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Lifewire / Nick Jaynes
High-quality design with nice attention to detail
Wide, comfortable keyboard with great font
Big 16:10 aspect ratio touchscreen display
Versatile as both a powerful laptop and an easy-to-use tablet
Slim and lightweight body
Polarizing keystroke feel
Lower than expected battery life
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Laptop has the bona fides to make laptop traditionalists and tablet aficionados question their loyalties. If you can look past the moderate battery life and the keystroke movement, this is a really charming and impressive 2-in-1 machine.
Dell set a host of lofty goals when it set out to develop the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop. It aimed to create a slim but powerful laptop that could go toe-to-toe with MacBooks. Dell designers were charged with packing the new XPS with enough power to run games like Fortnite and also fit it with a screen crisp enough to please professional photographers. If these weren’t tall enough orders, they also aimed to make the XPS 13 a 2-in-1 laptop.
So, has Dell bitten off more than it can chew and created a laptop that's a jack of all trades but master of none? I spent over 50 hours testing the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop to find out.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop comes in a box that sets the tone for the laptop’s design experience. The box is sleek, feels well crafted, and looks great. Dell didn’t just mimic Apple; it created its own design and unboxing experience.
Buyers have a choice of two interior colors: arctic white or black. Carbon fiber is used in the black color scheme, which not only enhances the look but also the durability of the machine. The white model, while more striking to look at, is made from a woven glass fiber. From the shape to the weight to the font on the keycaps, the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop has a real Mac feel to it—and I mean that in the most positive sense.
The laptop itself feels great to hold. It's lightweight at just shy of three pounds, as configured. The real metal components make the XPS 13 2-in-1 feel substantial without adding undue heft. The clever steady hinge feels robust. Even carrying it around or opening and closing the XPS 13 with one hand, I never heard any telltale creaking, indicative of cheap components or poor build quality.
The 16:10 aspect ratio screen pushes the boundaries of the body. The bezels are incredibly thin. The keyboard, too, is pushed to the edges of the chassis. This gives it a very natural feel. However, the keys themselves are MagLev. This allows it to be much thinner than typical keyboards—24% thinner to be exact—but the feel might turn off some users.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop excels when flipped into its tablet configuration. Flipped over in a sandwich board layout, you can prop it up and watch videos. Since it has a touch screen, however, you never lose usability, even when the physical keyboard is oriented away from you.
Since it's running Windows 10 Home as its operating system, set up was a breeze. All I had to do was power it up for the first time and connect it to my home Wi-Fi network. After that, I was ready to download my favorite programs and get to work.
In an outstanding laptop, the display might be the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop’s shining, standout feature. As I mentioned in the intro, the 1920 x 1200 resolution display is bright, crisp and so true to color that professional photographers could happily use this machine regularly.
Not only is it bright and incredibly detailed, it’s also a touchscreen. Normally a Mac user, I wasn’t not immediately ready to start using a 2-in-1 touchscreen laptop. After a week using the XPS 13 2-in-1, I find myself regularly poking at my MacBook pro screen in vain.
Versatility and productivity are where the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop shines.
There are two drawbacks to the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop’s screen, however. First, the inevitable fingerprints left by regular touchscreen usage. If you’re diligent about wiping the screen down after usage, it’s not a big problem. But kids could gum this thing up pretty quickly.
The second issue is more niggling than anything else. Since the screen aspect ratio is 16:10, 16:9 images are letterboxed. Most people will never notice this, but I did and it annoyed me slightly. That said, do I care enough to forego the bigger screen? No, certainly not.
According to the PCMark test I ran on the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop, it scored an overall score of 3,309. The highest result was for essentials, for which the Dell scored a 7,847. It was lower in Productivity, scoring a 4,817, and lowest in Digital Content Creation at 2,603. This underscores the computer’s primary use case—first and foremost, it's designed for executing daily computing essentials like apps, video conferencing, and web browsing.
Running the GFXBench test returned a score of 2,963 frames per second (fps) on the T-Rex simulation and 1,716 fps on the Manhattan simulation. This isn’t stellar, but this isn't a dedicated gaming machine. On a gaming laptop, I’d be fairly disappointed with these results. However, since the XPS 13 is a 2-in-1 laptop designed for more casual usage, like web surfing, video streaming and word processing, I'm content with these results.
