The Dell XPS 12 turned our heads last year with its unique flip-display design, making it a cinch to change from laptop to tablet mode. The latest edition looks to build on that success by shaving off some ounces and seriously boosting the battery life so you can more easily use this tablet-laptop hybrid on the go. With a $1,199 starting price, the new XPS 12 is somewhat more expensive than its competitors, so is it worth it?
Made of black carbon fiber and lined with precision-cut aluminum, the Dell XPS 12 is a joy to hold and behold. The lid, deck and bottom sport a soft-touch finish, making it easy to grip. A subtle weave pattern on the lid adds a unique aesthetic.
As with last year's model, the XPS 12's screen rotates within its aluminum frame, so it can be used either as a tablet or a traditional clamshell laptop. Two catches on the top and bottom of the frame hold the screen firmly in place. The frame is sturdy enough that it doesn't flex, even when the screen is in midrotation.
We still find Dell's approach to laptop-tablet hybrids to be the most elegant. Sliders such as the Sony VAIO Duo 13 leave the screen exposed and have more moving parts, while the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, which flips all the way back, leaves your fingers resting on the keyboard in tablet mode.
The new XPS 12 weighs 3.2 lbs. -- 3.2 ounces lighter than its predecessor, but still heavy if you're planning to use this mainly as a tablet. It also weighs more than such Ultrabooks as the 2.4-lb. Sony VAIO Pro 11 and the 3-lb. Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11s. To be fair, the latter two have smaller 11.6-inch displays.
At 12.48 x 8.46 x 0.59-0.79 inches, the XPS 12 is a tad bigger than the VAIO Pro 11 (11.22 x 7.78 x 0.68) and the Yoga 11s (11.73 x 8.03 x 0.67).
Keyboard and Touchpad
It was a joy to type on the Dell XPS 12's backlit island-style keyboard. Keys are generously spaced and provide a satisfying and snappy response, with slight indentations to help keep your fingers on the keys.
As with last year's model, we would have liked it better if the Function-row keys were reversed or if there were a second Fn key on the right to make it easier to use the Function keys.
The 3.9 x 2.4-inch Dell touchpad is spacious and responsive, carrying out Windows 8 gestures like a charm. You can even configure four-finger gestures, thanks to Dell's onboard touchpad management software.
You'll enjoy watching videos on the Dell XPS 12's 12.5-inch Gorilla Glass touch screen. We watched a 1080p trailer for "Elysium" and saw vivid colors and rich details -- such as the grime around Matt Damon's neck tattoos -- on the 1920 x 1080 display. Though we could still clearly see what was on the screen from angles of up to 170 degrees, images got darker once we moved beyond 45-degree viewing angles.
Supporting 10-finger touch, the XPS 12's capacitive touch screen responded accurately to our gestures. We easily switched apps, pinched to zoom in on photos and scrolled through documents and websites. Touching to close browser tabs was a little tricky, as the high resolution of the 12-inch screen made icons very small.
At 259 lux, the XPS 12's display was brighter than the ultraportable average of 238 lux and the VAIO Pro 11's 1080p screen (237 lux). However, the IdeaPad Yoga 11s (1366 x 768) notched a brighter 320 lux.
The two side-mounted Realtek speakers on the XPS 12 were loud enough to fill a small bedroom with music. We played Justin Timberlake's "Take Back the Night" and found the volume and clarity satisfying, but the music sounded flat and canned, with underwhelming bass.
The Dell XPS 12 comes with Dell Audio (powered by Waves MAXX) to enhance speaker performance. When we played the same song on the MaxxSense preset mode, we experienced a more rounded sound with somewhat stronger bass, but the music still had an overall tinny quality. We got a significant volume boost when we changed the mode to Movie.
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After streaming a full-screen video from Hulu for 15 minutes, the XPS 12 remained relatively cool, with the touchpad measuring 78 degrees Fahrenheit, the space between the G and H keys hitting 88 degrees F and the bottom getting to 83 degrees. We consider temperatures higher than 95 degrees to be uncomfortable.
The Dell XPS 12's 1.3-MP camera took sharp 1024p pictures with vibrant colors. We saw bright colors and crisp detail on pictures we snapped both indoors and outdoors, with the red and white stripes on our clothes popping, despite a slight blue overtone.
For a notebook of its size, the XPS 12 offers a fair number of connectivity options. The left side houses a screen-rotation button, headphone/mic combo jack, power slider, volume rocker and Noble lock slot, while the right side has a power port, miniDisplay port, two USB 3.0 ports and a button that launches a power gauge of five LEDs. There's no SD Card slot, which some may miss.
