Dell XPS 12 Convertible Ultrabook Review
Since the advent of Window 8 and its touch-centric interface, notebook manufacturers have been striving to find a balance between typical form factors and the new realities Microsoftís latest OS brings to the table. The results have been quite varied with some taking a basic approach of incorporating a touch screen onto their standard chassis and calling it a day. Meanwhile, others like Dell, Lenovo and ASUS have been feeding the market with a steady stream of convertible notebooks which are supposed to blend the physical input options of a notebook alongside a tablet-like experience.
Dellís new XPS 12 takes this convertible mentality and runs with by allowing for a fully capable Ultrabook to be quickly converted into a tablet. Theyíve accomplished this by simply incorporating a flip mechanism into the XPS 12ís screen bezel so there arenít supposed to be too many sacrifices when changing between notebook and tablet modes. In addition it doesnít turn a blind eye to performance since the included hardware is top-shelf stuff, unlike what most tablets come equipped with. You do however pay for the novelty of this design since the XPS 12 starts at around $1200, making its base configuration $200 more than Dellís excellent XPS 13 Ultrabook.
The XPS 12 comes in a number of different configurations with Intel i5 and i7 processors alongside 4GB to 8GB of memory and 128GB and 256GB SSDs. Past these three options, there is very little Ėif any- customization allowed. The display, output connectors, battery and secondary wireless connection (through an Intel Centrino 6235 chip) remain in place regardless of price point.
The base layout comes with an i5 -3371 ultra low voltage processor, 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD while upgraded versions are available with either faster CPUs, more storage or additional RAM. These are currently priced at $1400 and $1500 while the full monty will set you back a cool $1700.
The XPS 12 shipped to us (the specs are above) received an impressive set of hardware choices and represents what youíll get at that $1700 price point. The most important item here is the 8GB of memory since in its default form, the included Windows 8 Pro gobbles up nearly 2GB of RAM which could seriously hinder the 4GB systemís performance.
From a warranty perspective, Dellís offering is head and shoulders above the competition, with possible exception of Lenovo. For the XPS 12 they offer one year of comprehensive ďEnhancedĒ coverage which includes in-home service if an over the phone diagnosis canít find the problem. Two and three year options are available but expect to pay $119 and $199 respectively while accidental damage insurance can be added for between $50 and $130 depending on length.
At first glance, there really isnít anything that differentiates this convertible Ultrabook from the likes of Dellís XPS 13. It features a brushed aluminum frame which surrounds a soft-touch outer shell thatís finished with a carbon fiber composite thatís been coated in silicon. This allows for an excellent amount of grip so thereís no chance this expensive notebook will come tumbling out of your grip.
Opening up the XPS 12 reveals a typical notebook layout using a chassis which exudes high build quality and near perfect material seams. Once again there is a perimeter of precision cut anodized aluminum which embraces an input surface that feels durable and is coated in soft-touch paint. This is one of the best built notebooks weíve come across, mostly due to the expensive use of aluminum within the chassis which builds an interior skeleton to reduce material flex.
Class leading build quality aside, the real differentiator for the XPS 12 is its hinge-based flip feature which allows the notebook to be converted into a tablet by simply spinning the display and then closing the lid. This can actually be done while the system is running and moving the screen automatically disables the keyboard while enabling additional onscreen functionality so the experience remains seamless.
While the screenís bezel may look slightly flimsy, its extensive use of aluminum ensures that stability is maintained when rotating the somewhat heavy display into position.
The flipping screen is held in place by a quartet of small plastic table which gently lock into place. Personally, I donít have much confidence in these holding up after a few years of abuse so be prepared to have your screen flopping around if an extended warranty isnít in the cards.
The end result of this circus performer act is a reasonably compact 12.5Ē tablet. Unfortunately, actually using the XPS 12 as a mobile device isnít exactly easy since a weight of nearly 3.5 lbs and distinctly un-tablet like size of 13Ē x 9Ē makes it extremely hard to manipulate. Thumb typing with the onscreen keyboard is impossible and holding it with one hand isnít any easier despite the baseís excellent finish.
For quick browsing, the XPS 12ís tablet form is an excellent option but only if itís placed on a table. In addition, the Windows 8 Pro OS constantly dumps you back onto the decidedly non-touch friendly standard desktop for nearly every meaningful function. As a result, the whole thing feels rather clunky and unpolished but thatís no fault of Dell since theyíve provided some excellent hardware.
When in tablet form, there are still very few areas where the XPS 12 ends up falling flat. The use of edge to edge Gorilla Glass and anodized aluminum edges feel great and the flip mechanism never relinquished its grip throughout the six weeks of intensive testing we subjected it to.
In order to incorporate tablet and notebook functionality into one product, Dell had to make sacrifices in certain areas. As such, XPS 12 has thrown out SD card compatibility and a third USB port in exchange for side mounted volume and power buttons. Thatís simply unacceptable for a $1700 notebook, let alone a Windows 8 Pro tablet.
While the lack of an SD Card reader is a definite faux pas, the XPS 12 is still served by a pair of USB 3.0 ports (one of which boasts PowerShare to charge your devices when the system is powered off) and a mini DisplayPort. Unfortunately, Dell only offers a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter as a $35 option. A USB to LAN jack is also available for $30.
The top panelís woven carbon fiber material with silicon finish makes its way onto the XPS 12ís underside as well and provides an surface thatís nearly impossible to scratch or scuff. Thereís also a metallic plate covering the Windows serial number and a full-width ventilation strip that acts as an intake / outlet for the cooling fans. As with most Ultrabooks, the battery and internal components arenít user accessible.
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