Dell XPS 18 review
There's recently been a rush to release the perfect hybrid Windows all-in-one/tablet PC, but the Dell XPS 18 is one of the most elegant we've seen so far. Most of its rivals have been some combination of expensive, larger than you'd expect or packed with cool-looking but slightly over-complicated design features. Dell, however, has taken the simple option: an oversized Windows 8 tablet PC that comes with a dock.
The dock doesn't provide any extra features, such additional ports or a disc drive. Instead, it's just a nicely made adjustable metal stand which can support and smoothly tilt your tablet through a range of angles from completely vertical to almost horizontal. The tablet also has a magnetic rear so it will snap into place for extra security.
The touchscreen display has a Full HD 1,920x1,080 resolution and its outstanding contrast ratio of 1,194:1 showed plenty of detail in even our darkest images. Its sRGB colour gamut coverage was somewhat less impressive at 83.1 per cent. This is to be expected from a WVA panel, though, which typically have less accurate colours than screens with IPS panels. Instead, its main speciality is its wide viewing angles, which were very impressive indeed. We didn’t see any shift in contrast even when we were looking at it side on and its glossy finish made our photos and video look very rich and vivid.
Colours looked even as well without any particular tints or colour casts visible on even our palest test screens. By default the display switches between portrait and landscape mode as an accelerometer tells it which way up the tablet is, although you can lock it if you want to. Positioning it vertically can be helpful for viewing long documents or un-rotated photos, but it's obvious that the XPS 18 is primarily meant to be used in landscape mode.
Measuring 282x462x13mm and weighing 2.31kg, it's much larger and heavy than your average portable tablet but not so large as to be completely impractical to move around. It's best suited to being used on the dining room table or on your lap in front of the TV. Laying it flat makes it easy to use for a variety of multi-user Windows games and apps, such as the pre-installed air-hockey game. A pair of feet pulls out from the rear so you can prop it up even without the stand. We wouldn't recommend slinging it in a bag to carry to work and back, and it's definitely too large to use comfortably on the train.
You won’t be able to stray too far from the mains, though, as the integrated battery lasted just 4h 3m in our light use test. This involved setting the screen set to half brightness and disabling the Wi-Fi, so it will drain even faster if you’re surfing the web with the screen on its maximum brightness setting. It lasted around the same when we played a video on it under the same conditions as well. This isn't great compared to a normal tablet, but it's plenty for moving the PC around the house for occasional use, such as for showing off photos in the living room or looking up recipes in the kitchen.
The XPS 18 has two USB ports and a 3.5mm headset port on the left-hand side, but that's it in terms of connectivity. There's a card reader recessed behind a flap on the left side of the PC, which support SDXC, Memory Stick PRO and xD among other formats. It's handy if you want to conveniently access photos shot on a digital camera. There's no Ethernet port, but the PC supports 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi. The PC has a 500GB hard disk for internal storage, but there’s also a 32GB SSD to cache vital applications to improve disk speed and responsiveness when resuming from sleep mode or turning it on from a cold boot.
A pair of buttons on the left-hand side control volume, while the power switch is on the right. A Windows button is positioned below the centre of the sensitive ten-point touchscreen. Little integrated speakers are positioned on the left and right sides, but you'll want to connect headphones or a pair of external speakers if you want to listen to music. The integrated ones are fine for system sounds or listening to spoken word content but are almost unbearably tinny and entirely lacking in bass when it comes to music.
The XPS 18 comes in a range of specifications, but our review sample had a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U processor and 8GB of RAM. These are the same components that power most Core i5 Ultrabook laptops, and its overall score of 43 is just a few points behind what we’d normally expect to see from this type of processor. It's not intended for processor-intensive tasks, but if your computer use revolves around web browsing, listening to music, watching videos and the odd bit of document editing, it's certainly up to the job. It'll struggle if you want to do serious photo editing, but it’s still capable enough for the odd touch-up.
The processor's on-chip Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU isn't suited to 3D gaming at any reasonable quality, either. It only just scraped 19.2fps in the laptop version of our Dirt Showdown test with the quality set to High at a 1,280x720 resolution, so you’ll need to keep the settings very low to play 3D games at a reasonable speed. It’s perfectly good enough for 2D Flash games and simple touch-based titles from the Windows 8 Store, though, so you should still be able to have some fun with it.
The system comes with a Dell-badged Logitech Bluetooth mouse and keyboard set. Although both are fairly slim, the Chiclet-style keyboard has a full numeric keypad and well-spaced keys which make accurate touch-typing easy once you've become accustomed to the shallow keys. The slightly blocky-looking mouse is also comfortable to use.
The Dell XPS 18 is pleasant to use and looks great. Its lack of ports won't be for everyone, but at just under £700, this portable PC is one of the cheapest Core i5 all-in-ones around, winning it a Budget Buy award.
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