It’s nicely designed, lightweight, and packs a big, high-resolution touchscreen display.
Versatility and productivity are where the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop shines. I used it as a work machine during the day. From internet research word processing to photo editing, it excelled at all of these tasks. Then in the evening I used it as an entertainment machine, flipping it over and watching Netflix in bed and fully utilizing the touchscreen. I never found a task for which I'd prefer a dedicated laptop or tablet. The XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop transitioned between both roles easily and admirably. I’d readily—and confidently—jettison both and replace them with just this sole machine.
Audio output is a place where the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop falls down a bit. Its onboard speakers are fairly loud, but they lack bass and clarity. However, this is a common downfall for modern, thin PCs. Audio output through the headphone jack is much cleaner. It’s loud and the sound it sends out is not at all tinny.
On my home 5GHz Wi-Fi network, I saw 91.3Mbps download speeds and 9.19Mbps upload speeds. These are comparable to what I see on my MacBook Pro. On the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network, speeds dropped to 22.6Mbps download and 5.11Mbps upload. Given the internet speed in my area, these are respectable and expected numbers for a brand-new laptop.
I found the onboard camera to have good enough resolution for Skype video calls. I wouldn’t, however, want to record any meaningful video with the camera. Since designers were charged with pushing the boundaries of the screen in the laptop body, they had to compromise and select a camera that would fit in the small confines in which they were working.
The onboard camera focuses relatively quickly. It doesn’t present much blurriness, but it also doesn't demonstrate deep focus or impressive crispness. It’s suitable for video chats, but little more.
Dell rates the battery life of the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop’s 4-Cell, 51WHr battery at 16 hours 58 minutes when using Word or Excel. That number drops to 10 hours 50 minutes while streaming Netflix. I found this overly optimistic. As a general rule of thumb, with mixed use, I found the battery to last eight to 10 hours—a normal workday. This included mostly word processing but some YouTube video streaming and some photo editing. For the screen brightness, resolution, and the size and heft of this 2-in-1 laptop, I consider that battery life strong.
As I've mentioned above, I'm generally a Mac user most accustomed to OS X. This round of laptop testing represented my first real foray into Windows 10 Home.
I was impressed—it was quick and much more intuitive than previous Windows iterations. However, I will admit I may have been swayed by the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop’s touchscreen display. This made using it, and by extension Windows, much more user-friendly and natural.
I do wish there were easier ways to jump between open applications, as with Mac, but that feeling comes from deep-rooted computer usage habits. However, for folks more in tune with PCs, this OS is a good one. Honestly, if I weren’t so deeply entrenched in the Apple universe, I could see myself happily switching to Windows 10 Home.
When Dell set the MSRP at $1,000 on the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop it did so with an eye to the competition. The MacBook Air, for example, which has a 13.3-inch screen and an Intel i5 processor, starts at $1,099. The similarly powerful Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 has an MSRP of $1,000, but you can purchase it on Amazon for just over $800. Given its 2-in-1 capabilities and lightweight design, the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop is well priced.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 compares well to the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 (view on Amazon). The XPS 13 2-in-1 is priced starting at $1,000. For that, buyers get a 13.4-inch 1920x1200 resolution 19:10 aspect ratio touchscreen display. The battery life is at most 16 hours, but far less in my real-world testing. It weighs 2.9 pounds and comes standard with a 1.3GHz Intel Core i3 processor. Let’s not forget, of course, it’s a 2-in-1.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 also has an MSRP of $1,000. However, it can be found for less. It has a 13.5-inch full HD screen. It’s powered by an 8th-generation Intel i5 processor. Microsoft rates the Surface Laptop 2’s battery life at 14.5 hours, and the whole machine weighs just 2.76 pounds.
Buyers who want a more traditional laptop will likely gravitate to the more inexpensive Microsoft machine. That said, those wanting a bit more of a well-rounded machine ought to consider the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop.
Still undecided? Check out our guide to the best Dell laptops.
It's a winner.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop is an impressive competitor in the laptop space. It’s nicely designed, lightweight, and packs a big, high-resolution touchscreen display. Consider it is also a 2-in-1, and it’s hard not to love this machine. Yes, some might be put off by the keyboard key feel. If you can look past that, you’ll have in front of you a robust, very enjoyable, and equally affordable 2-in-1 laptop.