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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

DELL’S XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop took the excellent XPS 13 slimmed it down a tad and gave it a hinge that allowed it to do some screen-yoga and pull double duties as a Windows 10 tablet.

But it wasn’t quite perfect, with the MagLev keyboard potentially polarising opinions in a fashion not dissimilar to the Apple Butterfly mechanism.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

With the second-gen XPS 13 2-in-1, Dell has made a few refinements, adding in an improved MagLev keyboard and, more significantly, tapping into Intel’s new 10-nanometre Ice Lake Core processes.

At IFA 2019 in Berlin, Dell let us get our mitts on its svelte new hybrid machine.

Design

Much like its predecessor, the XPS 13 2-in-1 looks very much like a regular XPS 13 2019 at first glance. But it’s a good bit slimmer, and thus can only fit in two USB-C ports, 3.5mm jack, and a microSD card slot; hardly a flush selection of ports, but that’s what we’ve come to expect with 2-in-1 and ultraportables.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

It’s a fine-looking machine, especially clad in bright white with swish sliver edges and neat hinges that are rigid enough to keep the screen steady while tapping away at the keyboard, but compliant enough to make flipping the machine into tablet mode a doddle.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 isn’t the lightest laptops-come-tablet, but that’s likely down to the solid build quality one expects from Dell XPS machines being present and present and correct.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

As is the glass fiber material surrounding the keyboard and trackpad, designed to provide somewhere soft to rest one’s palms yet promising to be dirt and scratch-resistant; we’d didn’t really get to put that to a proper test.

Speaking of the keyboard and trackpad, the former works very well, pretty much functionally identical to the rather excellent trackpad in the XPS 13 we reviews a few months ago; all hail glass trackpads and Windows Precision drivers.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

As mentioned, the MagLev keyboard, which uses magnets below its keycaps to register presses and give a feeling of feedback while reducing the depth of the keys, is now in its second iteration. Dell claims it’s a quieter mechanism, though, without an older model to compare to side-by-side, we can corroborate that, though it’s certainly not as noisy as some MacBooks with the Butterfly keyboards.

While the key travel is pretty shallow, Dell’s managed to get the MagLev mechanism to deliver a surprising amount of feedback, and we were pleasantly impressed by how tactile the keyboard felt, though we didn’t spend ages tapping away on it.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

While the XPS 13 2-in-1 isn’t exactly shaking up the design language of the XPS range, it’s still a very lovely looking and feeling machine and lends credence to the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Display

Dell has been equipping the XPS laptops with the impressive InfinityEdge screens for years now, and the same is true with the XPS 13 2-in-1.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

The 13.4in 4K 3,840 x 2,400 resolution display in the model we tried – there is an FDH option – is pretty similar to that found in the XPS 13 2019 we’ve reviewed, in that its bezels are properly slim but the webcam is sitting in the top bezel rather than on the bottom to stare up one’s not.

The only real difference is that the aspect ratio has changed from 16:9 to 3:4, which is the same aspect ratio the excellent Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 use.

As such, it offers more vertical viewing space, which makes a lot more sense for a 2-in-1 device, and we feel makes web browsing and productivity a more pleasing experience; 16:9 is better for films but that’s a bit by-the-by.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

And once again, it’s one heck of a screen. There’s a bucket load of brightness, dollops of contrast, and vivid colors, though we didn’t get a chance to see vast amounts of different stuff on the screen, so we’re going very much by our first feelings.

Dell doesn’t really drop the ball when it comes to displaying quality on the XPS line, so we’re confident the XPS 13 2-in-1 will deliver the goods under more rigorous testing.

Performance, storage, and battery life

To our tech-addled minds, the most interesting element of the new XPS 13 2-in-1 is its use of Intel’s Ice Lake Core i7-1065G7, in the model we looked at at least. That chip is the second in Intel’s 10-nanometre lineup, offering a quad-core, eight-thread configuration with a clock speed that can run up to 3.5GHz across all four cores, 8MB of cache, and a configurable thermal design power that goes from 15W to 25W.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

But the icing on the Ice Lake is the chip’s integrated Iris Plus graphics accelerator, which promises a proper hike in graphical grunt over the Intel UHD integrated GPU of Comet Lake tenth-gen CPUs and the GPUs in the eighth-gen U and Y-Series Core processors.

We couldn’t really put the processor through a proper test. But it’s poised to trump the performance of the eighth-gen CPUs one will find in most 2018 to 2019 laptops. And we found the XPS 13 put in some decent performance with its Core i5-8265U.

So the potential extra performance and graphical clout of the Ice Lake CPU could deliver a machine that can not only chew through everyday productivity tasks but also handle a bit of gaming, albeit with some settings turned down in demanding titles.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

There are other processor options on offer in the form of the tenth-gen Core i3 and Core i5 chips.

RAM came in at a hefty 32GB, but it comes in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB options as well; we feel 4GB isn’t great for Widows 10 but 8GB is fine for most day-to-day computing tasks.

Storage comes in 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB of PCIe SSD option, which is pretty standard in the ultrabook and premium 2-in-1 arena.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

We couldn’t really test battery life, but Dell has equipped the XPS 13 2-in-1 with a 50WHr battery pack. As the XPS 13 managed a good working day’s worth of electrical endurance, we’d expect the XPS 13 2-in-1 to do the same.

But if the Ice Lake chips deliver the energy efficiency they promise, then that battery life could be even longer; time will literally tell when we have a review unit to put through its paces.

First impressions

There’s no doubt the XPS 13 2-in-1 is a very lovely machine. The small improvements Dell has done in the design are noticeable and appreciated, though a MagLev keyboard might still not appeal to all.

And appealing to all is a potential stumbling block here, as there is a question as to who this machine is for. Windows 10 devices don’t exactly make for tablets that can rival Apple’s iPad, so some people might prefer to opt for an updated XPS 13 and buy a separate tablet.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) Hands-on Review

On the other hand, some might enjoy the ability to suddenly flip their laptop into a tablet mode, and propping the screen up so that it looks a little like a digital photo screen is a good way to view videos while on the go.

The potential for the Ice Lake processors to deliver some proper horsepower in a slim 2-in-1is also intriguing, and could see the XPS 13 2-in-1 offer more performance than one would normally expect from such a machine.

In short, things are looking promising for the XPS 13 2-in-1 and from our first impression, we’re impressed.

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