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A Good Laptop, Faces Even Better Competition
As a standalone product, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a decent attempt at turning Dell's most popular ultraportable into a convertible laptop. But when placed in a competitive marketplace, there is little reason to purchase this device over the excellent HP Spectre x360.
One simple but strange design choice makes a big difference: the XPS 13 2-in-1 uses a Kaby Lake Y-series processor, compared to the U-series used in the standard XPS 13, and the convertible Spectre x360. As Y-series parts have a reduced 4.5W TDP, compared to 15W, they're slower and less capable. Before Kaby Lake, these Y-series processors used the "Core m" designation.
The Core i7-7Y75 used in my review unit was 22% slower in CPU workloads, and 33% slower in graphics workloads, relative to the Core i7-7500U. For those wanting to edit videos or perform other high-performance tasks, this performance difference is significant and can be the difference between a respectable and poor experience.
With the Spectre x360 I can quite comfortably edit 1080p videos, but on the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 it just lacks the power necessary to deliver fast real-time effects rendering.
There are some benefits to the Y-series processor. The XPS 13 2-in-1 is fanless, and while the chassis does get very hot during intensive workloads, it's silent. It also consumes less power, so while the XPS 13 2-in-1 has a smaller battery than most other ultraportables, it delivers similar battery life.
Unfortunately for Dell, the Spectre x360 lasts longer across the board from a larger battery in a similar body.
One fantastic aspect to the XPS 13 2-in-1 is the design. Borrowing many elements from the XPS 13, this convertible variant has a smaller footprint than the Spectre x360 thanks to attractive, slim bezels. The combination of aluminum and soft-touch carbon fiber looks and feels top-class. I also appreciate inclusions such as a fingerprint sensor with Windows Hello support.
On the flip side, like many convertibles, the tablet mode isn't great. The gap around the edges makes the tablet awkward to hold, and in a stunning omission, there's no accelerometer for automatic screen rotation. Or at least in my review unit, it didn't work at all.
When using the XPS 13 2-in-1 in laptop mode, the keyboard and trackpad are both great, and carry over much the same experience from the XPS 13. The I/O is a bit limited with no USB-A port but you may find that ok.
You'll notice that I've been comparing the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 to the HP Spectre x360 a lot. And this is the real kicker that makes the XPS 13 2-in-1 hard to recommend: the Spectre x360 is more affordable and comes with better hardware.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (left) next to the HP Spectre x360 (right)
Ignoring the rubbish sub-$1000 XPS 13 2-in-1 with just 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD leaves you with $1,200 and $1,300 options. Both come with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSDs and offer Core i5 or Core i7 Y-series CPUs, respectively.
For $1,159, HP offers a more powerful Core i7 U-series CPU plus 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. And at perhaps the best value offering, HP will bump you up to a 512 GB SSD and 16 GB of RAM at $1,300. The same configuration of an XPS 13 2-in-1 would cost $1,549, and you still get a slower processor.
So the choice is simple really. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is slower, features less battery life, has a worse collection of I/O, and its best area - its design - isn't that much better than the Spectre. And this is all in a package that's more expensive. Sorry Dell, but in such a competitive market, that's just not going to cut it.
Pros: Attractive, very portable, well-built chassis. High-quality, slim-bezel display. Great keyboard and trackpad.
Cons: Direct competitor HP Spectre x360 beats it in performance, battery life, connectivity and price in essentially the same form factor.