Dell has been manufacturing a number of ultrabooks and tablets over the past couple of years, with its hybrid tablet notebook announced, the XPS 12, this time last year. Several months passed since the Dell XPS 12 was first announced, but the notebook finally launched during this year’s Computex, although it just missed the Haswell bandwagon. Dell knows how important Intel’s Haswell processor is, which is why they refreshed the Dell XPS 12 to now feature it shortly after the notebook was released.
The Dell XPS 12 is the company’s latest hybrid tablet notebook offering as it now features Intel’s 4th generation Core processors, NFC ability as well as an improved battery life. These upgraded features come in addition to its 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, a 400-nit 12.5-inch 1920 x 1080 touch display as well as its unique flip-hinge design. The Dell XPS 12 certainly looks like an interesting hybrid on paper, so let’s get down to the business of seeing what this notebook is really made of.
Now that ultrabooks have increased in the popularity, I find myself using them a lot more often than I do my tablets when I’m relaxing on the couch after work. I tend to use ultrabooks for work as well as in my personal life to write, read stories, correspond with others through email, instant messaging and social networks.
What I like the most about ultrabooks is their ability to give me a pretty powerful experience within a lightweight machine. This helps me a lot when I’m traveling to meetings or making my way through conventions as carrying traditional laptops can give me quite the sore back. I usually don’t need something extremely powerful as I find I can get by with what I do on a daily basis with an ultrabook, even doing some extremely light PC gaming. I don’t expect ultrabooks to be powerful, just powerful enough to perform my work with as much battery life as possible while being lightweight.
Dell XPS 12 Specs
12.5” Full HD 1920 x 1080p display with 400 nit brightness
Intel Core i5-4200U processor (3M Cache, up to 2.6GHz) + Intel HD Graphics 4400
4GB dual channel DDR3L-RS 1600MHz RAM
Windows 8 (64-bit)
Intel® Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 with Intel® Smart Connect Technology*+ Bluetooth 4.0 + Near Field Communications
2x USB 3.0, mini-display port, headphone / microphone combo port
317mm x 215mm x 15-20mm (12.48in x 8.46in x 0.59in – 0.79in)
50Whr built-in battery
Industrial Design (very good)
The Dell XPS 12 is a hybrid ultrabook and tablet, which means you’ll be able to enjoy this notebook in a number of ways as we could easily see ourselves using it during the day to work on, to then bring it to our living room to browse various websites while we’re unwinding. The XPS 12 has an overall black & silver color scheme as the majority of the notebook is covered in black, while certain portions are highlighted in silver, such as the outline of the display as well as keyboard.
One of the first things your eyes will land on when you open the XPS 12 is its 12.5-inch Full HD display, so we’ll start our description of the notebook from there and work our way around the rest of the machine. Surrounding the 12.5-inch display is a strong black bezel, which looks to measure an 1 ½ inches at the top and sides, while the bottom bezel looks to measure 2 ½ inches and has a small Windows button located at the middle. At the top-right corner is where you’ll find a Dell logo in silver.
Surrounding the bezel is a silver frame that connects the display to the notebook. The display is connected to the frame at the middle, allowing it to be flipped easily to allow the XPS 12 to be used as a tablet. The process of flipping the screen is easy as you’ll push forward on the top portion of the display to click it out of place. Once you completely flip the screen, it’ll click into place in its flipped position, allowing you to use the ultrabook as a stand, allowing you to enjoy a video or just the screen itself as it’s sitting on a desk or table. If you want to progress to use the XPS 12 as a tablet, you’ll just need to close the screen onto the keyboard with the display facing outwards.
Since you’ll be doing a lot of screen flipping, Dell equipped the rear of the XPS 12’s display with a rubberized material, which makes it easy to grip onto the display for when you need to do some flipping. The rear of the display has a small panels all over it with a large Dell logo prominently placed at the center. Dell has made sure its XPS 12 will be able to flip a ton of times as they promise 20,000 cycles of no-worries flipping.
The underside of the XPS 12’s base keeps a very minimal design as it also features the rubberized material that can be found on the rear of the display. There are two long strips of rubber that act as the notebook’s legs, which helps elevate it when it’s being used on a table or desk. There’s only one vent on the underside of the XPS 12, which rides along just below the rear rubber strip. Ten small screws outline the underside of the notebook, while a silver rectangle with “XPS 12” in the middle can be seen sitting directly in the middle of the space.
