Dell XPS 12 £1299

26th Nov 2012 | 17:25

Dell XPS 12

Dell takes Windows 8 into flip-screen territory

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

Great processor; Top quality screen; Massive SSD; Cheaper than Retina; Fantastic build;

Dislike:

Too heavy; Limited use as a tablet; Windows with touch is difficult; No HDMI;

Introduction

Windows 8 has a shaken up the design of laptops and tablets, with the new emphasis on touchscreen technology resulting in some of the best hybrids we've ever seen.

With this in mind, there was little surprise when Dell announced that its new 12.5-inch Ultrabook, the Dell XPS 12 convertible, would be another shape-shifting device. But there were a few raised eyebrows when we learned that the screen-swivelling design of the Dell Inspiron Duo from 2010 was making a return.

  • Buy XPS 12 Ultrabook from Dell

Available for £1,299 /AU$1,499/US$1,199, it's a serious outlay but with top components and both laptop and tablet functionality, it's one of the biggest names on the Windows 8 roster.

Dell XPS 12 review

The Dell XPS 12's party trick is its 12.5-inch touchscreen, which swivels on a hinge within the bezel so that it can be folded back on itself and used like a tablet. You can use your digits to control Windows both in laptop and tablet mode.

We've been spoiled with Windows 8 laptop-tablet hybrids over the last few months, and there's been a huge range of new devices which have been realised through a host of different designs.

There's the sliding Sony Vaio Duo 11 (which nipped in to steal the 'Duo' name from the XPS 12), the bendy Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, not to mention the transformer style Asus VivoBook and Microsoft Surface (the non-RT model slated for next year.)

The Dell XPS 12 is the only 12.5-inch model in this list of Ultrabooks, which tries to bridge the divide between the now standard 13-6-inch laptop and the 10-inch tablet. Toshiba has also recognised this potential sweet spot and launched its Toshiba Satellite U940T convertible Ultrabook with the same screen size.

Dell XPS 12 review

The Dell XPS 12 fits right into the rest of Dell's Ultrabook lineup. It's made from carbon fibre, with a soft textured lid and cool aluminium detailing. There's a full-sized keyboard and a luxurious trackpad, but there's a substantial bulk that somewhat overrules the entire hybrid premise.

The Dell XPS 12 weighs a substantial 1.54kg (3.4lbs), which is a perplexing bulk for a 12-inch laptop. Most 13-inch Ultrabooks have converged at the 1.3kg (2.87lbs) mark, so the extra weight with an inch less real estate is confusing.

Dell XPS 12 review

It's noticeable too, and it turns the clever trick of spinning the screen around into an uncomfortable experience that limits the need to use the feature at all.

Watching movies on trains and planes is certainly a good reason to use it, and so is providing a comfortable way to use touchscreen apps, which don't exist yet. However, we'd wager that most Dell XPS 12 users will spend 90% of their time using it like a laptop.

Of course, price is all important, and at £1,299 /AU$1,499/US$1,199 it's not far from the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display price, which you can buy for £1,499/AU$1,899/US$1,699.

Dell XPS 12 review

But how does the Dell XPS 12 compare? Read on as we get down and dirty with this swivelling Ultrabook.

Specifications

While the Dell XPS 12 is a dubious tablet, it's a magnificent 12-inch laptop.

Inside you'll find a top-of-the-range third generation Intel Core i7 3517U processor clocked at a very nimble 1.9GHz. It's the same type of low-power processor found on all Ultrabooks, and this is part of Intel's guidelines. However, the speed of this chip certainly stands out from the crowd.

To back up this meaty processor is 8GB of RAM, which is unprecedented in a portable laptop of this size, and as you'd expect, there's no dedicated graphics, with all visual eye candy handled by the Intel HD 4000 graphics on the Core i7 chip.

Dell XPS 12 review

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With a processor this powerful, you can still expect to render HD video and edit pictures without any hassle, and gaming will be within reach, albeit, with the settings turned down.

If the size and speed of the Dell XPS 12's processor was unprecedented in this form factor, so is the screen. No expense has been spared, with the 12.5-inch panel sporting a resolution of 1920 x 1080.

The Ultrabook's visuals are brilliant, with bold colours and a smooth clean picture combining for an eye-popping experience.

Dell XPS 12 review

The only Windows 8 rival in terms of resolution in this field is the Asus Taichi, which packs two of these beauties into a thinner and much lighter chassis.

However, immediate comparisons will be made to Apple's Retina display, which is now available on the iPad 4 and MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display and MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina display.

While the Dell XPS 12's sharpness and depth of colour aren't far shy of Apple's tech, it doesn't compete in terms of sheer vibrancy and we prefer the Retina's sumptuous colours, absorbing depth and almost blinding brightness.

Dell XPS 12 review

There's a gigantic 256GB SSD drive, which is enough space to make this diminutive Dell anyone's main machine, and brings all the performance boosts of the technology, with fast boot times and lightening quick system navigation.

You won't find a bigger solid-state drive on any laptop, and it's again a colossal offering on such a minute machine.

While we mentioned that the build is heavy for a 12.5-inch laptop, the flip side is that it's one of the best-built ultra-portables we've used. First there's the swivel component of the laptop lid, which runs the risk on paper of being flimsy and wobbly.

Dell XPS 12 review

However, it's so solid when docked into position that you wouldn't notice that it swivelled unless you were told. A firm push is all that's required to spin the screen, and it slots back into place with a satisfying click.

The body itself is also extremely solid, with zero flex in the chassis, as if the body was carved from a single piece of carbon fibre.

