The XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook is Dell’s latest transforming notebook. The Windows 8 computer turns from compact notebook to a roomy tablet with the flip of its 12.5″ display. We like the XPS 12’s premium construction and versatility, but it’s more expensive than the average Ultrabook Convertible and has mediocre battery life.
If you’re looking to buy an Ultrabook Convertible right now, the Dell XPS 12 is definitely the one to buy. It’s the best of the initial batch of Ultrabook Convertibles, earning it a Gotta Be Mobile Editors’ Choice Award.
Dell’s utilized machined aluminum, carbon fiber and a soft touch interior to make the XPS 12 stand out against the sea of plasticky PCs we see at retailers. The Dell XPS 12 convertible is an excellent notebook, delivering everything we liked about the Dell XPS 13, and a good tablet experience. Those used to smaller tablets such as the iPad will find the XPS 12 bulky, but it’s much more compact than convertible Tablet PCs of yesteryear. Its touchscreen is responsive and has good viewing angles, but it is very reflective.
Dell XPS 12 | $1,199
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The video below highlights the Dell XPS 12’s swiveling hinge that allows the notebook to switch between a notebook and a tablet. This is a trademark of the Ultrabook Convertible. The video also covers what the XPS 12 is capable of.
Dell used the same design language and styling as we’ve seen in the rest of the XPS line, which means machined aluminum, carbon fiber, a soft touch interior and Corning Gorilla Glass. All of this comes together to form a notebook that feels quite solid, despite the swiveling screen.
The Dell XPS 12 is slightly thicker than the 13-inch MacBook Air and the Yoga 13, but in daily use this isn’t noticeable. The XPS 12 is about a half pound heavier than the 13″ MacBook Air, which is negligible in notebook mode, but users will notice the weight when switching to tablet use.
The 3.5-pound XPS 12 is nearly two pounds heavier than the iPad, which means it’s difficult to use in tablet mode when standing or held with one hand.
Pushing back on the top of the display while in notebook mode swivels the display so it is facing outward while closed. The hinges feel sturdy and the touch screen remains in place while in notebook mode, even when tapping on the top section of the screen.
While in tablet mode the keys are not exposed like the Yoga 13. The power button on the left side of the notebook and rotation lock are accessible in tablet mode. There’s a small battery life meter on the right side of the device that’s viewable in both modes. There is a Windows button at the bottom of the display to get to the Modern user interface quickly in tablet mode. Speakers are on the right and left edges, so users aren’t likely to block them while using the XPS 12.
The XPS 12 has two USB 3.0 ports, a DisplayPort connection and a headphone/microphone jack. A small charging jack is on the right side, and the power adapter is relatively small. Unfortunately, there’s no SD card slot, which means users will have to bring their own adapters or USB cables to move photos over from their cameras.
The Dell XPS 12 features a 12.5-inch display with a 1280 x 1080 resolution that makes it possible to watch movies in full HD, compare document and websites next to each other in desktop mode and a good canvas for playing games. The display is rated for 400 nit, which is quite bright, but the glossy screen shows reflections when used in harsh lighting.
The display features 10-point multi-touch so users can interact with Windows in tablet or notebook mode. Windows 8 includes gesture support to access settings and switch apps, with a swipe in from the right or the left respectively. The 10 point touch makes it possible to play multiplayer games or use musical instrument apps found in the Windows 8 app store.
The display offers wide viewing angles which makes it possible to share the screen with someone in any position. In addition to standard notebook mode and tablet mode, users can flip the screen to the back, to bring the touchscreen closer to the user for casual gaming or watching movies.
The Dell XPS 12 includes a very nice keyboard with backlighting and good key travel. Dell covered the keys in a smooth material that matches the soft-touch of the palmrest. The keys offer a slight indent that makes typing comfortable. The keyboard is firm and even across all keys.
The keys are full size, despite the notebook’s compact footprint and the keys are right where we expect them to be.
The XPS 12’s touchpad is good, but it isn’t perfect. Its size is good for such a compact notebook and it handles Windows 8 gestures with ease, but it occasionally mistakes scrolling with two fingers as a single click, sending users to other pages. Despite this issue, scrolling is generally smooth and there are no issues with palm contact moving the pointer. The lower-right side of the touchpad is dedicated to a right-click, which can take some getting used to, especially in finding out where the left-click section stops.
The Dell XPS 12 is a snappy computer that will meet the needs of many users, but the lack of dedicated graphics means it’s not cut out for serious gaming and video editing.
Switching between apps, and swiping through the Modern user interface on Windows 8 is quick and fluid. Apps like Angry Birds Star Wars play great on the XPS 12, as should other casual games, but first person shooters and other resource-intensive games aren’t worth installing. Zooming in and out of webpages and photos is fast, and resizing almost instant.
Editing videos is possible, but the XPS 12 does better on smaller projects than on demanding larger projects. Users will need to bring their own USB to SD card reader as Dell doesn’t include one on the XPS 12.
The Dell XPS 12 is a great notebook and an okay tablet. The weight and size of the XPS 12 restricts the usability as a tablet, but it does do well as a tablet in landscape mode, especially when there is a table or lap to rest the XPS 12 on.
The dual speakers on the side of the XPS 12 ensure that sound isn’t cutoff by a hand or a lap, but audio quality is only mediocre. The XPS 12 is loud enough to hear dialogue or lyrics in a noisy room, but users will want to invest in a good pair of headphones or speakers to really enjoy music and movies.
The Dell XPS 12 battery lasts between 5 hours and 5.5 hours in the real world while browsing the web, playing casual games and streaming online videos. This is on par with the IdeaPad Yoga 13’s real world battery life. We would love longer battery life, especially while using the XPS 12 as a tablet, but five hours is the standard for Ultrabook Convertible battery life in this first generation.
Like every other Ultrabook Convertible we’ve seen, the XPS 12’s battery isn’t user accessible, which means you can’t swap in a spare for long days on the road.
Five hours is generally acceptable for thin-and-light laptops, but Apple, Google, Microsoft and others have set the tablet battery life bar at about 10 hours, nearly double the XPS 12’s. Those looking for a long-lasting Windows 8 tablet may want to look at the Surface RT, which is lighter and runs for up to 10 hours on a single charge, though it isn’t as robust as the XPS 12.
The Dell XPS 12 comes with access to the Windows 8 app store, where users can buy games and apps to use in the Modern user interface mode. These include popular titles like Angry Birds and Jetpack Joyride as well as many others. The selection is not as deep as the iPad app store or Google Play app store, but users will find enough popular apps to get started.
Users can also switch over to the Windows 8 desktop mode to run most legacy Windows applications, including those not available on Android or iPad. There is no built-in DVD drive, but users can download most apps directly from software publishers.
The Dell XPS 12 is more expensive than the IdeaPad Yoga 13 by $200, but for that price users get a backlit keyboard and an Ultrabook Convertible that feels better to hold in tablet mode thanks to a smooth back and a smaller size. A couple hundred bucks isn’t chump change, but Dell offers enough to justify the premium price.
Dell delivers an exciting Ultrabook convertible that is fun to use, but isn’t as good as a tablet as it is at being a notebook. Users looking for a better tablet may want to look at the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro, but the 11.6-inch display and detachable keyboard may mean sacrifices in the notebook functionality department.