open in clamshell mode – like a regular laptop – and you might find it’s ready to go in a second or five. Flip the screen out into the tablet mode and it could take as long as thirty seconds to wake up, even when you’re pressing either the Windows button on front or the power button along the side.

When it does eventually turn on, you may find some issues with operating solely in touch.

For instance, we had a password on our login for Windows 8, and yet no matter how much we pressed on that little password entry box, no onscreen keyboard would pop up. Eventually we found our savior in the accessibility controls on the screen, but then had to deal with a virtual keyboard that was too small to type with.

The battery isn’t amazing either. After a full charge, we didn’t manage more than roughly four hours, which seems under what an Ultrabook should be offering, especially one with a price edging close to the two thousand dollar mark.

It’s also a reasonably heavy unit. We mentioned that earlier on, but it while it’s easy to spot the weight in the first few minutes, it’s the long term use that shows it might be too heavy to compete as a hybrid tablet Ultrabook machine.

While the use of almost stronger materials makes it feel better than your average plastic laptop, the XPS 12 weighs roughly 1.5 kilograms, which is far heavier than any tablet out there, and is very hard to carry with one hand.

And rather surprisingly – and strangely – there is no SD card slot in this computer, a first for us.

We’re used to having no optical drive, something Ultrabooks generally don’t see, but the omission of a memory card slot is very odd, especially since most laptops have had them for three years now. Given the high price and premium design of this laptop, we’re confused by this move, to say the least.

You can't really use the XPS 12 in this way, but it's interesting to see.

Conclusion

We’ll come out and say it: when we first saw Dell’s flipping screen concept a few months back, we were in love. It just made sense. If you didn’t know quite what you needed, a hybrid that flipped into a different form-factor in a matter of seconds made sense.

But after playing with it, we can see that even Dell needs some time to really nail this idea, because right now, it’s a laptop first and foremost, and then a tablet.

If you’re stuck on the fence, it might be time to try out the hinge instead, as it does offer something that makes both laptop and tablet capable, even if it’s not perfect.

Price (RRP)

$1999

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Strong hinge; Flipping screen is an excellent concept; Rubberised carbon fibre chassis is harder to lose grip on;

Product Cons

Heavier than you'll expect; Tablet operation can be a little buggy; Mediocre battery life; No SD card slot;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Design

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