Dell XPS 18 Review

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Editor's Choice

Pros: Extremely thin for an all-in-one; Great audio; More than 4 hours of battery life; Great for multiplayer games

Cons: Grainy webcam; Reflective display; Mediocre external keyboard

Verdict: The Dell XPS 18 is part giant tablet, part desktop PC and a whole lot of fun for the whole family.

It's a portable all-in-one and a tablet--in one. The XPS 18 (starting at $899, $1,349 as tested) is designed for flexibility, doubling as desktop PC and a supersized slate, thanks to a built-in battery. Featuring a full HD touch screen display and a much slimmer design than the competition, the XPS 18 has the potential to be the ultimate family computer. Find out why Dell has a winner on its hands.

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Design

Dell XPS 18 DesignAt first glance, it's easy to mistake the Dell XPS 18 for a traditional all-in- one. With rounded corners and beveled edges, this device looks both friendly and powerful. There's a Windows logo on the frame directly below the screen and a Dell logo in the top left corner. The XPS 18 is held up by two kickstand feet that pop out from the back; they allow you to rest the device either at a near-vertical angle, or more flush with a table.

Measuring 18.25 x 11.17 x 0.41 inches and weighing just 5.2 pounds, the XPS 18 is large but doesn't feel bulky, because it's amazingly thin. The Sony VAIO Tap 20, a 20-inch portable all-in-one, weighs 11.2 pounds and is 1.8 inches thick.

The XPS 18 felt like a heavy serving tray as we carried it around, which is not to say that it was unpleasant. It was easy to pick up and carry this device to a different room.

Stand

Dell XPS 18 StandAn optional $99 stand for the XPS 18 gives this device a form factor similar to an Apple iMac. This stand cups around the bottom middle of the device, and has a small lip. In the middle is a magnetic docking connector, used to recharge the XPS 18. We enjoyed the extra height provided by this accessory, but the XPS 18's feet served their purpose well enough.

Keyboard and Mouse

As with all Windows 8 devices, the XPS 18 features an on-screen keyboard that automatically appears when the user taps on any text field (or you can access it through a button on the taskbar). The on-screen keyboard was great for short text entry, especially when using this device as a tablet, but doesn't rival the speed and comfort afforded by a traditional keyboard.

Luckily, the XPS 18 also includes a battery-powered wireless keyboard and mouse, matching the desktop theme of this unit. While the plastic keyboard doesn't necessarily look cheap, it doesn't have the most premium design, either. They keys had shallow travel and felt mushy as we typed. We matched our average speed of 92 words per minute, but also averaged six mistakes, whereas our typing usually has zero typos or just one.

The mouse was comfortable and accurate, with a dedicated left and right button and a scroll wheel. Users can also push this wheel to the left or the right to scroll horizontally.

Display

Dell XPS 18 DisplayThe large display is the XPS 18's main draw, putting a whopping 18.4-inch 1080p monitor on a device that can easily be picked up and carried across the room. The screen was nice and bright, measuring 302 lux against a category average of 244 and outshining the 254 -lux VAIO Tap 20.

The XPS 18's 1920 x 1080 screen resolution was sharp and clear. We watched a 1080p version of a trailer for "The Hobbit" and could easily make out the blades of grass of the Shire and the intricate texture of Gollum's skin.

Dell boasts 178-degree viewing angles on the XPS 18, and that seems right on the mark. When we set this portable all-in-one on a table and had friends gather around, everyone could easily make out the game on the screen. However, in a sun-lit room, the glossy finish of the display was quite reflective, and we had to struggle to find a good angle.

The touch screen on the XPS 18 was responsive and mostly accurate. We made a couple erroneous taps as we navigated the device, often when browsing the Internet and clicking on smaller-size links. We never had any issues with Windows 8 gestures, however, such as swiping in from the right to open the Charms menu or dragging an application from the top of the screen to the bottom to quit.

Audio

Enhanced by MaxxAudio 4 technology, the two speakers on the left and right ridge of the XPS 18 belted out high-quality audio. Music easily filled our testing room, almost reaching the level of too loud, with no audio distortion.

We played Macklemore's "Thriftshop" and enjoyed both the higher saxophone notes as well as the deeper base. Even the subtle record-crackling effects during the intro were crisp and clear. Next, we played Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," and enjoyed Freddy Mercury's lively performance supported by clear piano and cymbals. We generally like our music with a little more bass, but were impressed with the overall sound quality from this thin and fairly portable device.

Software

Dell preloads the XPS 18 with two games aimed at taking advantage of its large touch screen. The first is Fingertapps Instruments, which allows users to choose between guitar, piano, bass and drums and play classic songs in a style similar to "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band." The game supports up to four players, each playing a different instrument on a part of the screen in real-time. Although the song selection was limited (18 including "Amazing Grace," "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Frere Jacques"), the game was a huge hit in our office, where we all gathered around the conference table to rock out. The game dropped a few frames a couple of times as we all played our instruments concurrently, but it didn't seriously affect our casual game play.

