It's about time: Dell has finally taken its 15-inch premium notebook and made it into a convertible. The XPS 15 2-in-1 ($1,499.99 to start; $2,549 as tested) is an incredibly thin bend-back notebook with serious power driven by Intel's Kaby Lake G processors with AMD's Radeon RX Vega M graphics. The optional 4K screen is vivid and beautiful, and the new Maglev keyboard is an innovative solution that feels extremely responsive, despite its low travel. But Dell has yet to fix the XPS' annoying webcam placement, and that 4K screen really eats up battery life, which is subpar. That makes the XPS 15 2-in-1 an impressive feat of design and a pleasure to use (webcam aside), but it doesn't endure as long as competitors.
While I've thought for a while that the XPS design is getting a little tired, I can't help but like the XPS 15 2-in-1's looks. Sure, you're still getting the plain silver lid with the Dell logo stamped in black, but it's so thin and light that the whole thing feels reinvigorated.
Opening it up shows off the 15.6-inch 4K display, the new "Maglev" keyboard and a soft-touch carbon-fiber deck that feels great against your wrists.
And if you're not looking closely, you won't even notice that the power button has a fingerprint reader built in.
The XPS is the thinnest 15-inch 2-in-1 we've ever seen, at 13.9 x 9.2 x 0.6 inches. In terms of weight, it's comparable to competing laptops, at 4.4 pounds. The clamshell-style 15-inch MacBook Pro is similar in size but a bit lighter, at 13.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches and 4 pounds. Microsoft's detachable Surface Book 2 (13.5 x 9.8 x 0.9 inches, 4.2 pounds) is lighter but thicker, while the similarly convertible 15-inch Lenovo Yoga 720 ( (14.3 x 9.5 x 0.8 inches, 4.6 pounds) is both thicker and heavier.
Like Dell's XPS 13, the XPS 15 2-in-1 is all in on USB Type-C. On the left side are a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports (one is for charging) and a microSD card slot. There's also a helpful battery gauge for checking how much juice you have left, and I appreciate that this didn't get ditched in making the XPS 15 into a convertible.
The right side of the machine has a pair of USB Type-C ports with DisplayPort, a headphone jack and a Noble lock slot. There are no USB Type-A ports, so you'll need a dongle to connect to many common peripherals.
The 15.6-inch, 4K display on the XPS 15 2-in-1 continues a grand tradition of being excellent. It's bright, colorful and extremely sharp. I watched the 4K movie Tears of Steel and was blown away by the color reproduction. A man looking at a pink hologram had a reflective blush on his face, and I could see the veins on the sides of a sniper's eyes. In a 1080p trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, I saw pores and wrinkles in Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen's faces as they caressed each other.
That panel covers an awesome 160 percent of the sRGB color gamut, beating everything in its path, including the premium-laptop average of 111 percent, the Lenovo Yoga 720's 114 percent, the MacBook Pro's 126 percent and the Surface Book 2's 131 percent.
While the XPS 15 2-in-1 is plenty luminous, at 387 nits, some competitors are brighter. The MacBook Pro leads the pack, at 460 nits, with the Surface Book 2 close behind, at 417 nits. The average is 294 nits, and the Yoga 720 measured 272 nits.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Dell calls the XPS 15's keyboard "Maglev," short for "magnetic levitation." The short version is that it reduces the thickness of the keyboard but uses magnets and a metal plate to create resistance. I was skeptical about the whole thing, but I'll tell you what -- it really works. If you're going to make a low-travel keyboard, this is how to do it. The Maglev keyboard on the XPS 15 2-in-1 has just 0.6 millimeters of travel, with 71 grams of actuation required to press the keys.
Though those measurements are usually a recipe for disaster, I'm convinced this is the future of low-travel keyboards. It's insanely comfortable. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 112 words per minute, which is in my usual range, but I had just a single typo in the entire test. (I usually have a 2 percent error rate.)
The touchpad is far less interesting, but it's still dependable. It's spacious, at 4.1 x 3.1 inches, and because it's a Windows Precision Touchpad, it had no issues responding to Windows 10 gestures like two-finger scrolling and swiping apps down into the taskbar.
The speakers on the XPS 15 2-in-1 are nice and loud, and they easily filled a small conference room in our office. When I listened to Fuel's "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)," the raw, 2000s-style indie-emo vocals were clear, as were the guitars and the drums, but the bass was weak.
I was surprised that the XPS didn't come preloaded with Waves MaxxAudio Pro, which is on most of Dell's machines, though I don't think I would've played with it too much for these speakers.
Armed with an Intel Core i7-8705G CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD, the XPS 15 2-in-1 is no pushover. I easily had 30 tabs open in Google Chrome, including one streaming a 1080p clip from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon without any hiccups, though the fans went off in brief bursts a few times.
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, the XPS earned a score of 15,040, easily surpassing the premium-laptop average (9,820), the Lenovo Yoga 720 (Core i7-7700, 11,951) and the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (Core i7-8650U, 12,505). But Apple's MacBook Pro (7th Gen Core i7) had a slightly higher score of 15,170.
The XPS took 13 seconds to copy 4.97GB of files, for a rate of 391.5 MBps. That's far above average (273.86 MBps) and beats the Surface Book 2 (318.1 MBps) and the Yoga 720 (267.9 MBps). The MacBook Pro, however, blazed past everything else in its path, with an impressive speed of 654 MBps.
On our Excel macro test, the XPS paired 65,000 names and addresses in 58 seconds. That's much faster than the Surface Book 2 (1:31) and the category average (1:41).
Dell's laptop had the fastest HandBrake video editing test result we've seen on any nongaming laptop. (Only the Asus ROG Strix GL702ZC did better.) It transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 14 minutes and 10 seconds, beating out the Surface Book 2 (23 minutes) and the average (22:05).