Since the XPS 12 is a hybrid of a tablet and ultrabook, Dell decided to have some of the notebook’s important buttons, such as the power button, located at its side rather than somewhere on its base. The left side of the base is where you’ll also find the a volume rocker as well as a button to turn off its autorotate function, which certainly come in handy when the XPS 12 is being used as a tablet. Speakers have also been placed at the sides of the base, which offers a better sound when listening to them while the notebook is sitting in your lap.
The keyboard on the XPS 12 offers an overall plastic feeling when you’re typing. The spacing between keys feels like they’re the appropriate size, although the keys themselves feel more spongy than clicky, which is something I personally don’t like to have in my keyboards. The keys themselves feel smooth when your fingers run over them. The palm rests are made from magnesium covered by a soft touch paint, which helps in allowing your palms to glide around while you’re typing or using the trackpad. It’s extremely smooth and doesn’t create any friction when you’re resting your palms for too long.
The wide trackpad is also smooth when your fingers run across it as there isn’t any kind of texture to slow you down, although it blends a little too well with the rest of the XPS 12’s black base. There really is no contrast between the trackpad and the rest of the base except for a small silver line that is placed to help users make left and right mouse clicks. As with most trackpads, this one is compatible with Windows 8’s gestures, which means you’ll be able to zoom in and out with a pinch motion as well as perform other supported gestures.
Ports: The Dell XPS 12 comes pretty light with ports as you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports on the right side of the base as well as a mini-display port, while on the left side is where the notebook’s headphone / microphone port is located. No memory card support. No HDMI. No RJ45 port. We guess in order to make the XPS 12 feel more like a hybrid, Dell had to cut down on some extras, but we would have at least liked to have seen a memory card reader seeing how most ultrabooks these days tend to have it.
The Dell XPS 12 features a 12.5-inch 1920 x 1080 display, which means you’ll be able to enjoy everything in Full HD. We certainly enjoy ultra-high definition ultrabooks, but we still enjoy notebooks that have a Full HD display and the XPS 12 has a great one. With the XPS 12’s display, you’ll be able to view a lot of detail when viewing high-resolution images and you shouldn’t experience any issues when watching 1080p videos.
Considering the display will be flipped quite a few times, we’re happy to see Dell equip the XPS 12’s display with IPS technology. This means you’ll be able to view content from very wide angles without any sort of degradation to its quality. We tested out the XPS 12’s display by viewing it as far as we possibly could, and we’re happy to report it looks great at pretty much any angle.
The display has a 400nit brightness, which we found it comfortable to view at around 30% – 40% of its full potential while working on the notebook indoors on a sunny day. At its full 400nit brightness, the XPS 12’s display was easy to read on a sunny day.
The webcam on the Dell XPS 12 is a 1.3MP widescreen HD webcam which can capture images up to 1280 x 1024 pixels. It isn’t exactly a Full HD camera, but we’re hoping it’ll be good enough for most people to enjoy conducting video chats with their friends and family and possibly taking a few photos. For the purpose of our review, we put the webcam on the Dell XPS 12 up against the Toshiba KIRAbook’s 720p webcam.
The image the XPS 12 delivers seems to be slightly pixelated, although it isn’t noticeable unless you’re looking for it. The amount of detail in the image, as well as its color, are fairly accurate when compared to the original subject. Those who are on the receiving end of your webcam’s images shouldn’t have any issues making you out, and will even be able to get a nice amount of detail.
Performance (very good)
The Dell XPS 12 is a hybrid of a tablet and a notebook, although the refreshed model features an Intel Core 4th-generation Haswell i5 CPU which can run up to 2.6GHz. This means you should expect an improvement in the machine’s battery life as well as a boost in its performance, so let’s see just how well the XPS 12 performs in our benchmark tests.
One of the first benchmarks we like to run for PCs is PCMark 7, which is a benchmark used in order to simulate real-world tasks such as opening applications, booting up your computer and doing some mild graphical tasks.
The Dell XPS 12 performed pretty well for a hybrid machine as its PCMark 7 score was 4827. This score means the XPS 12 is on the higher end of what ultrabooks are capable of, which is probably a result of the new Intel Haswell chip that’s powering it. You’ll be able to multitask without experiencing much of a slowdown with this kind of score, so go ahead and open those web browser windows. Just remember doing so eats away at your battery like you wouldn’t believe.
The second benchmark we like to run on our test machines is 3D Mark 11, which is a benchmark that is more demanding as its primary focus is how well it’ll perform as a gaming machine. This, of course, doesn’t mean Facebook or Flash-based games as most computers can run those. Instead, we mean games like the latest Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed or any other graphic-intensive game.
The Dell XPS 12’s 3D Mark 11 score is better than what we’ve seen in the past as most ultrabooks tend to score a little above 500 in this test. The XPS 12 scored a P918, which is a slight improvement, although this still isn’t a score that’s enough to consider it a gaming computer. You’ll get away with Facebook games and maybe games that don’t require 3D graphics, like Papers, Please, but if you try to play something like Call of Duty, you’re just going to be left feeling disappointed.
The final benchmark we like to run on our test machines is Geekbench, which isn’t a benchmark that tests the laptop with real-world applications, but instead squarely focuses on the CPU’s raw performance score by throwing mathematical equations at it. In other words, this test simply tests out the machine’s processor and nothing else.
For our Geekbench benchmark, the Intel Core i5-4200U processor performed pretty well as the Dell XPS 12 scored a 5238. This puts the performance of the XPS 12 close to what we’ve seen with the Microsoft Surface Pro and even Dell’s XPS 13 1080p. The XPS 12’s raw processing power is also in the high range of what most ultrabooks can perform.
Value for weight, price (very good)
As important as it is to see just how powerful a portable computer is, we also like to take into considering its weight versus its power. The Dell XPS 12 weighs in at 3.2lbs and can be handled with one hand pretty easily, but does it perform well enough to warrant that kind of additional weight to be added to your bag? That’s exactly what we’ll be looking at in this category.
The results of our equation has found the Dell XPS 12 well worth its weight considering how well it performs. If you’re looking to carry around the XPS 12 as a tablet, we’re sure you can find lighter alternatives, but if you consider the machine as an ultrabook that is capable of acting as a tablet, then it’s certainly well worth its weight.
Battery Life (excellent)
For any notebook, battery life is probably one of the most important factors you’ll need to consider when buying a machine. There really is no point in having a portable computer when its battery life will only give you minutes of juice at any time. The Dell XPS 12 features a 50Whr battery, which is a slightly lighter battery, but considering the Haswell chip is known for improving battery life, we aren’t too concerned about it.
The first battery test we run on our machines is a long-term battery drain test. In this test, we have the computer sitting on our desk with its brightness set at 50% and its Wi-Fi activated for an hour. For the XPS 12, we noticed a drop of 8% in its battery life under these conditions, which means you can expect 12 ½ hours of battery life, so long as you just leave your notebook out doing nothing.
Having your notebook sitting around just wasting energy is probably one of the last reasons why you’d buy a machine, which is why we also perform additional tests that pushes its battery even harder. The first test we perform is a local video test, which we play a 1080p video for an hour with the screen’s brightness set to 50% and the notebook’s Wi-Fi on. Once we reached an hour of play time, we noticed a drop of 14% in the notebook’s battery, which means you can expect a little over 7 hours of local video playback.
The second test we perform on the notebook is a streaming video test. For this test, we stream a 1080p video for an hour with the brightness of the screen set once again to 50% and the notebook’s Wi-Fi on, of course. At the end of the hour, we noticed a drop of 14% once again in the notebook’s battery life. This means if you’re watching streaming 1080p video, you can also expect a little over 7 hours of playback.
Battery Charge (good)
Now that you know how long the Dell XPS 12’s battery life will last, we think you should also know how long it’ll take for it to charge itself since waiting 24 hours in order to get your machine fully charged could certainly be a deal breaker for most people. For our battery charge test, we have the XPS 12 charging for an hour while its lid is closed, forcing it into standby mode. After one hour of charging, we noticed an increase of 32% in the XPS 12’s battery. This means if your XPS 12 is completely dead, you can expect it to fully charge itself in a little over three hours.
Conclusion (very good)
We didn’t get a chance to check out the Dell XPS 12 prior to its Haswell upgrade, but the current version of the hybrid ultrabook / tablet has a lot going for it. It’ll be able to keep up with many of the tasks most people will throw at it, has a great battery life and a unique feel that sets it apart from other hybrid machines. Flipping its screen to use the XPS 12 in another mode was easy to perform and something that made the notebook even more versatile as you could find just the right mode to fit what you currently need it for.
The XPS 12 isn’t all roses as its port offerings feel a bit lacking as well as its overall spongy keyboard, which we know is more of a personal preference. Its weight could also cause some concern if you plan on using the XPS 12 as a tablet more often than an ultrabook as tablets are known to be ultraportable mobile devices. The XPS 12 would be better suited to someone who wants an ultrabook who also wants the option of being able to use their notebook as a tablet every so often when they just want to do some couch surfing. If you’re looking for a Windows 8 tablet that can sometimes be used as an ultrabook, then you may want to take a look at the Microsoft Surface.