Air Hockey by IdentityMine is also preloaded, although a small download and install is required the first time you open the app. This game wasn't as fun as Fingertapps Instruments, as the pucks were quite difficult to control with our fingers. The friction of our fingers touching the glass of the display poorly mirrored the easy glide of a real air hockey table.

Dell includes McAfee Security Advisor with 12 months of service, a trial of Microsoft Office 365, Amazon and Kindle apps and Skype. My Dell Support Center app provides system notifications, updates, backup services and support for the device.

Heat

After watching Hulu on full screen for 15 minutes, the XPS 18 stayed relatively cool, with the front averaging out to 84.1 degrees and the hottest part being the bottom left corner at 91.5 degrees. We saw similar results on the back of the device, with an average temperature of 84.3. We noticed the tablet getting warm during our testing, but it never passed our uncomfortable threshold, which is anything over 95 degrees.

Ports and Webcam

Dell XPS 18 PortsThe XPS 18 keeps its ports to the bare minimum. This device features just two USB 3.0 ports, an 8-in-1 card reader, a headphone jack and the power port, all on the left ridge of the XPS 18. There's no support for an external monitor but, with the large-size display on this device, that's not overly surprising.

The webcam captures images of up to 0.9 megapixels, which isn't very high. A captured video looked fairly bright but grainy.

Performance

The 2.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3337U processor with 8GB of RAM in the XPS 18 provides a healthy dose of power. On rare occasions, we noticed a slight stuttering when playing 1080p videos and games, but nothing that was alarming.

The XPS 18 scored a 6,291 on the Geekmark benchmark test, beating out the 5,683 of the Sony VAIO Tap 20, which has a 1.7-GHz dual core Intel i5-3317U processor and 4GB of RAM. Both are significantly under the 10,337 desktop replacement average, but that figure includes a number of gaming notebooks. However, the XPS 18 beat the average on the PCMark7 benchmark, scoring a 4,127 against the desktop replacement average of 3,999.

The XPS 18 loaded Windows 8 in a speedy 19 seconds. This is significantly better than the Sony VAIO Tap 20, which loaded in 44 seconds, and less than half the category average of 42 seconds.

On the file transfer test, which tests the hard drive speed by duplicating 5 GB of mixed media files, the XPS 18 took 2 minutes and 33 seconds for a rate of 33.3 MBps. This is significantly faster than the 12 MBps transfer rate of the Tap 20, but much slower than the 91 MBps average.

The XPS 18 did OK on the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which matches 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses completing the task in 5 minutes and 58 seconds. That's about a minute slower than the average (4:45), and the VAIO Tap 20 took 11 seconds less, at 5:47.

Graphics

Like the Sony VAIO Tap 20, the XPS 18 uses an Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip. We were able to play "World of Warcraft" with a resolution of 1377 x 768 and effects on autodetect, averaging a playable-but-not-blistering 31 frames per second. When we kept the same resolution and maxed out the effects, the framerate dropped to an unplayable 16.3 fps. Forget about 1080p; we saw 24.6 fps at autodetect and 13.2 fps when we pushed all the settings to the max.

Battery Life

The XPS 18 is a portable all-in-one with pretty good staying power, which involved continual Web browsing over Wi-Fi at 40 percent screen brightness. This notebook lasted 4 hours and 12 minutes, besting the desktop replacement category average of 3 hours and 47 minutes. The Sony VAIO Tap 20 lasted 3 hours and 50 minutes.

While that runtime is anemic by traditional tablet standards (the average is 7:07), the XPS 18 should last through a meeting or family game night.

Configurations

The XPS 18 comes in three different versions. The starting configuration costs $899 and features a 1.8-GHz Intel Pentium 2117U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 320 GB 5,400-rpm hard drive. The step-up model, costing $999, bumps up the processor to a 1.9-GHz Intel Core i3-3227U and includes a larger 500 GB hard drive while keeping with 4GB of RAM. The most powerful version, the unit we reviewed, has a 2.7-GHz processor, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive and costs $1,349.

Verdict

Dell XPS 18 OutroIf you look strictly at the numbers, the XPS 18 is not the best-performing PC in its price range. But it's the portability and the flexibility that makes this Windows 8 device extremely compelling, especially for families. We enjoyed carrying around our supersized tablet and pulling people together to play games. While this $1,349 desktop/tablet hybrid sacrifices some screen size versus the Sony Tap 20, the XPS 18 is the best portable all-in-one we've tested yet because of its sleeker design, great audio quality and longer battery life.

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