The trackpad also has the wonderful soft texture that graces the rest of the Dell XPS 12, but it's slightly unresponsive, with a muddy feeling that's slow when navigating the old Windows interface.

Dell XPS 12 review

The keyboard, however, is a triumph, with the backlighting making it easy to type in dim conditions. And the beauty of the 12.5-inch chassis is that you still get full sized keys. They're beautifully cushioned, and the Chiclet style is the same as you'll find on its bigger brothers the Dell XPS 14 and Dell XPS 15.

In terms of ports and connectivity, the Dell is a slightly mixed bag. There's two USB 3.0 ports, one of which has the ability to charge devices when the laptop is off, which is incredibly useful for those on the move. However, there's no HDMI, with DisplayPort the preferred method of AV connectivity.

Another slight disappointment is the power cable, which still has a transformer brick, where many manufacturers have dispensed with this on low power machines.

Dell XPS 12 review

Performance

Benchmarks
Battery Eater: 181 minutes
Cinebench: 10,557
3D Mark 06: 4,746

The Intel Core i7-3517U processor that drives the Dell XPS 12 is one of the best you'll find, and unsurprisingly it flew through our tests.

The score of 10,557 in Cinebench is comparable to full-form factor machines such as the Asus Zenbook Prime, showing that compromising on size, gaining portability and even having the option to use your laptop as a tablet doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on pure power.

Dell XPS 12 review

A score like this shows that the Dell XPS 12 is worthy of any computing task, as you'd expect from any laptop branded with Dell's high performance moniker.

The beefy chip doesn't mean it's heavy on battery either. Our tests involve subjecting laptops to highly stressful conditions, including looping a simple writing test while simultaneously looping 1080p video.

With all of this in mind, the Dell XPS 12 still managed to run for 181 minutes, which means you'd be able to watch a full movie before reaching for the power cable.

Dell XPS 12 review

To put this in perspective, the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display managed a score of just over four hours, in more demanding conditions, so while the Dell isn't far shy of the top performers, it's still a score that can easily be improved upon.

However, if you are looking for a Windows tablet and are considering an RT version, you'll see the biggest difference in comparative longevity. Microsoft Surface RT lasted for over seven hours of continuous 1080p video playback, which makes it a definite consideration in our eyes.

Since there's no dedicated video chip included, the graphics score was disappointing. Most day-to-day tasks will be catered for easily, but high-end gaming is out.

Dell XPS 12 review

If you do need to edit HD video or edit huge batches of pictures, however, look no further, because there's so much power in the processor, this shouldn't be a problem.

Touchscreen performance was also excellent, and the Dell sports 10-finger recognition, which means even the most frenzied touch-typist will get on well with the on-screen keyboard.

If there's one complaint, it's that the 1080p resolution makes everything appear smaller, and this has a negative impact on usability in the traditional Windows desktop. Luckily you'll always have the mouse trackpad to hand.

Dell XPS 12 review

Verdict

There's no doubt that the Dell XPS 12 is a superb Ultrabook, which really challenges the competition in terms of quality and power. The build quality, performance and comfort packed into a diminutive 12.5-inch laptop is unrivalled, and anyone looking for a true ultra-portable laptop should make sure they check out the Dell XPS 12.

We love the touchscreen laptop form factor, which really works with Windows 8, and being able to run the latest apps, play games and then work on a document and run programs such as Photoshop is a genuinely exciting proposition.

Unfortunately, as a tablet, the Dell XPS 12 is far from perfect. It's too heavy to be held comfortably, and while it's great for presenting or showing off photos, we didn't use it in its converted state as much as we would the Sony Vaio Duo 11 or even the Asus Taichi. Even if it was a standard Ultrabook, weight would be a complaint, especially as the Toshiba Satellite Z930 is half a kilo lighter.

We liked

The Full HD display is one of the best you'll find on a Windows laptop, and the build quality all over the Dell XPS 12 is superb. The keys are comfortable to use, despite the 12.5-inch chassis, and the inclusion of a touchscreen really makes this one of the best Ultrabooks money can buy.

While it may be too heavy to be used as tablet in the traditional sense, it's easy to forget the Dell XPS 12 brings this functionality at no extra cost. Pound for pound the Dell XPS 12 stacks up against any laptop competition, even the latest MacBook Pros, and the fact that it doubles as a tablet should be seen as an added bonus, not a reason to buy.

We disliked

When this left Dell's design labs, someone must have noticed it was too far too heavy. At nearly 1.6kg (3.4lbs) it's noticeably bulky as a laptop, challenging the notion of a 12.5-inch device as something you can slip into a bag and forget about.

What's more perplexing is that the head-honchos at Dell expect us to hold and use it as a tablet. At three times the weight of an iPad 4, they must believe Windows 8 customers are muscle-bound superheroes, and using the Dell is not a comfortable experience.

If you're looking for something lightweight, then look elsewhere. If you're looking for power, you have a perfect ultra-portable laptop right here.

Final verdict

While the Dell XPS 12's build is bloated, many will argue the price is too. However, despite the price tag, we believe it actually represents good value.

While many will baulk at the £1,299/AU$1,499/US$1,199 asking price, anyone considering the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display will find a surprising pedigree here. The display is one of the nearest you'll find in terms of colour and vibrancy, and for less than the Mac you get a faster processor, twice the storage and the option to use it as a touchscreen tablet.

The Dell XPS 12 is one of the most powerful Ultrabooks you'll find. It might be heavy and awkward as a tablet, but when you consider the value that's on offer, with the blistering processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD drive, there's more than meets the eye.

Having tablet functionality is an added extra that enables you to get the best out of Windows 8 when you need it, which makes the Dell XPS 12 a real heavyweight, in every sense of the word.

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