The latest Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 offers more RAM and storage than the Surface Pro 9 for the same money, but isn’t without its shortcomings
- Slim and light
- Top-quality webcam
- Lovely keyboard
- Underwhelming performance
- Mediocre battery life
The 2-in-1 detachable market may be dominated by Microsoft and its Surface Pro range of ultraportables, but there are plenty of competitors out there and the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is one of the more compelling choices.
That’s not because the hardware is better; in a head-to-head, Microsoft’s market-leading Surface Pro 9 still comes out on top. However, when it comes to value, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 wins hands down, delivering more RAM and storage for less money. Dell even includes the keyboard case as standard – a rarity in the world of 2-in-1 detachables.
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2022) review: What you need to know
So how exactly does the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 compare? Well, at first glance, it looks pretty solid. It comes with a touchscreen display that’s pretty much the same size and resolution as the Surface Pro – 13in across the diagonal with 2,880 x 1,920 pixels and a 3:2 aspect ratio – and the overall weight, including the keyboard case, is similar, too.
The Dell doesn’t quite have the same range of configuration options, though. You have the choice of two CPUs – either the 12th gen Intel Core i5-1230U or Core i7-1250U – but you can only get it with 16GB of RAM and either a 512GB or a 1TB SSD.
On the other hand, it does come bundled with the keyboard folio, which Microsoft charges extra for, and while the stylus is a pricey £112 extra, the tablet is compatible with the Wacom AES standard so you can choose a cheaper, third-party stylus if you want.
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review (2022): Price and competition
Configuration tested: Intel Core i7-1250U, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 2,880 x 1,920 60Hz IPS touchscreen (keyboard folio case included). Price: £1,441 inc VAT
Prices for the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 – including the keyboard – start at £1,161, which gets you a basic Intel Core i5-1230U CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. The Intel Core i7-1250U model I was sent for this review starts at £1,441 for the same amount of RAM and storage.
That’s a highly competitive price, especially when you compare it with the Surface Pro 9. At the time of writing, Microsoft’s productivity tablet starts at £1,259 for the base tablet and keyboard, and this comes with half the memory and storage (Core i5-1235U, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD).
If you were to configure the Microsoft device with the same RAM and storage as the XPS you’d have to choose the Core i7 model as the Core i5 model isn’t available with larger drives than 256GB, and this pushes the price up to a stonking £2,059 before any discounts are applied.
Clearly, if you’re looking to save money, the Dell is the way to go, but before you jump, how about other pretenders to the detachable 2-in-1 crown? Well, the obvious alternative is the 12.9in M2 Apple iPad Pro. It’s a more powerful machine but, again, far more expensive than the XPS, with keyboard and tablet bundles starting at £1,628, and that’s for a tablet with a quarter the storage.
Asus, however, looks the pick of the bunch at the moment, with the base model of the Asus ROG Flow Z13 (GZ301ZE-LD220W) available for a mere £1,399 at the time of writing. This comes with a more powerful Intel Core i9-12900H CPU, 16GB of RAM and a huge 1TB SSD. Its display is only 1080p but it does run at a smooth 120Hz.
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review (2022): Design and key features
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is very much distinct from the Surface Pro 9 when it comes to design and aesthetics. Flat edges all around and a light blue colour help it stand out visually and it’s super slim, too, measuring a mere 7.4mm from the front glass to its slab-flat, matte-finish rear.
There’s no dust or water resistance, not that you’d expect it from a productivity laptop, but build quality is second to none. Give it a twist and there’s barely any give at all, while a covering of Gorilla Glass Victus on the front should keep scuffs and scratches at bay and make it easy to keep the display clear of greasy fingerprints.
Other features include two cameras – a 4K world-facing (Dell’s words, not mine) camera at the rear and a 1080p selfie camera with support for Windows Hello facial recognition facing the front. There’s also a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports on the left edge and stereo speakers with grilles situated on the left and right edges towards the bottom of the chassis.
There is, annoyingly, no 3.5mm headphone jack, but Dell does at least provide an adapter in the box, along with a USB-C to USB-A adapter for legacy devices. The power button, which has a fingerprint reader embedded in it, is located on the top edge of the tablet, as are the volume controls.
So the two tablets look different, but the biggest difference between the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the Surface Pro 9 is that it doesn’t have a built-in kickstand. Instead, to prop it up at an angle useful to work on, you need to attach it to the bundled keyboard folio case.
As is typical with such cases, this attaches magnetically and protects both the front and rear of the tablet. It communicates with and takes its power from a pogo-pin port on the bottom long edge of the tablet, and the rear panel of the case slides down to create a triangle at the base that props up the tablet at one of two angles.
