Dell recently gave me the opportunity to check out the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 laptop in combination with number of Dell accessories that allow you to greatly expand overall productivity on the desktop. I’ll talk more about the accessories in a follow-up post. Right now, I’m going to break down the features of the XPS 12 and talk about what I like and what I don’t.
As a 2-in-1 the XPS 12 has a detachable screen that acts as a standalone tablet when you aren’t using it as a laptop. Much like the Microsoft Surface product line, Dell has made this tablet feature much more usable by offering a active stylus usable as either an onscreen pointing device or as a tool for handwriting. I find this to be far preferable to relying on finger touch alone when using a Windows 10 tablet.
The only downside to the 2-in-1 form factor is maybe 1 out of every 50 times I connect the tablet back to the keyboard, there is a slight delay before the screen recognizes the keyboard. In general this pairing is fairly instantaneous.
The screen connects to the keyboard using magnets, which snap it neatly into place and hold the screen firmly enough that you can pick up the XPS 12 by the screen and not worry about dropping the keyboard (not that I recommend doing this).
The XPS 12 manages to pack all the right features in a versatile form factor. The processor is a 6th generation Intel m5 (m5-6Y54). The touch-enabled screen is 3840×2160, which provides a great amount of real estate for things like video and photo editing. The version I reviewed has a 256GB SSD. There are two Thunderbolt 3 ports with the new Type-C form factor, which really make the add-on docking station mandatory if you want to connect your phone or other external devices, but when you do you only need to connect one cable for everything, including monitor and peripherals. If you’re a corporate IT guy, you’ll love these slots because it’s nearly impossible to find a thumb drive in this form factor. An SD slot makes it easy to offload photos or transfer files. If I have a single complaint, it’s that I’d still like 16GB of RAM instead of the max of 8GB for the XPS 12, but that’s largely because video and photo editing always benefit from more available RAM.
One of my primary gripes about the Dell XPS 13 was the webcam placement. Dell placed the webcam on the XPS 13 in the lower left corner of the screen, which meant that sometimes your knuckles ended up being the star of the video. Dell opted for a more traditional center placement on the user-facing 5 megapixel camera on the XPS 12, which translates to a fairly standard perspective. There’s also an 8 megapixel camera on the back which takes nice photos and videos you can easily preview on the screen.
The Dell XPS 12 supports 2 different keyboards. The one I’m reviewing is the Premier Keyboard, which also includes the Premier Magnetic Folio. This combination is a fixed viewing angle when using the keyboard. As far as Dell keyboard go, I like the one on the XPS 13 better, but after typing on the Premier Keyboard for a couple days, I found it to be one I could certainly live with. While I haven’t tried it, the XPS 12 has the option to use the XPS 12 Slim Keyboard, which has slightly less travel in the keys and also supports adjustable viewing angles similar to the Microsoft Surface kickstand. The Slim Keyboard is $50 more than the Premier Keyboard as of this writing.
Dell promises up to 10 hours of battery life with the XPS 12. While I never managed to completely run the battery down, that estimate seems pretty accurate. It can handle multiple video renders, video playback and all the email you want respond to on a flight from SFO to JFK like a champ.
I evaluate every laptop through the lens of my travel habits. I’m a carry-on only guy and am always concerned with the space vs. performance tradeoffs that go with an laptop purchase. This is a powerful laptop with great screen resolution, a high performance processor, and really all the features you could possibly want on the road. At 2.8 pounds when combined with the Premier Keyboard, it’s actually just heavier than the XPS 13, but it makes up for that slight weight difference with roughly a half inch less width. If you don’t need the detachable screen, I might opt for the XPS 13 instead, but having that screen is a nice way to watch movies or catch up on my reading without needing to bring an iPad too. The Dell XPS 12 may be the best 2-in-1 I’ve used to date.