Dell’s latest XPS 15 is its most powerful 2-in-1 ever, and it has a very interesting keyboard
- Best in class performance
- Pixel-perfect 15in display
- Maglev keyboard won't be to everybody's tastes
Dell has never shied away from Windows-powered greatness. In recent years alone the firm has delivered two bona-fide classics, the XPS 13 and the larger-screened XPS 15 alternative. These have not only made their debuts in our own best laptops list, but featured high in the top laptop hierarchies from most of the world’s tech publications.
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Flash forward to the middle of 2018, and the Texas-based firm has a new variation of its 15in powerhouse in the shops: the generously well-specced XPS 15 2-in-1. I’ve had it on my desk for a while now, and it’s about time I tried to convince you that this plus-sized laptop/tablet hybrid is one to watch in 2018.
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: What you need to know
While its smaller brother, the XPS 13 2-in-1, saw a welcome processor and design upgrade last year, it’s now the XPS 15’s turn for the modernisation treatment. The XPS 15 2-in-1’s looks remain largely unchanged, but here it’s the goings-on under the hood that should pique your interest. The XPS 15 2-in-1’s spec makes it a much better performer than any laptop hybrid the firm has produced before, and a worthier purchase – mark my words.
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Price and competition
Dell’s XPS 15 2-in-1 is finally out in shops, with configurations starting at £1,699. Upgrade its eighth-generation Core i5 Kaby Lake-G processor to an i7 chip, double the RAM to 16GB and add 1TB of SSD storage and you’re faced with a hefty £2,499 bill.
That might seem a lot, but the XPS 15 2-in-1 is actually rather sensibly priced. Apple’s 15in MacBook Pro – which doesn’t have a 360-degree hinge – will set you back £2,349, the Surface Book 2 costs £2,144 and, of course, there’s also the smaller 13in XPS 2-in-1 variant to contend with, which starts at £1,149.
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Design
Imagine, if you will, Dell’s previously-released XPS 13 2-in-1 but a couple of inches bigger. All done? Yep, that mental image is precisely how the XPS 15 2-in-1 looks. It’s clear Dell is sticking with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it “ mantra, but that’s certainly not a bad thing.
The brushed lid is still made of the same anodized aluminium with a silver tinge, while the carbon fibre keyboard sits just below the new 360-degree hinge. The 2-in-1 is thinner and lighter than its clamshell counterpart, though, measuring just 16mm at its thinnest edge and weighing only 2Kg.
Elsewhere, you’ll find two Thunderbolt 3-powered USB-C ports on the left-hand edge, along with a microSD card reader, while a pair of regular USB-C ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack sit on the right. Unlike its 13in cousin, the power button is sensibly located on the top right of the keyboard, and the touch display also supports Dell’s Active stylus, though the firm does not include one in the box.
There’s something extra below the screen, too: a dual-lens Windows Hello camera, which allows you to log in using just your face. A fingerprint reader is also embedded in the power button if face recognition proves too finicky.
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Keyboard and touchpad
Something about the 2-in-1’s keyboard is slightly different. You see, this is what Dell calls a “maglev” keyboard. In essence, each key sits above a magnet, which provides feedback whenever you press to give the sensation of a mechanical click. Essentially, it feels like a deeper keyboard than it actually is.
And this rather unusual system works well. While the MacBook Pro’s soft-touch, low-travel keyboard isn’t to everybody’s tastes, Dell’s keyboard provides enough clicky, tactile feedback with each keypress to fool you into thinking you’re typing away on a keyboard with mechanical switches. It really is lovely to work on.
The large, glass-topped touchpad is generously sized and remains unchanged from previous models. It handles Windows 10’s long, laundry list of gesture commands without any fuss – it is a Windows Precision certified trackpad after all – and I had no issues whizzing in and out of applications.
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Display
As for that massive 15.6in “InfinityEdge” touch-enabled display, you can equip your XPS 15 2-in-1 with either a 4K (3,200 x 1,800) or a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) panel.
The entry-level configuration I received for review was fitted with the bog-standard Full HD screen, and was capable of reaching a maximum brightness of 413cd/m2. According to our X-rite display colorimeter, the 2-in-1’s screen covered 90% of the sRGB colour gamut, with a contrast ratio of 1,639:1.
It’s very, very good. It might not be 120Hz good like the display on the Acer Predator Triton 700, but then this isn’t a hardcore gaming laptop. It’s more than good enough for colour-sensitive Photoshop and video-editing, so none of your efforts there will go to waste.
The touch-sensitive display also supports Dell’s Active Pen stylus (£62), complete with tilt support and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity.
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Performance and battery life
Inside the entry-level model (as reviewed) you’ll find Intel’s latest Kaby Lake-G Core i5-8305G processor powering things, complete with AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics, 128GB of SSD storage and 8GB of DDR4 RAM. The top spec model can be equipped with an Intel Core i7-8705G processor, 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage.
In our 4K benchmarks, the 15in XPS 2-in-1 scored 118 in the image-editing test, 123 in the video test and a stonking 126 in the multitasking test. These give it an overall score of 123, which is the highest we’ve seen on a 2-in-1 machine this thin and light. This 2-in-1 convertible gives some high-powered desktops a run for their money.
Anecdotally, I found the 15in 2-in-1 to be significantly more responsive in demanding applications, like Adobe Photoshop, than the dual-core Kaby Lake Intel Core i7-7Y75-equipped 13in model, which scored 50 in the same test.
However, the SK Hynix-made 128GB NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD in our review unit produced sequential read and write speeds of 2,126MB/sec and 509MB/sec in the AS SSD benchmark. Those aren’t bad results, but they’re far from the fastest read and write speeds we’ve seen.
The 15in version also comes with a discrete Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics chip. Gaming performance is decent: in Dirt: Showdown at 1,280 x 720 resolution, with settings at medium, it returned an average frame rate of 53fps. Even at its native Full HD resolution, with graphics quality bumped up to high, the 2-in-1 averaged a playable 32fps.
Battery life is yet another strength. The new XPS 15 2-in-1 manages to survive for 8hrs and 29mins in Expert Reviews’ battery test; a great result for a laptop as well-equipped as this.
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Verdict
To think, Dell’s latest successfully possesses all the hallmarks of achieving the impossible: altering this already cynical tech journalist’s preconceptions. Up until now, I’d have baulked at the idea of another large-screened hybrid – in fact our best 2-in-1 list doesn’t include a single device above 13.5in – but Dell’s convertible is the exception.
Sure, its asking price is enough to send your wallet running for the hills, but should you fork out such a hefty sum you’ll be rewarded with, quite simply, the best laptop on the market.