Running Intel's fourth-generation 1.6-GHz Core i5-4200U Haswell processor with 4GB of RAM, our XPS 12 delivered smooth and speedy performance. With a security scan, the camera app and an episode of "Family Guy" streaming in the background, we didn't experience any lag.
The XPS 12 delivered strong performance on various benchmarks. Its score of 5,011 on PCMark 7 is much better than the ultraportable average of 3,800. It also did much better than the Sony VAIO Pro 11 (4,474), which has the same processor, and the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11s (3,896), which is powered by a 1.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3339Y processor with 8GB of RAM.
The XPS 12 fared worse in Geekbench, notching 5,123 against the category average of 6,082, but it still beat the VAIO Pro 11 (5,055) and the Yoga 11s (3,650).
The 128GB Samsung SSD in our XPS 12 took a mere 10 seconds to boot Windows 8. That's less than half the category average of 23 seconds and 1 second faster than the Yoga 11s. However, the VAIO Pro 11 started in 7 seconds.
On LAPTOP's File Transfer Test, the new XPS 12 copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in 32 seconds, for a speed of 159 MBps. That's much faster than the category average of 101 MBps and the VAIO Pro 11's 98 MBps. The Yoga 11s was just slightly slower, at 141 MBps.
The XPS 12 also took the lead in our OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in just 5 minutes and 12 seconds, more than 40 seconds faster than the category average (5:55). The VAIO Pro 11 (5:20) and the Yoga 11s (7:24) couldn't quite catch up.
With Intel's integrated HD 4400 GPU, the XPS 12 has suitable graphics muscle for playing mainstream games. On 3DMark11, the XPS 12 scored a strong 927 against the category average (749) and beat the VAIO Pro 11 (647) and the Yoga 11s (501).
When we played "World of Warcraft" on autodetect settings at a 1366 x 768 resolution, the XPS 12 delivered a playable 41 frames per second, about the same as the category average (40 fps). On the same settings, the Yoga 11s delivered a barely playable 30 fps, while the VAIO Pro 11 saw a dismal 16 fps at a resolution of 1280 x 1024.
With anything much more than that, though, the XPS 12 had trouble. When we increased the graphics to Max, the frame rate dropped to an unplayable 22 fps. At its native 1920 x 1080 resolution, the XPS 12 delivered a barely playable frame rate of 29 fps on autodetect.
Dell has upgraded the battery on the new XPS 12 to 50Whr, up from 47Whr on the 2012 model. The notebook also benefits from Intel's more-efficient 4th Generation Core processor. On the LAPTOP Battery test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the new XPS 12 lasted an impressive 9 hours and 24 minutes. That's almost 4 hours more than what we saw on last year's model (5:46) and more than 3 hours longer than the category average (6:05). This hybrid also lasted much longer than the Yoga 11s (5:54) and the VAIO Pro 11 (6:23). However, with a sheet battery included, the VAIO Pro 11 lasted a whopping 14 hours and 32 minutes.
This Windows 8 machine comes with some nifty My Dell Support software to configure settings on the XPS 12. It's also preloaded with six Dell apps, ranging from a Getting Started user manual to the Dell Shop app for browsing Dell.com.
The XPS 12 also comes with Skype and standard Windows 8 apps, such as Bing, Movie Maker and a trial of Office 365. Few third-party apps are included, with just Amazon Kindle and McAfee Central installed.
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Dell added near-field communication (NFC) capability to the new XPS 12 in order to facilitate tap-to-pair and tap-to-share between NFC-enabled devices. Although sharing files is limited to Windows 8 devices for now, we were able to quickly send pictures to our Nokia Lumia 1020 via Bluetooth by tapping the two devices together.
Our $1,199 new Dell XPS 12 unit came with the 1.6-GHz Haswell Core i5-4200U processor with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.
Dell also offers two other options. For $1,399, you can get the XPS 12 with a 1.8-GHz Core i7-4500U processor with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Upgrade to the $1,799 model, and you get a 1.7-GHz Core i7-4650U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.
The XPS 12 comes with Dell's one-year enhanced support warranty, which includes one year of In-Home Service after Remote Diagnosis and Premium Phone Support.
With its innovative flip hinge, full-HD touch screen, and svelte and sturdy design, the Dell XPS 12 was already one of the best Windows 8 laptop-tablet hybrids. But thanks to a fourth-generation Intel Core processor and a higher-capacity battery, you now get 9.5 hours of endurance. Plus, Dell managed to trim a few ounces from the design.
If you can't afford the XPS 12's $1,199 starting price, the $999 Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11s is smaller and lighter, and sports a brighter -- albeit lower-res -- screen. But if you're looking for a great notebook that can double as a tablet, the new and improved XPS 12 is a top pick.