Dell XPS 18 £999
11th Jun 2013 | 16:51
A huge tablet that's also an all-in-one PC
The Dell XPS 18 is a bit of an odd one to categorise. It's essentially an 18-inch Windows 8 tablet, as if someone has stuffed one of the 'Eat me' sweets from Alice in Wonderland into the Surface Pro's USB port.
But at that size, surely it's not really a tablet, and is more like a massive Ultrabook - the Dell XPS 13's body-building brother? But, it also sits on an angled stand as a perfectly normal, super-thin all-in-one PC, like a touch-enabled Windows-touting iMac.
Actually, the Dell XPS 18 isn't alone in this world, and it's even one of the most portable of its kind. The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is a similar beast with a larger screen, and the HP Envy Rove 20 is much like the Sony. 'Portable all-in-one' seems to be the chosen name from the companies for this new class of hybrid, so that's what we'll go with.
So yes, the Dell XPS 18 is a portable all-in-one, meaning that you can use it in a charging stand with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard like a traditional desktop computer, or anywhere else thanks to its internal battery and two little legs that flick out of the back. It's touchscreen, so the traditional controls are optional when taking it around the house.
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Sadly, and perhaps surprisingly, it doesn't come with a pen to make use of its vast canvas for drawing, nor is there a digitizer for turning it into a big drawing tablet by adding your own stylus.
The Dell XPS 18 unit itself pretty impressively svelte, packing that 18-inch 1080p display, an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive with 32GB SSD for speedy boot times into a chassis that's just 18mm (0.7 inches) at its thickest point.
At 2.3kg (5lbs), it certainly isn't light compared to most Ultrabooks, and something we'd want to carry in our (presumably massive) backpack, but it's fine for carrying from room to room in the house.
It's really smart-looking from the front, we have to say, and the dock is similarly simple but pleasant, It's made from die-cast zinc and it holds the XPS 18 solidly. It's easy to fit the main unit's little power dock onto the contact on the stand, which immediately starts giving it juice, since it's the stand you plug into the wall (you can plug the mains charger into the XPS 18 instead of its stand, but that's only really for travelling).
The keyboard and mouse are both standard Dell fare - idols to the gods of black plastic. We'll go into more detail on how well they work in the Performance section.
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The version of the Dell XPS 18 we've got here costs £999 / US$1,349.99, but there's also an £899 / US$999.99 version available with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and no SSD at all, which seems like a much worse deal to us. There's also a version that's identical to the one we've got here but with a Core i7 processor for £1,099 / US$1,449.99.
The Dell XPS 18 is pretty much an Ultrabook in disguise, offering modest specs to keep it a thin, sharp machine. The Intel Core i5-3337U processor in our review unit is a very recent chip, running at 1.8GHz normally, but is capable of hitting 2.7GHz in Turbo mode.
It's a dual-core chip, but features Hyper-Threading, meaning that it can appear as four virtual cores. It's designed to be a fairly capable chip, but it's not exactly designed for professionals.
This is a weaker chip than the one supplied in the high-end Sony Vaio Tap 20, which comes with an Intel Core i7-3517U, though we doubt the difference would be particularly noticeable. The Vaio Tap 20 also comes with 8GB of RAM, just like the Dell XPS 18, but offers a much larger 1TB hard drive (albeit with no SSD). So where's the extra money going in the Dell?
When it comes to graphics, it's integrated all the way, so there's no difference there. Intel's HD 4000 graphics are fairly capable, and we were able to play the latest SimCity game at full 1080p resolution smoothly on the Dell XPS 18, provided we turned down all the graphical wizardry.
It's not for serious gamers, but then that's inevitable with integrated graphics. Still, Intel's GPU is good enough most casual games. That said, the HP Envy Rove 20 will have much improved graphics over either the Sony Vaio Tap 20 or the Dell XPS 18 when it's released, because it will use Intel's forthcoming Haswell processors, which offer significantly improved gaming performance (and much better battery life).