This all functions perfectly well, and using the tablet in anger is a joy. The keyboard itself is one of Dell’s zero lattice keyboards and it’s a dream to type on, with large keycaps and a surprisingly positive, albeit rather shallow, action. It’s backlit so you can type in dark conference halls and lecture theatres, and I have no issues with the layout. You can’t tilt the keyboard by folding up the top edge like you can with the Surface Pro 9 but I didn’t miss this particular feature all that much.
The touchpad is large and sensitive as well and, while it’s no match for the XPS 13 Plus’ haptic touchpad or the MacBook Air’s similar Force Touch pad, it has a nicely damped click action that isn’t too fatiguing with intensive use.
Elsewhere, the speakers are decent: they’re not particularly loud but don’t distort even at maximum volume, and they deliver audio with a surprising amount of body and even a modicum of bass. The 1080p webcam is superb, too, delivering sharp, well-balanced images even in low light – it’s one of the best webcams I’ve seen on any laptop. Rounding things off is up-to-the-minute wireless support, in the form of a Killer Wireless 675 adapter delivering 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi 6E compatibility.
It’s all good stuff. In fact, my only major gripe is that there’s no easy way to get at the innards of the machine for upgrades, repairs or maintenance. If anything goes wrong, you’ll need to return it to Dell for a fix.
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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2022) review: Display
The 13in screen on the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is pretty good. The resolution is a sharp 2,880 x 1,920 stretched across 13in of screen real estate and it’s both touch- and stylus-compatible. It uses a bog-standard 60Hz IPS panel, however, and although this delivers decent levels of brightness and contrast, it’s no match for its closest rivals when it comes to smoothness and vibrancy.
Its main limitation, however, is that it’s only capable of reproducing the sRGB colour gamut, whereas rivals with OLED and miniLED displays can reach full DCI-P3 and more. Still, within those limitations, it performs pretty well.
In testing, brightness peaked at 462cd/m², which ensures readability in most conditions, even outdoors and next to bright windows. It has a strong contrast ratio of 1,992:1, lending images plenty of pop and solidity on screen, total colour gamut reproduction is at 99.5% of sRGB, and I recorded exceptional colour accuracy within that colour space, with an average Delta E score of just 0.72 (the lower the better in this metric).
This is an excellent performance and, while the lack of P3 colour representation means it isn’t the best tablet for media consumption or photo editing, I had no complaints about it in general use. It’s a perfectly competent display.
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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2022) review: Performance
Performance is a thornier issue. On the one hand, the fanless cooling of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a boon, meaning it never gets overly noisy. On the other hand, this puts a cap on performance. I was sent the 10-core/12-thread Core i7-1250U model for testing but it didn’t perform as you might expect, lagging significantly behind its rivals.
The other factor in the XPS 13 2-in-1’s underwhelming performance, certainly compared with the Surface Pro 9, is that the Intel Core i7-1250U inside the XPS runs at a TDP of 9W, where the Core i7-1265U in the Surface Pro 9 we tested runs at 15W.
Not only that, but during our 4K media benchmark, which takes some time to complete, the tablet got pretty warm to the touch. This is not a machine on which to carry out intensive video-editing or rendering tasks.
To be clear, the Surface Pro 9 we tested was the quickest business version of the Surface Pro 9 – the fastest CPU consumers can get hold of is a Core i7-1255U – but this still runs at 15W and won’t suffer much in real-world performance terms.
That wouldn’t be so much of an issue if battery life was better. Alas, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1’s small three-cell, 49.5Wh battery means stamina isn’t that great. In our video-playback test, it only lasted 7hrs 34mins before shutting down, which leaves it languishing behind the Surface Pro 9. While that still isn’t terrible, it’s at the bottom end of the range that I would consider acceptable for a laptop designed to be used for work every day.
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2022) review: Verdict
The price of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 makes it a tempting alternative to the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 and, in some ways, it matches Microsoft’s 2-in-1. It’s a lovely machine to use, it’s reasonably compact, has a great keyboard and touchpad, and is well made.
I really like the fact that Dell includes the folio keyboard cover in the box – it’s a more transparent approach to pricing than Apple and Microsoft have – and the fact that you get more RAM and storage for a lower price than Microsoft’s machine means it’s better value overall.
With battery life on the short side and slightly underwhelming performance, however, it’s not quite the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 killer you might have been hoping for.
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2022) specifications
|Processor||Intel Core i7-1250U|
|Additional memory slots||No|
|Graphics adapter||Intel Iris Xe|
|Screen size (in)||13|
|Screen resolution||2,880 x 1,920|
|Pixel density (PPI)||266|
|Screen type||IPS 60Hz|
|Pointing devices||Touchpad, stylus|
|Memory card slot||No|
|3.5mm audio jack||No|
|Graphics outputs||Thunderbolt 4 x 2|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax)|
|Dimensions, mm (WDH)||293 x 201 x 7.4mm|
|Weight (kg) – with keyboard where applicable||1.3|
|Battery size (Wh)||49.5|
|Operating system||Windows 11 Home|