Computing Laptops

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: A versatile machine for work & play

Dell’s larger XPS 15 left a big impression on me last year. With its beautiful and large edge-to-edge display, powerful performance and rather beautiful design, it was the kind of Windows laptop I’d love to own for myself.

Now I’ve got my hands on the newest generation of the XPS lineup — Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop — and as the name suggests, this machine switches between the traditional laptop form factor and that of a tablet if you fold the display backwards. The display doesn’t detach entirely from the keyboard like some others, but this foldable design does allow you to position the XPS 13’s display in almost any angle you want.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: Design

The XPS 13 has a compact and good looking design

It’s very difficult to fault Dell on their XPS design, and there isn’t a drastic change from their winning formula on previous models.

The chassis is pleasantly compact and thin — it makes my MacBook Pro from 2014 feel chunky in comparison — and that Infinity display just looks stunning whether you’re using it for work or play. In fact, it’s surprising to me that other laptop manufacturers aren’t replicating this edge-to-edge display design.

Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 model I’m testing here packs a full HD touch-enabled display which should please most customers. If you want a higher resolution QHD panel instead, you’ll need to fork out a minimum of £1500/$1600 which isn’t cheap. It’s a hefty price to pay for pixel-obsessed geeks like me, and chances are most people won’t care enough about display resolutions to upgrade to 4K, although it’s good to have an option.

This XPS 13 model comes with a 1080p panel, but you can get 4K

Unlike other metal unibody builds on other premium laptops, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 has an aluminium shell on the outer casing with a plastic/carbon fibre base around the keyboard — just like the XPS 15 I reviewed before. Don’t be fooled by the plastic interior though — the XPS 13 has no flex at all and feels reassuringly solid when typing — even when you’re an ‘aggressive’ typist like me.

Alongside the touchpad, there’s a fingerprint scanner that works very well. Using Windows Hello you can use it to sign into your laptop instead of using the conventional PIN or password system, which I’ve found to be very convenient and quick. It’s a modern and useful approach to device security, and I think more laptops should have something that performs as well as this.

Conveniently, Dell also keeps the battery life indicators on the left side; just press a button and 5 LEDs will tell you how much juice is left.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: Keyboard & Touchpad

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 has a very nice keyboard & touchpad

Dell’s keyboard on the XPS 13 is one of the best I’ve used on a windows laptop. Despite its slim design, this laptop’s keyboard is very comfortable to type on with firm & responsive keys, and enough key travel to avoid the feeling that you’re constantly smashing on a flat surface. Thanks to well-spaced and well-positioned keys, my typing experience has been pretty fluid with few mistakes and the only thing I can really moan about is the small size of the Enter key, as I’m used to taller versions.

Even the touchpad is impressive on the XPS 13, and throughout my time swiping, pressing and using gestures it has handled itself very well.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: Connectivity options

As laptops get progressively thinner, the more ports they seem to lose. Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 is still rocking the good-old headphone jack so you won’t have to resort to Bluetooth headphones just yet, along with a Thunderbolt 3 port on the left side of the device for power. On the right side, there’s a micro SD card slot, Noble lock slot and a USB C DisplayPort. Considering the size of the device, it’s a reasonable amount of ports and should be enough for most people’s needs.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: Speakers & camera

Dell has packed side-firing speakers on the XPS 13 2-in-1. They’re surprisingly loud considering the compact size of the laptop itself, although you’re unlikely to be blown away by their sound quality. It’ll do the job for most things like watching YouTube videos and playing music, but at higher volumes you’ll notice that they sound flat and lack any emphatic bass. If sound quality is important to you, you’ll probably want headphones or a Bluetooth speaker to go with this.

That good old 720p resolution camera is still at the bottom of the display, meaning the people at the other end of your video call will likely see right up your nostrils. That said, if you flip the Dell XPS 13 into tent mode, the camera ends up being above the display instead.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: Performance

The Dell XPS 13 has performed very well during my time with it.

The short version is: for my day-to-day work which typically includes email, word processing, light photo editing and social media management, the XPS 13 has been brilliant in terms of performance and battery life. I can easily go a whole day working on this thing really enjoy using this laptop and won’t find any serious performance issues.

That said, the processor inside the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is one of Intel’s mobile processors — meaning it’s built with long battery life and portability in mind. You end up trading the power you’d usually expect from the normal XPS 13 in exchange for a fanless, quiet and compact design, so if high-intensity performance for things like video editing is your priority, this may not be for you. That said: if your normal work involves any of the aforementioned things, and you’ll be using this for light gaming and/or watching videos, the performance paired with Dell’s Infinity display makes casual use a pleasure.

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies with the Dell XPS 2-in-1, however. First off, one of my biggest frustrations is the laptop’s sluggishness when you turn it on or wake it from sleep. Considering all variations ship with an SSD inside, it’s mind-boggling to me how a machine as powerful as this can boot up so slowly in 2017.

Editor’s note: this issue seems to have been solved with the latest Windows update; my XPS 13 now starts up almost instantly after sleeping.

Next, the touchpad will occasionally become unresponsive if you haven’t used it in a while. And lastly, but equally as frustrating, the display will often flicker and change brightness randomly.

Despite these issues (most of which can be addressed with a driver or Windows update, I’m sure) the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is actually a joy to use for the most part and unless you’re doing some intense gaming or graphical work, it’ll perform well.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: Verdict

The XPS 13 2-in-1 has very few caveats that stop me recommending it. Once you factor in the gorgeous Infinity display (with optional 4K resolution), its versatility as a tablet or work machine, as well as a comfortable and compact design, and I have to say the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a great computer.

By Fabio Virgi

I'm the guy behind Let's Talk Tech and a travel blog called Fab Meets World. Some people call me a geek, I think they're probably right. I'm fascinated by technology and innovation, love good design and own way too many gadgets for my own good. Want to connect? Get in touch on Twitter and Instagram.