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January 10, 2018

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 hands-on review

by John_A

Research Center:
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Dell’s XPS 15 is one of the best laptops available, but it does have one flaw. It’s a laptop. Asus, Lenovo, HP, and Microsoft all threw their weight behind 15-inch 2-in-1s in 2017, and they show no sign of pulling back. Dell answered at CES 2018 with its own foldable incarnation of the XPS 15.

It looks a lot like the notebook, but Dell has done more than slap a new hinge on its existing design. The XPS 15 2-in-1 is an all-new design that takes dramatic measures to reach its weight of 4.3 pounds and thickness of .63 inches – figures that are among the best in its class.

First, Dell has incorporated Gore fabric into its chassis. More commonly used for lightweight athletic apparel, Gore is an excellent insulator, yet also light and thin. That apparently makes it a good fit for directing heat through a notebook chassis. You can’t feel the fabric when you touch the machine, but it’s there, keeping heat where it should be.

Dell’s XPS 15 2-in-1 is a laptop that unapologetically innovates.

The other change is far more noticeable, and sure to be more controversial. Dell’s XPS 15 uses an innovative maglev keyboard to keep its depth down, making space for the laptop’s internals and large battery. It’s meant to offer good key feel in as little space as possible. But does it work?

Not as well as we’d like. Maglev does pack decent key feel into a very tight space, but it can’t fool your fingers into perceiving depth that’s not there. You’re going to notice your fingers aren’t moving as much as usual, just as you would on Apple’s MacBook Pro 15. While we’re sure some owners won’t mind, we can’t help but feel the keyboard is a misstep. HP’s Spectre x360 15 is only slightly larger and heavier, and its keyboard is excellent. The Microsoft Surface Book 2, with its detachable design, also fares much better.

Thin, but fast

If you’re looking to blame the keyboard’s short travel on something, blame the internals. Dell’s pursuit of a slim design hasn’t kept it from using the latest hardware, including Intel 8th-gen Core processors with AMD Radeon RX Vega mobile graphics.

That’s a powerful chip that should offer GPU performance on par with an Nvidia GTX 1050 or 1050 Ti, and its presence hugely improves this 2-in-1’s versatility. Like the Microsoft Surface Book 2, it’ll be able to handle heavy productivity tasks and even play games at medium detail and 1080p resolution. That means you can use the XPS 15 2-in-1 both as a functional daily driver, and a fun entertainment machine. Speed like that wasn’t possible in a 15-inch 2-in-1 last year.

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Unlike HP and Microsoft, both of which provide just one display choice, Dell will offer both 1080p and 4K options. We saw the 4K option, and it was gorgeous. Precise judgement is hard to make on a show floor but, at risk of proving myself wrong later, I’ll say the XPS 15’s screen looked better than the Spectre x360 15-inch. If you want to better battery life, though, you can opt for the 1080p screen. We didn’t see that, so we can’t say how much wow-factor your sacrifice by going with the basic option. Both options are touchscreens, of course, and work with the included stylus, a chunky and comfortable unit that supports 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity.

The XPS 15’s connectivity, like its internals, looks towards the future. This laptop is USB-C all the way around, so you’ll have to get used to the new connection standard. HP’s Spectre x360 15-inch does offer one USB-A, and the Surface Book has several.

What about portability? Dell’s placed a 75 watt-hour battery in the XPS 15 2-in-1. That’s respectably large, though not as large as some past models, and it’ll be good for up to 15 hours of endurance with the standard 1080p display. That’s on the upper end of the 15-inch 2-in-1 category. Going 4K will undoubtedly shave a couple hours off that quote.

Are you ready for the future?

Dell’s XPS 15 2-in-1 is a laptop that unapologetically innovates. It pursues thin design, has the latest Intel Core with AMD Vega hardware, and uses maglev in a laptop keyboard for the first time. That should make it one of the fastest 2-in-1s available, and it’ll certainly be among the most attractive – but we do wonder if Dell’s uncompromising vision of the future has inadvertently compromised the keyboard.

You can buy the XPS 15 2-in-1 in late March, starting at $1,300.

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 Compared To

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd-gen

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen

Acer Switch 3

Samsung Galaxy Book

Samsung Chromebook Pro

Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

HP ZBook 15

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro

Dell XPS 12 (2013)

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

Acer Aspire R7

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13

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