Stylish design; Bright and crisp full HD display; Easy to switch from notebook to tablet mode; Fast SSD
Below-average battery life; No SD Card slot; Feels a bit heavy as tablet ;
Featuring a well-designed flipping display and smooth performance, the Dell XPS 12 is a sleek Windows 8 Ultrabook that doubles as a tablet.
Dell has revived a design that was ahead of its time for an operating system whose time has finally come. The XPS 12 ($1,199 as tested) uses the same innovative flip-screen design as the 2010 Inspiron Duo, but now it's paired with a Windows 8 experience that's optimized for touch. This sleek 12-inch Ultrabook also boasts a beautiful and bright 1080p display, a fast SSD, and an Intel Core i5 processor. Is this hybrid the best way to handle Windows 8?
The XPS 12'ss screen rotates within its aluminum frame, so that the system can be used either as a traditional clamshell laptop, or as a tablet. The display locks into place magnetically, and feels quite secure. Even when the screen is in mid-rotation, the aluminum frame also feels stiff, and did not flex.Sony VAIO Duo 11, whose screen is not only exposed, but has many more moving parts. And, unlike the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, whose screen flips all the way back, you don't have to rest your hands on the keyboard in tablet mode.
The left side of the XPS 12 has a screen rotation button, a sliding power button, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a volume rocker. The right side has a mini DisplayPort and two USB 3.0 ports. A small button activates four smaller LEDS, which shows you the battery life at a glance. We'd would much prefer if this was replaced with an SD card slot, which was missing on the XPS 13, too.
At 3.4 pounds, the XPS 12 is a few ounces heavier than most Ultrabooks its size, but at 12.5 x 8.5 x 0.6-0.8 inches, doesn't take up any more space. By comparison, the smaller VAIO Duo 11 weighs 2.8 pounds, and measures 12.5 x 7.8 x 0.75 inches.
The XPS 12 felt comfortable to hold in tablet mode, but we wish the ridges on the bottom of the system (used to promote air flow) were arranged so that we could use it as a hand grip, too.
We like the fact that the XPS 12 is smart enough to know when -- and when not -- to activate the on-screen keyboard. For example, if you're using the Modern version of Internet Explorer and want to enter a URL, the on-screen keyboard will only appear only when the notebook is in tablet mode.
Still, it doesn't always work. For example, when we were typing this review in Google dDocs, or using the desktop version of Internet Explorer in tablet mode, we had to manually activate the on-screen keyboard.
At 434 lux, the XPS 12's display is almost twice as bright as the category average of 229, and just beats out the VAIO Duo 11's 402 lux. Even at its dimmest setting, we had no problem seeing the screen in a fairly bright room.
The XPS 12 is the first notebook from Dell we've tested that runs Windows 8, an operating system that attempts to bridge the gap between traditional desktop and tablet computing. When you first boot the XPS 12, you're presented with the Modern UI, a series of customizable Live Tiles that stretch horizontally across the screen.
You can add additional tiles by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, and selecting "All Apps." Then, in the next screen, swiping down on an icon gives you options to pin apps to the Start screen, taskbar, uninstall it, open in a new window, run as administrator or open file location. We highly recommend pinning the Control Panel; it's difficult to access otherwise.
Swiping from the right bezel reveals the Charms menu, which has options for Search, Share, returning to the Start screen, Devices and Settings. Swiping from the left side of the screen lets you switch between active programs; if you swipe in, then out in one motion, open programs are shown as thumbnails along the left side.
Then, there's the Desktop mode. Selecting the Desktop tile brings you to a Windows 7-style interface, with a few notable exceptions. Instead of a Start menu in the lower left, all you get is an Internet Explorer icon, next to a file explorer.
Read our full review of Windows 8 for more details.
Strangely, when we were playing music via Pandora's website, the XPS 12 would stop the music when we swiped to a different app. We hope this is just a glitch.
For its part, Dell keeps preinstalled apps to a minimum, which we appreciate. The most useful app is "Getting Started with Windows 8 on Your New Dell." As you might imagine, this opens a screen with several videos and FAQs showing just how to use Windows 8. We hope that all Windows 8 notebooks come with similar guides.
The other Dell tile is for the Dell Shop, which is merely a portal to buy accessories from Dell. Also on board isare the Amazon Store, Kindle, and Microsoft Live Essentials 2012 (Photo Gallery and Movie Maker).
Outfitted with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD, the XPS 12 did fairly well on our tests. On PCMark 7, the XPS 12's score of 4,727 topped the ultraportable average of 3,081. The Sony VAIO Duo 11, which has the same processor, came in just below, with a score of 4,683.
The 128GB Samsung M830 SSD inside our XPS 12 was blazing fast, booting Windows 8 in a mere 15 seconds. That was less than half the category average (40 seconds) and just two seconds slower than the Duo 11, which has a 128GB Toshiba SSD.
On the Laptop Transfer Test (duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files), the XPS 12 finished in 34 seconds, a transfer rate of 149.7 MBps. That's more than twice the category average (64 MBps), and slightly faster than the Duo 11 (145.4 MBps).
The XPS 12 completed our Spreadsheet Test (matching 20,000 names to their addresses) in 5 minutes and 34 seconds. That's two minutes faster than the category average, but the Duo 11 took much less time, just 3 minutes.
On our "World of Warcraft" test, the XPS 12 averaged a playable 38 frames per second with the resolution at 1366 x 768, and effects set to autodetect. When we increased the resolution to its native 1080p, the rate plummeted to an unplayable 14 fps.
After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes at full screen, the XPS 12's touchpad registered 83 degrees, the space between the G and H keys was 94, and the middle of the underside was 87 degrees. All are below what we consider uncomfortable warm -- 95 degrees -- but the left middle of the bottom reached 97 degrees.
Configurations and Warranty
Dell offers four configurations of the XPS 12. Our review unit cost $1,199, and comes with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. The most expensive configuration costs $1,699, and has a Core i7-3517U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD.
|CPU||1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235|
|Touchpad Size||3.9 x 2.4 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini DisplayPort|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Size||12.5 x 8.5 x 0.6 - 0.8 inches|