The screen is where the difference between the Sony Vaio Tap 20 and the Dell XPS 18 comes into play. The Dell's smaller 18-inch screen is actually a Full HD, 1920 x 1080 resolution panel, while Sony offers a mere 1600 x 900 in a larger panel. The Dell's is therefore much crisper and sharper, and should make for a more pleasant experience.
As we mentioned, the Dell XPS 18 offers 8GB of RAM, which should be more than enough for any home use. Those who like to do a bit of photo or video editing will no doubt be grateful for the extra headroom, but for most people 8GB is overkill, if anything - but certainly nice to have.
The 500GB hard drive is of the slower, smaller laptop kind, but is paired with a fast 32GB solid-state drive that contains Windows, which should help to keep speeds down when booting the computer or waking it from sleep.
When it comes to ports, you're rather limited, with just two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card slot, along with an audio jack. There's also the power port here, along with a power dock on the bottom, for where it connects to the charging base. We were hoping that the base would offer a wider range of ports, so that you could leave things connected there and just dock into the base to have the Dell XPS 18 access them, but that's not the case - it's just for power.
This strikes us as a massive missed trick. On its stand, the Dell XPS 18 is actually a really smart all-in-one PC, but having just two USB ports and no video-out ports really holds it back compared to the connectivity in something like the Apple iMac.
There's no optical drive, either, but we understand why not. It means that watching Blu-rays on that lovely screen is a bit awkward, but there are options. We don't blame Dell for omitting it at all.
Cinebench R10: 8830
3D Mark 11: Ice - 33371, Cloud - 3745, Fire - 544
Battery Eater Pro: 124 minutes
Judging the capabilities of the Dell XPS 18 is just as awkward as deciding what kind of machine it is. In terms of raw power, it's well off the mark for a pure all in one, with the slightly more expensive iMac battering it for CPU and GPU power.
But this isn't just an all-in-one. It's portable too, so perhaps it's fairer to pit it against Ultrabooks. Actually, it proves to be middle of the road there, coming in behind the likes of the similarly priced Gigabyte U2442F for processing power. And yes, it's slightly less powerful than the Sony Vaio Tap 20, which is its only direct competitor, but because the Sony lacks an SSD, we wouldn't count the Dell out for speed.
For graphics power, it's pretty much on a par with what we'd expect from the integrated GPU. As we said, we could play SimCity smoothly at full resolution provided we had the effects turned down, which was fine. For older games, or fairly mainstream stuff, it'll do the job.
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The Sony Vaio Tap 20 may perform slightly better thanks to having a lower-resolution screen, but that's a trade-off. The HP Envy Rove 20 will offer much improved graphical performance with Intel's next-generation Haswell GPU tech, but we'll have to see exactly how much when it's released.
So, Dell's XPS 18 isn't a powerhouse, but the more important part is that it still feels very nippy - it certainly feels as fluid as an Ultrabook. Boot-up times are short, and it's fairly quick to come on from standby, though it's annoying that it doesn't turn on by pressing the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse - you have to press the button on the side of the screen.
The keyboard and mouse are a bit of an irritation, with the keyboard being just ugly and cheap, and the mouse having to be manually activated by pressing the power button on its underside whenever you want to use it, instead of just clicking its top buttons, as any sane person would expect to be able to do.
They keyboard is perfectly comfortable, though, if a little soft, and the mouse is similarly acceptable, though the wheel is horribly wobbly, due to the ability to click it left and right as well as roll it forward and back.
More than that, though, Windows 8 just often feels hostile to the mouse user. It's nicer to trackpad owners, but getting your head around using hot corners and scrolling sideways in the apps screen is an unintuitive process. You'll often just think it's easier to use the touchscreen.
Handy, then, that the touchscreen is as responsive as you'd hope, and it's easy to navigate the parts of Windows that have been optimised for it. That said, it would be good if the on-screen keyboard made better (and more ergonomic) use of the vast space of the display.
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Most importantly, the display itself is excellent. Being Full HD 1920 x 1080 helps, making it brilliantly detailed, but colours are brilliant, and it's perfect from basically any viewing angle. HD movies look absolutely flawless on it, and it's great for photo editing. The only small concern about the display itself is that it doesn't go quite as bright as we'd like - though it's fine for most situations.
The brightness ties into what turns out to be a big visibility flaw, though: it's massively, distractingly reflecting. In a closed office setup, this is almost never a problem. But the Dell XPS 18 isn't designed to be purely used in dark, pokey offices. You're supposed to carry it to the living room or kitchen. Where there's sunlight.
Sunlight is not good. We basically couldn't see anything while trying to watch a movie on it while cooking on a sunny day. We could hear it well enough, because the stereo speakers are damn loud (and nicely clear - they're very good), but we could barely see anything. It picks up fingerprints a lot, too, but they aren't too visible when you're using it in a dimmer environment.
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When picking it up and taking it around, we really started to see the appeal of the portable all-in-one. On a duller day, when we could actually see what was happening on-screen, it was brilliant for popping in the kitchen and watching a movie while cooking or washing up. On a lazy Sunday evening, climb into bed and prop it up on some cushions and watch a film, and you're utterly transported in a way you just aren't with 10-inch tablet.
Note that we said about propping it up, though. Frustratingly, the little flick-out legs on the Dell XPS 18 are only good for solid surfaces - on your lap or elsewhere, you'll have to find your own solution to getting it to the angle you want.
Of course, there's one more consideration for using it as portable device: the battery. So Dell says five hours of use, but our fairly intense battery benchmarks give it just over two hours. Inevitably, use cases will vary here - we were able to watch a whole 1080p movie on it and still have a decent amount of battery left, so it's fine as a portable movie screen.
But still, we were hoping for more than even Dell's claimed five hours - it's massive, so we figured there might be a massive battery life. We know the big, high-res screen will be the biggest drain, but still.
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We get it. We thought the Dell XPS 18 would be a big silly chunk of 'because we can' hubris, but when we were watching a Full HD film in bed, on a big screen rivalling our living room TV, it really clicked into place. As an entertainment option, this really works.
So let's have this again, with Haswell for better performance and battery life. And just a bigger battery, actually. And a more sensible design overall. Right now, this is on the cusp of just crazy enough to work, but a bit of refinement can definitely take it over the line.
The screen is really the star of the show here, and by packing in such a beautiful display, Dell has given a real sense of purpose to the portable all-in-one. The Dell XPS 18 is a slightly portable entertainment machine, capable of delivering gorgeous video anywhere in your house. Which is great.
It's nice and nippy, thanks to being an Ultrabook, really, but there's enough power for most users. And it really is quite a smart thing - it almost looks more premium than it is, but that's fine. It's a really attractive and practical 18-inch all-in-one. Well, except for the lack of ports.
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You can get far more powerful all-in-one machines, with many, many more ports. They aren't portable, we'll grant you, but it's still a big drop in power, and a significant drop in usefulness - we wish the stand was more of a dock.
The super-reflective screen is a big shame, and we'd like better battery life for such a big machine. The price also becomes a major sticking point, when you consider its relative lack of power. We don't think £999 / US$1,349.99 is an unreasonable amount of money for a premium portable all-in-one, but we'd expect a little more than this for the price tag.
Give us a more premium mouse and keyboard, and since Logitech supplies the mouse here anyway, make it one of its trackpads instead, so it plays nice with Windows 8. And a flick-out stand that works on something other than desks. We really can't stress this enough.
There is the seed of something very good indeed in the Dell XPS 18. It's a weird one, and it's easy to question why you would want a portable desktop PC, but once you've used one, the question feels more like, 'why not have this option?'.
Right now, the main reasons why not are the connectivity and price relative to power. But they can change. Dell has got the basics right in making it nicely thin and giving it a stunning screen, so if what you want is a flexible entertainment centre PC, the Dell XPS 18 is well worth checking out.