Ultrabooks such as the Dell XPS 12 which we’re about to review have reached new dimensions where the form factor is concerned, while still staying true to the conventional laptop design. The credit for the fresh approach doesn’t go solely to the manufacturer as the Windows 8 platform has played its hand in this development by highly promoting, if not encouraging the need for such designs. The outcome – A new generation of hybrid notebooks that can transform into various shapes which are engineered for specific purposes. All of this does sound intriguing and we’re going to play around with the machine in question to assess how beneficial this convertible approach will be for daily computing.
As we’ve said earlier, we’re now witnessing a new generation of Ultrabooks. Gone are the days of Sandy Bridge as the Ivy Bridge architecture now occupies the front-line, bearing various enhancements such as a smaller die size of 22nm compared to the predecessor’s 32nm, three-dimensional Tri-Gate transistors, better power efficiency and HD Graphics 4000 with DX11 support (HD 2000 and HD 3000 GPUs were DX10.1 compatible only). That’s Intel’s tick-tock development strategy in effect. Owing to these improvements, you can expect bigger bang for your buck.
The XPS 12 which we’re reviewing implements the latest architecture through the inclusion of a Core i5 3317U processor with a clock speed of 1.7GHz in a dual core setup with 4 threads. The laptop also houses a Samsung PM830 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM which is apparently soldered onto the motherboard, but you’ll have the option of increasing the system memory during purchase. We basically received the base version and you’ll be able to opt for up to a beefy i7-3537U processor, 8GB of dual channel RAM, a 256GB SSD and more.
What comes as standard on each machine is the 64-bit Windows 8 platform (Pro optional), a 400nit 12.5-inch LED-backlit touchscreen with True Life and FHD resolution and a built-in 47WHr 6-cell Li-ion battery. Integrated HD Graphics 4000 basically means there’s no way of acquiring a discrete GPU. These aren’t all – you’ll also get WiDi 3.0, Smart Connect and Centrino Advanced-N (Bluetooth 4.0 as well as Wi-Fi 802.11 a/g/n) technologies from Intel.
The XPS 12 isn’t the first of its kind, especially to roll out from the Round Rock giant. In fact, a quite similar design approach was implemented way back in 2010 for the Inspiron Duo laptop. Well, it looks like the company is sending out the form factor for round 2, this time with high-end specs and a touch optimized OS to back it up. What you get here is the beauty of the XPS 13 and 14 Ultrabooks combined into one portable laptop with a little twist, which is a flip actually. What makes this device a convertible is its flip-hinge design which has the main touchscreen attached to a machined aluminum frame on 2 sides only, making it foldable.
With attachments on the top and bottom to lock the display in place, the fit isn’t as secure as expected. However, the screen can be easily rotated backward for a tablet form factor with a slight push. There’s a thick bezel surrounding it which is bonded with Corning Gorilla Glass and accompanied by a dedicated Start button as well as a 1.3MP webcam with dual digital microphones. On the lower half of the laptop, the company has fitted a spill-resistant full-size backlit chiclet keyboard and a glass touchpad with gesture support as well as integrated buttons.
Surrounding both components is a magnesium palm rest which has a soft touch paint finish. The lid and base structures are made from carbon fiber that proffers a checkers-like textured finish. The upper design is almost identical to that of the new Inspiron 15R and 14R Ultrabooks with the Dell logo at the center. The overall construction is truly remarkable and definitely stands out amongst its peers. The laptop weighs 1.52kg and measures 15mm to 20mm x 317mm x 215mm in dimensions.
Aligned to the right are a few ports such as the power socket, 2 USB 3.0 jacks (one with PowerShare and Windows debugging), and a 20-pin Mini DisplayPort. Clearly, there are a host of components missing like an SD card reader, an Ethernet port and even HDMI output for more versatile connectivity. The cause of this is probably the inclusion of tablet-specific controls on the left. These comprise of a slider power button, an auto-rotate toggle, volume controls, a 3.5mm mic-cum-headphone jack and a battery indicator with 5 LEDs that are of high importance for using the device with the screen folded. You’ll also find Maxx Audio speakers on both sides.
The experience here is no different from that of the company’s newest Ultrabooks, albeit some options do come with a discrete GPU which makes playing demanding games possible. So how fast exactly is the XPS 12? We recorded a start-up time of just 12 seconds which is amongst the snappiest we’ve seen, and a shutdown time of approximately 10 seconds. Waking up the laptop from sleep takes not more than a couple of seconds.
As a notebook, it does a marvelous job. The keyboard is great for typing and it has well spaced-out buttons that aren’t hard to press. And the back-lighting is just the icing on the cake. The touchpad on the other hand, isn’t all that efficient in the desktop environment, but it does perform well in the Metro UI owing to gesture support. But as a tablet, clearly, the company has messed up a bit. One of the major drawbacks is that the device isn’t light and at 1.52kg, it’s almost thrice the weight of a conventional 7- to 10-inch slate.
While one-hand use isn’t well thought through and probably not a good idea when on the move as you risk dropping the laptop, there are a few perks to the foldable form factor. Unlike the Idea Pad Yoga, you won’t have to come into contact with the keyboard on the back. And the notebook can be deployed as a stand where the screen is flipped over for better viewing and a rich touch experience with the keyboard nowhere in the picture. Well, we did come across a few issues in this mode. The display turned unresponsive multiple times and we had to tap the screen out of the housing and back in place to regain control.
What’s worth mentioning is that you won’t be able to access the keyboard or the touchpad unless the display is flipped in the appropriate (laptop) position. Coming to the clarity, the 1080p panel is just what we’re longing to see on an Ultrabook. Rich colors and crisp visuals – we couldn’t ask for more. However, at 1080p resolution, icons and text in the desktop UI are too small for the 12.5-inch screen. We had to increase the DPI setting for better viewing. We ran into a similar problem with the Latitude 10 tablet where the interface wasn’t enjoyable at 1366 X 768p on a 10.1-screen.
We’ve reached the final and main part of the review – The battery life. As you know, the XPS 12 comes with a 47WHr 6-cell Li-ion battery. In Balanced mode, we managed to pull through around 5.5 hours of usage on a single charge after multiple restarts, continuous music playback, 2 hours of Wi-Fi browsing and messing around with a few games as well as applications for little over an hour. Switching to power saver, the laptop delivered over 6.5 hours of streaming video playback over Wi-Fi with the brightness set at 75%. Overall, you’ll barely make it through the day on moderate usage.
The laptop has a premium design and a sturdy build, Dell sure knows how to impress.
The 1080p display is just what an Ultrabook needs, now only if it could squeeze in a discrete GPU.
Applying the slightest pressure on the display while opening the lid or even closing it, pops the screen out of place.
The device makes a great Ultrabook, but is not much of a viable tablet.
While the specifications look promising, the battery life is a bit of a let-down.
The company is definitely on top in the Ultrabook race with the latest lineup. With the Dell XPS 12, you get great hardware fitted within an attractive design that’s not only premium, but sturdy as well. The convertible form factor only adds to the flexibility, making it convenient to use in different scenarios. This piece of machinery truly deserves an 8.7 out of 10 rating. For a price of $1,199.99 in the US or Rs. 105,590 for potential buyers in India, the base model can be picked up through the company’s website.