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BW Businessworld

Flipping Over It: Dell XPS Review

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The beauty starts even before you take the Dell XPS 12 out of its box. Ah, I rather like the big sturdy but expensive looking box they use to pack this convertible into. And as soon as you set eyes on this laptop-tablet you see how well-made it is.
Also ReadThis high-quality piece of hardware has obviously been created with great attention to detail. The body is covered with a soft touch rubbery carbon fibre material. It's sort of grey-black with a pattern ingrained into it. On the sides is a brushed aluminum skirting; this is on both the top and underneath the device. The edges glint slightly as they curve into the inside of the device. No doubt, this device will look just great in the CEO's office as the look really spells top management.
 
When you open it, this machine is a laptop, or rather, an ultrabook. Slide a subtle button on the side of the laptop to power it on and take a deep breath. Before you exhale, Windows 8 will have loaded up, completely ready for you to use. And might I add that it looks totally beautiful on the lovely screen of the XPS 12. The 1080p IPS screen is vibrant without being awfully bright. It has great colours and contrasts with no compromise on viewing angles. It's made of Gorilla Glass and will reflect light in certain positions so think about this if you have a poorly placed bright light on in your office or if you have a big un-curtained window letting in light straight on to your screen. This is a touch screen of course  — a super responsive one — and the first thing you can do is swipe around on the Windows 8 start screen. There are a few video tutorials to get you started on what is probably an unfamiliar interface.
 
But this is no regular laptop or ultrabook: Reach out to the screen and push it back gently. It will unfasten from its magnets and tilt all the way back and around leaving the borders to become a sort of easel. Now you can either flip the screen, which swivels all the way around, to face the other side or let it turn to settle over the keyboard. Ladies and gentlemen we now have a tablet. Very clever, except that it's too heavy to be an iPad-like tablet or similar to any of the Android competitors tablets either. Together the keyboard and screen weigh about 1.5 kgs which is about three times heavier than a typical tab. So now what?
 
You will have to think of a device like the XPS 12 as an enhanced laptop but a less than perfect tablet. There are some situations when you can use it in tablet mode such as when you want to sit back and do a short spell of reading or when you want to move out of regular laptop form to flatten the device and draw something, look at a plan with co-workers or swipe through something that is really designed for touch. The tablet mode will also be perfect when using many apps. It's just that 1.5kg weight will be difficult to hold without a backrest for very long. If the screen had been detachable as it is on many hybrids, it would be of course easier to use as a tablet though it's still too landscapey to hold and too elongated in portrait mode.
 
In laptop mode, the XPS 12 has a wonderful keyboard, much like the XPS 13 ultrabook. It is soft and backlit and the keys are chicklet style. It works fast and there's absolutely no lag. The processor on this convertible is a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U (Turbo up to 2.6GHz) and there's 4GB of RAM. For storage we have a 128GB Samsung 830 solid-state drive. There are 2 USB 3.0 ports, and a display out port. No SD card slot.  The battery is a 6-cell 47WHr Li-ion and lasts about 5 hours. The specs are enough for everyday work, but this isn't a high powered gaming machine — nor is it meant to be. You may be able to get increased specs from Dell as they allow different configurations.
 
This beautifully built machine is at Rs 90,000, as expensive as convertibles are turning out to be. It’s very sturdy despite all the moving parts that make the screen circle around as it does. 
 
Your Choices
You could buy a separate tablet and lower-end laptop for the price of the Dell XPS 12. But again, budget may not be your problem and you may be perfectly happy to own a separate tablet and appreciate the flexibility of this convertible. Another choice is to consider some of the hybrids, on which the screen detaches. But also see the build and the possibility that device may be too fiddly for you to manage. I myself am a little uncomfortable with screens that detach because I am scared of dropping it and annoyed with fitting the screen back in carefully. If the hybrid is device sturdy and easy to use, see if that form factor fits your work habits better.
 
With the PC and laptop market being under severe pressure from tablets and smartphones, you may also want a tablet plus companion keyboard. This is fine only as long as you don’t heavily use applications that need much more control than you get with a tablet. Many tasks and actions we take for granted on computers such as cut and paste and drag and drop are just plain annoying on touch screens and tend to slow you down. Working with large spreadsheets or specialised software, large files, graphics-heavy software etc is also not ideally handled by tablets even when accompanied by a keyboard.
 
A Version Of This Review Appeared In The Businessworld Issue Dated 11-02-2013, Under The Headline: High On Looks