Every major player in the Windows PC business these days has a 2-in-1 laptop. Lenovo's yoga line was very successful, the HP Specter x360 that I recently tested is an excellent product, and now Dell has boarded the XPS 13 2-in-1. The XPS 13 2-in-1 announced at CES 2017 has a chunky name, but for the first time brings a 360-degree hinge to Dell's most popular ultraportable.
Many of the functions that we love about the XPS 13 are transferred to the XPS 13 2-in-1. The bezels on three sides of the 13.3-inch display are very narrow, which leads to a fantastic viewing experience. The carbon fiber keyboard bezel as well as the keyboard and trackpad itself are essentially identical to the XPS 13. It has a similar weight (1.24kg) and thickness (13.7mm), albeit a bit slimmer and more portable than that permanently installed. Laptop brother.
Where the XPS 13 2-in-1 differs significantly is in the hardware. Dell has replaced the 15 W processors of the Kaby Lake U series with parts of the 4.5 W Y series, which results in lower performance than the XPS 13. This device also has no USB-A ports. You get a single Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C port and an additional USB-C port.
While USB-C is the future, it is still useful to have the most common USB-A connector on current generation laptops.
The HP Specter x360 is similar in thickness to the XPS 13 2-in-1, but can pack a USB-A port alongside two Thunderbolt 3 ports. For people who rely on older USB peripherals, you have to get used to extending life with the XPS 13 2-in-1. It's also interesting to see that Dell opts for a microSD card slot in this laptop that is nowhere near as useful as the full-size SD slot of the regular XPS 13.
However, connectivity is not the main conversation about this laptop.
The main feature is of course the 360-degree hinge, with which the XPS 13 can be used both as a laptop and as a tablet.
As with many similar convertibles, it's clear that the XPS 13 2-in-1 is a laptop first. You will probably spend most of your time using this device as a laptop. That's why Dell spent most of the time perfecting this use case. The keyboard is very good, with a fantastic layout (apart from the narrow arrow keys), an excellent travel distance and great tactile feedback. You get useful functions on the F keys and a useful backlight.
The trackpad is another highlight of the XPS 13 2-in-1's laptop experience. This is the best Windows laptop trackpad I've used. It's extremely responsive and precise with tracking and gestures, and it's made of a smooth material that helps your finger glide over the surface.
Switching the laptop to tablet mode resulted in several problems with this use case.
With large gaps on the edges due to the tapered edges of the XPS 13 2-in-1, the device does not feel like a tablet. It feels more like a display and a keyboard base that are awkwardly pushed together. This is related to how you can touch the buttons on the back of the "tablet" during use. The only convertible I've used that doesn't have this problem is the Lenovo Yoga Book, and I wouldn't recommend it for other reasons.
One of the most noticeable problems with the XPS 13 2-in-1 is the complete lack of automatic rotation. I honestly have no idea how a device to be used as a tablet could be built without an accelerometer. This means that if you want to hold the tablet in portrait mode or use it in tent mode, you will have to manually change the screen rotation using Windows settings – both usage modes are announced by Dell. This is a massive oversight for a convertible.
On a more positive note, Dell's touchscreen palm rejection technology is very good despite the extremely thin frame. I had no problems holding and operating the XPS 13 2-in-1 as a tablet, although my hands were partially on the display in most situations. Slightly larger frames provide a better tablet experience, although realistically you use laptop mode more often where larger frames would not be so nice.
As with many other hybrid laptops on the market, the non-laptop usage modes of the XPS 13 2-in-1 are largely a secondary, sometimes practical addition. Viewing personal documents in tablet mode or viewing videos in standby mode are rarely use cases, but ultimately you will end up using them as a laptop most of the time. If you want to have a tablet first, you should buy just that: a thin, extremely portable tablet; instead of messing around with the less than ideal tablet form factor of this 2-in-1 device.
When I use the XPS 13 2-in-1 as a laptop, there are some other aspects that I liked. The fingerprint sensor under the arrow keys responds very quickly and works perfectly with Windows Hello. Other laptops should have this function.
The build quality is also fantastic. The carbon fiber soft-touch palm rest is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but feels fantastic when typing.
The rest of the chassis is made of high quality aluminum that looks classy, while the steel hinges wrapped with aluminum are sturdy and have little wobble. The design is generally very similar to the XPS 13 touchscreen, which already looks attractive with its industrial metal design and glossy gorilla glass display.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 comes with either a 13.3-inch IPS LCD with 1920 x 1080 or 3200 x 1800 "InfinityEdge". These are basically the same displays as in XPS 13. My test device came with the first-class 3200 x 1800 QHD + display, which offers excellent clarity thanks to a pixel density of 276 PPI and fantastic viewing angles.
Due to dynamic contrast settings, which cannot be deactivated in the device software, it was somewhat difficult to correctly evaluate the 2PS-in-1 display of the XPS 13. Some of the numbers above are not as accurate as I would like for the XPS 13 2-in-1, but it gives you an idea of how the laptop's display behaves compared to similar laptops on the market.
We see excellent brightness at almost 400 nits, but it decreases (thanks to the dynamic contrast) if you don't show a predominantly white display. The contrast values at this peak brightness are around 1100: 1 with a surprisingly good (if not perfect) color temperature. Color performance is slightly better than the HP Specter x360, and while not as good for creative professionals as the Surface Book, it's good enough for occasional content creators.