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Dell XPS 12 review - a 4K 2-in-1 hybrid

Richard Easton
9 Apr 2016
Dell XPS 12 lead 2
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,149
inc VAT

Dell's XPS 12 has a fantastic screen but its design and battery performance are hugely flawed

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With its most recent generation of XPS refreshes, Dell has already had two instant hits: the svelte XPS 13 and its Macbook rival, the XPS 15. To say I was massively impressed by both would be an understatement. Each one is a wonderful feat of engineering and they both have excellent performance to match.

Now, with the new XPS 12, Dell has the rare opportunity to score a hat-trick - the third trophy in a treble-winning season, so to speak. With that acclaimed prize within spitting distance, I approached the XPS 12 with a great degree of excitement, anxious to see if Dell could successfully cross the line or if it would capitulate in disappointing fashion.

Design

Let's not forget that there's also the added pressure of being the first XPS 12 to see the light of day for three whole years, as the last XPS 12 Dell was released in 2013 - and what a different beast it was, too. While the previous model was a transforming convertible with an innovative hinge, where the screen literally rotated within the frame so the lid could be closed down in a tablet form, Dell's latest model is a much more traditional 2-in-1 hybrid. If anything, it's more akin to a Microsoft Surface Pro 4, putting it much closer to the tablet side of the 2-in-1 spectrum than its laptop-based forebear. 

That’s not to say it isn’t a well-crafted device, though. While it shares very few design cues with the XPS 12 of old, there are a lot of similarities to the current XPS 13 and XPS 15 models when it comes to its overall build quality. The tablet component is reassuringly rigid and well constructed, and its soft-touch rear coating is easy to grip and hold. At 8mm thick and a starting weight of 790g, it's a bit cumbersome to hold with one hand, but it's certainly not impossible. 


Dell XPS 12 tablet

The 12.5in display is also a generous size, giving you plenty of screen to interact with. The bezels aren’t as razor thin as the InfinityEdge bezels on the XPS 13 or XPS 15, but those weren’t designed to be picked up and held, so the extra space around the screen provides some much-needed room for your fingers when using it as a tablet. 

Two front-facing speakers are also placed above the screen, flanking the 5-megapixel front-facing web camera. On the back, there’s an 8-megapixel camera. They’re both pretty standard tablet camera affairs, but the dual array microphones help with audio clarity when video conferencing.

Keyboard Bases and Laptop Mode

As this is a hybrid 2-in-1, you can transform the XPS 12 into a laptop by connecting its separate mobility base keyboard. Dell actually gives you a choice of two, either the XPS 12 Premier Keyboard with Magnetic Folio, or an XPS 12 Slim Keyboard, which knocks £9.60 off the overall price. I was sent the former, but it’s worth noting the added heft and size that the keyboard and folio add to the overall device.


Dell XPS 12 magnetic folio short

With the keyboard attached, the XPS 12's weight rises to 1.26kg in total, but add in the folio cover and the weight suddenly becomes 1.51kg, which is quite a lot for a 12.5in laptop. The folio cover doesn’t even cover the entirety of the base either, leaving an area exposed at the front where it doesn’t reach all the way. I also worry that the edges of the cover will become damaged. It’s made from fabric-coated rubber and the edges aren’t very well reinforced.

An even bigger concern is the way the tablet connects to the keyboard. When attached, they're held together by nothing but magnets, and it lacks any kind of physical clasp mechanism. It’s very different to most hybrid 2-in-1s, and it doesn't feel anywhere near as secure either.

For instance, the tablet part of the XPS 12 simply slots into a groove at the rear of the keyboard base, where it stays in place thanks to the magnets. However, the magnet isn’t strong enough to support the weight of the base if you grab the entire unit by the display.

Dell XPS 12 magnetic connector

This means detaching the two devices can be easily achieved with one hand if you’re not using the folio cover, and a simple tap or knock is enough to dislodge it from its cradle, sending it tumbling down on to the keyboard. This makes using the XPS 12 on your lap or in bed either awkward or impossible due to the unsteadiness of the screen, and it often makes typing on the XPS 12 feel like an accident waiting to happen.

The keyboard groove isn't adjustable either, so there's no hinge to speak of. This means the tablet is propped up at a fixed angle of 110 degrees when docked, providing no flexibility whatsoever. If you don’t find that comfortable, you’re out of luck.

Use the XPS 12 in cramped environments, like on a train’s frugal tray, and you might find the lack of adjustment a hindrance. Or, in my case, while sat writing this review with a window behind me, I keep instinctively wanting to adjust the display to cut down on reflections before remembering that I can’t.

Dell XPS 12 hinge

When using the XPS 12 as a laptop, closing the tablet against the keyboard is also slightly odd due to the magnet docking. Rather than simply fold it shut, you’ll hear the magnet disengage with an audible click. However, due to the other magnets in the keyboard and tablet, the two can still sandwich together when you close it shut. Thankfully, these magnets are more secure than those found in the hinge, but they can still slide apart when you apply enough force. 

To open it again, you’ll hear the magnet re-engage when the screen is as far back as it can go. Well, that’s the ideal scenario, anyway. In reality, I found that the keyboard base wouldn’t always reliably reconnect to the tablet when trying to wake the XPS 12 from sleep by opening it up. Every now and then I’d have to lift up the screen and lower it back onto the base’s magnet before they recognised one another.

Keep in mind, though, that these issues are only inherent to the Premier Keyboard I reviewed. The Slim keyboard has a kickstand, which does let you tilt the screen back further, but since I haven't been able to test this model, I can't say whether it's any more comfortable to type on. 

Thankfully, typing on the Premier Keyboard is much more pleasant. There's a respectable amount of travel to each key press and a good level of feedback. There aren’t any awkward or strange key placements, either, so there was very little acclimatisation required. Typing this review, I did feel like I made slightly more mistakes than on the larger keyboards of the XPS 13 and XPS 15, but it’s still a very respectable keyboard for a 12.5in laptop.

The keys are backlit, too, with two levels of brightness. There’s the usual array of shortcut keys and you can turn on or off Fn lock so the function keys along the top can perform how you want. The palm rest area has a nice soft-touch finish to it and doesn’t get warm.

Dell XPS 12 keyboard touchpad

The touchpad isn’t as roomy as those found on the XPS 13 or XPS 15 for obvious reasons, but Dell has made good use of the space available. It’s a Precision certified touchpad, just like its bigger siblings’, too, so it's very responsive and is pleasant to the touch. Your fingers glide across it with little fuss, the left and right click areas are well defined and the cursor responds wonderfully.

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