Graphics and Gaming with Kaby Lake G
The XPS 15 2-in-1 is the first laptop we've tested with a Kaby Lake G processor -- a speedy 8th Gen Core Intel CPU with AMD's Radeon RX Vega M graphics on board. The results are impressive for a system that doesn't have discrete graphics. It tends to match up with or beat thicker machines that have an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 inside.
On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, the XPS 15 2-in-1 earned a score of 150,257, beating the average (82,122) and the Lenovo Yoga 720 (Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050) but falling behind the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060).
When we ran the Dirt 3 benchmark, the XPS 15 ran at a smooth 185.6 frames per second, -- far better than the MacBook Pro (AMD Radeon 560, 76 fps).
But let's talk about real gaming. This Radeon RX Vega M GPU wasn't powerful enough to power our usual suite of gaming benchmarks, but it did manage to plow through our budget gaming test; on Rise of the Tomb Raider on High settings, it ran at 44.4 fps. The Yoga 720, with its GTX 1050, ran the same benchmark at 39 fps.
I also spent some time playing Grand Theft Auto V. While our usual benchmarks would ramp up the settings to the max, I kept it on High settings and turned down most of the special effects. It maintained a pretty steady 57 to 60 fps, though there was some significant screen tearing. And in one particularly nasty car crash, it dropped to the 30s before recovering.
And now for the bad news. The XPS 15 2-in-1's battery life is subpar. It ran for only 6 hours and 28 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which runs a continuous gamut of web browsing, graphics benchmarks and videos at 150 nits of brightness. The premium laptop category average is 8:48, and the Surface Book 2 lasted an astonishing 11:34.
Between the 4K screen and just how thin this thing is, there's an explanation for that time. But that's poor battery life for any laptop -- especially one that costs over $2,000 and is meant to be portable. It's possible that a 1080p version would last longer, as 4K screens can devour energy, but we haven't been able to test that.
Dell claims that its heating system is what helps deliver great performance, with dual fans, extremely thin heat pumps and thermal insulation. But in practice, it still got a bit warm. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, it measured 85 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 93.5 degrees between the G and H keys, and a warm 96.5 degrees on the bottom. That last measurement is higher than our 95-degree comfort threshold.
And when I put it under the high-pressure task of playing Grand Theft Auto V, the touchpad kept the same temperature, the center of the keyboard jumped to 110 degrees and the bottom was a lap burner, at 113 degrees.
The XPS 15 2-in-1 doesn't take any steps to solve a major issue with the entire XPS line: The webcam is still below the display. It's been moved to the center, as opposed to being left-justified, similar to the XPS 13 2-in-1.
But still, it looks up your nose.
The 720p camera takes decent shots otherwise. In a photo I took at my desk, it caught the subtle yellow stripes in my shirt and, since the camera was right up against my fingers on the keyboard, caught a small cut on my finger. Some lights were blown out, but you likely wouldn't have noticed as much on a webcam that doesn't point directly toward the ceiling.
You could turn the XPS into tent mode or tablet mode (held upside down) when video chatting to get a better angle, but that will make it impossible to use the keyboard while doing so, and you shouldn't have to make that choice.
There are also infrared cameras, so you can use Windows Hello to log in with facial recognition.
Software and Warranty
Dell put a nice amount of software on the XPS 15 2-in-1, but luckily, most of it is useful. Dell Mobile Connect is the highlight here, especially if you have an Android phone. The app sends texts and makes calls on both iOS and Android, but the users of Google's OS can control their entire phone from their XPS 15 2-in-1, which works well when in tablet mode.
SupportAssist makes it easy to get in touch with Dell tech support, check warranty details and run hardware scans, and Premier Color lets you make changes to the screen's color gamut, brightness and color temperature.
Less exciting is Dell Power Manager, which allows you to make changes to max out battery life. There's also Dell Customer Connect, which lets you take surveys. I'd delete that one.
There are a few bloatware apps that Dell has put on there, including Netflix, a trial of McAfee Antivirus and Dropbox, which offers 20GB of free space (but only to new users).
Of course, there are a handful of apps built into every Windows 10 system that are found here, like Candy Crush Soda Saga, Bubble Witch 3 Saga, March of Empires: War of Lords, Disney Magic Kingdoms, Skype and LinkedIn. There's also a slew of tiles in the Start menu that point to the Windows Store.
What does the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 Cost?
Our review unit, with an Intel Core i7-8705G CPU, Radeon graphics, 16GB of RAM, a 4K display and a 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD runs for $2,549.
The $1,499 base model comes with an Intel Core i5-8305G processor with Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1080p display. For $2,199, you can get the same model we reviewed, but with a 256GB SSD.
The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 has a lot going for it. Its Kaby Lake G performance and AMD Radeon graphics are strong, the 4K display option looks amazing and with Maglev, Dell has come up with an incredible solution for making low-travel keyboards usable.
But still, Dell hasn't been able to fix the webcam placement on its XPS line, which is really just an annoyance at this point. And the battery life is less than 7 hours, which is far below our average -- and that partially defeats the purpose of Dell making this thing so portable in the first place.
If you need both incredible performance and a thin 2-in-1, the XPS 15 is a strong choice. But it won't be the laptop you travel with unless you lug the charger around. (The 1080p model could last longer.) If you need long battery life, consider the MacBook Pro or the Surface Book 2. The latter machine is much larger, but its GTX 1060 also gives you more power.
But if the screen is what you prize most, you won't get anything else like the XPS 15 2-in-1, and the performance is excellent for such a thin laptop. But with that, you'll have to make some compromises.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag