Is Dell’s newest entry into the XPS notebook line worth it?

Editor’s Note: After our review of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, Dell contacted us about our performance results. They found our numbers were significantly lower than their own internal benchmarks. They offered to send us a replacement notebook to test, and we have done so. After spending some time with the new unit we have seen much higher results, more in line with Dell’s performance claims. We haven’t been able to find any differences between our initial sample and the new notebook, and our old sample has been sent back to Dell for further analysis. Due to these changes, the performance results and conclusion of this review have been edited to reflect the higher performance results.

It's difficult to believe that it's only been a little over 2 years since we got our hands on the revised Dell XPS 13. Placing an emphasis on minimalistic design, large displays in small chassis, and high-quality construction, the Dell XPS 13 seems to have influenced the "thin and light" market in some noticeable ways.

Aiming their sights at a slightly different corner of the market, this year Dell unveiled the XPS 13 2-in-1, a convertible tablet with a 360-degree hinge. However, instead of just putting a new hinge on the existing XPS 13, Dell has designed the all-new XPS 13 2-in-1 from the ground up to be even more "thin and light" than it's older sibling, which has meant some substantial design changes. 

Since we are a PC hardware-focused site, let's take a look under the hood to get an idea of what exactly we are talking about with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
MSRP $999 $1199 $1299 $1399
Screen 13.3” FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge touch display
CPU Core i5-7Y54 Core i7-7Y75
GPU Intel HD Graphics 615
Storage 128GB SATA 256GB PCIe
Network Intel 8265 802.11ac MIMO (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.2
Display Output

1 x Thunderbolt 3
1 x USB 3.1 Type-C (DisplayPort)

Connectivity USB 3.0 Type-C
3.5mm headphone
USB 3.0 x 2 (MateDock)
Audio Dual Array Digital Microphone
Stereo Speakers (1W x 2)
Weight 2.7 lbs ( 1.24 kg)
Dimensions 11.98-in x 7.81-in x 0.32-0.54-in
(304mm x 199mm x 8 -13.7 mm)
Battery 46 WHr
Operating System Windows 10 Home / Pro (+$50)

One of the more striking design decisions from a hardware perspective is the decision to go with the low power Core i5-7Y54 processor, or as you may be familar with from it's older naming scheme, Core M. In the Kaby Lake generation, Intel has decided to drop the Core M branding (though oddly Core m3 still exists) and integrate these lower power parts into the regular Core branding scheme.

These 4.5W processors certainly don't have the best reputation among enthusiasts. However, Dell says they've solved some of the issues through the use of what they are calling "Dynamic Power Mode." Using Dynamic Power Mode, the processor can dynamically adjust TDP and clock speeds up to double, or 9W total. Dell claims these adjustments can bring the XPS 13 2-in-1 to performance levels up to 10% more than the previous generation Skylake-U 15W XPS 13. We'll take a look at those performance claims a bit later in this review.

Potential performance implications aside, the move to a lower power processor is part of what enables the smaller form factor of the XPS 13 2-in-1.

As you can see here, compared to Ryan's XPS 13 from 2015, there is a noticeable different in the size of the two machines. The XP3 2-in-1 is a bit thinner thanks to the less power hungry platform choice.

Of course, the most striking feature of the XPS 13 2-in-1 remains the display. Once again the Dell "InfinityEdge" touch display manages to use extremely small bezels to make the screen take up the majority of the notebook chassis. The IGZO panel can reach a brightness of 400 nits making this notebook more usable than you might expect in outdoor conditions. 

However, unlike the standard XPS 13 for the past few generations, the XPS 13 2-in-1 does not feature a display capable of the DCI-P3 color space. Instead, you are left with a display which Dell claims is capable of 100% sRGB coverage. While this may not be important to the majority of users, it's disappointing as someone who works with photo and video files to see this regression.

One of the strong points of the traditional XPS 13 are the input devices. The XPS 13 2-in-1 follows in these same footsteps.

The keyboard on the XPS 13 2-in-1 is surprisingly tactile for being a "chiclet-style" design. I do worry about the matte coating of key caps though, and the potential longevity issues this type of finish can present with plastic that you are greasing up with your finger oils regularly.

In general, the trackpad on the XPS 13 2-in-1 is large and very responsive. The click action feels satisfying, and for the majority of the use cases it will get the job done without having to travel with an external mouse – always a positive. While the trackpad on this notebook is still one of the better non-Apple implementations I have used, it's not without its issues. Instead of being a glass panel, the trackpad has a sort of soft touch coating, making me worry about similar issues as I stated about the key caps above.

Additionally, I have found the Dell trackpad implementation to be pretty poor at palm rejection. However, I think that the way I use the trackpads is more dependant of palm rejection than the majority of others in the office who I have had try out this notebook. As usual for input devices, there's a certain amount of "your mileage may vary."

One of the more externally visible changes to the XPS 13 2-in-1 from its traditional notebook sibling revolves around changes to the webcam setup. Since this new convertible machine can be used as a tablet mode, Dell decided to center the camera along the display bezel. Unfortunately this camera still remains along the bottom bezel of the screen, which means that it is facing the user at an oblique angle which is less than ideal for video chatting.

A very exciting feature of this new webcam is support for Windows Hello. Through the use of a depth-sensing camera (this is accomplished through an IR sensor), the webcam on the XPS 13 2-in-1 allows you to register your face with Windows 10 and use it as a login method.

I am amazed at how well this facial login feature has worked in my testing. Despite the different environments I have used this machine in, and the many different angles of the screen facing me, Windows Hello has had a very high success rate for detecting my face. For users who switch between contact lenses and glasses like me, you can even train the OS with additional scans to make sure you can be noticed in either configuration.

Facial Detection from the Windows 10 login screen using Windows Hello only seems to take about a second or two for me, and is drastically quicker than logging in using my password.

For users who might not be onboard with the facial scan technology, the XPS 13 2-in-1 also features a Windows Hello-compatible fingerprint sensor for logging into your machine. In my testing, this fingerprint sensor was on par with the fingerprint sensors found in modern smartphones. However, I tend to prefer the facial login method based on the sure speed and convenience.

As far as connectivity options on the XPS 13 2-in-1, users may be left wanting. A Thunderbolt 3 port, 3.5mm headphone jack, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C connector, and a MicroSD slot are all the ports available to you. As with most modern USB-C implementations, you can charge the notebook from either port. Depending on the given orientation of wherever the wall outlet you are connecting to is in relation to you and your notebook. This is a feature that I have really grown to love from our inevitable Type-C laden future.

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