Dell’s XPS 13 is widely regarded as one of, if not the best Ultrabooks ever crafted. It has a solid build, excellent performance, and most importantly, the innovative InfinityEdge display shrinks a 13-inch display into the chassis of an 11-inch notebook.
But there are its drawbacks – and it’s mainly because the XPS 13 (in its current guise) was originally introduced in January 2015. Each year Dell refreshes the XPS 13 with Intel’s latest Core i processors, but it began showing its age. There was no Windows Hello support, for example, and it remained one of the few Ultrabooks to not have a flexible hinge. Plus, in truth, it began to feel heavier and bulkier as competitors such as the excellent Microsoft Surface Pro 4 began gaining traction.
So Dell went and fixed all of those weaknesses in one blow with the introduction of the XPS 13 2-in-1. It’s got a 360-degree hinge, an IR camera for Windows Hello, and it’s both slimmer and lighter than the XPS 13.
And Dell actually did all of that without drastically changing anything that made the XPS 13 so well-loved: it still has a tiny footprint, it still is made of machined aluminium and carbon fibre. The display is still the ultra-sharp 3200 x 1800 touch panel.
What makes it all the more interesting is the fact that Dell is not making the XPS 13 2-in-1 a successor to the current XPS 13 Ultrabook; rather, a Dell rep says that the two devices can and will (for the time being) live together within the XPS family. They’re two separate devices targeted at different demographics, I was told.
Perhaps the main reason behind this was in Dell’s decision to incorporate a Y series Intel processor. This allows for a fanless design, allowing Dell to shave off precious millimetres and grams off the XPS 13 2-in-1, but critics will be quick to jump on the fact that the performance will be considerably lower than the current XPS 13 with the U series Core i processors.
When asked about this, a Dell rep states that in day-to-day tasks, Intel’s Kaby Lake Y series processors actually performs admirably, handling things such as web browsing and multitasking across light apps such as Spotify and Microsoft Office software easily. That said, Dell also custom fitted what it calls Dynamic Power Mode into the hybrid laptop; it is essentially an overclocking tool that bestows a burst of performance that Dell says is 10% faster than that of the XPS 13 from 2015.
As such, this allows the XPS 13 2-in-1 to have considerably better battery life over the current-gen XPS 13, with only a slight trade-off in performance. That’s also why Dell isn’t killing off the XPS 13 entirely; Dell really is catering to power users and mobile warriors with the two devices.
With the smaller chassis, Dell has also opted out of fitting the XPS 13 2-in-1 with the standard power pin, opting instead for a modern USB Type C connector. There are two such connectors, one on each side, and both run the full Thunderbolt 3 standard. There aren’t any USB 3.0 ports, but there is a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot.
The new hinge also works as promised, but just like the current XPS 13, it is impossible to open the lid with one hand. There is enough resistance on the hinge to lock the display in place in each of the four modes, and the sheer lack of weight on the lid means there is very little wobbliness, which I really like.
There’s also active digitizer support, with an optional Dell stylus pen sold separately. Hidden magnets on the right side of the palm rest hold the pen in place when necessary. There is, however, no integrated slot for the pen.
Finally, Dell also tweaked the keyboard on this iteration. While travel remains fixed at 1.5mm, Dell includes dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down buttons. Apparently, this was a recurring feedback Dell received from its test users, and including it within one iteration was Dell’s way of indicating that it takes user feedback seriously.
However, the XPS 13 2-in-1 becomes less attractive when it is compared to the Surface Pro 4. Microsoft’s fourth iteration of the Surface Pro line is arguably the best hybrid laptop around, packing laptop-level specs into a slim and remarkably light chassis. There’s a U series Intel Core i processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and a massive 1TB SSD. The 3:2 display is also great for productivity, while the Type Cover is one of the best Ultrabook-level keyboards around.
Given that Microsoft has yet to announce the SP4’s successor, Dell may be biting off more than it can chew with the XPS 13 2-in-1. It may be built based on the best Ultrabook around and updated it with some much-needed modern touches, but if Microsoft builds upon the success of the Surface Pro 4 in the next iteration expected this year, Dell may have quite a bit of competition in its hands.