|Introduction & Specifications|
Tablets are extremely popular right now, but many users still need a more powerful machine to do serious work. For people who don't want two devices but desire the touch screen controls and convenience of a tablet, as well as the productivity capabilities of a notebook in a single machine, a convertible ultrabook may be a good fit.
We're starting to see more and more ultrabooks that convert from a traditional laptop into a tablet. Not long ago, we took a closer look at Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 13 Ultrabook which features a touchscreen display with a dual-articulating hinge that allows the machine to convert to tablet mode. Today, we're going to take a hands-on look at Dell's XPS 12 convertible ultrabook, which takes a different approach.
Dell's XPS 12 features a display that's surrounded by a thin silver bezel. As you can see from the photos, the display rotates on a hinge located in the middle of this bezel. The machine runs on Windows 8 and takes full advantage of the operating system's touch capabilities with its touch display.
Dell offers various configuration options with the XPS 12. We're testing one of the lower-end models with a Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB solid state drive. Other configurations feature up to a Core i7-3517U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state hard drive.
|Design and User Experience|
The XPS 12 features machined aluminum edges, Corning Gorilla Glass, and a carbon fiber base and lid to give it durability. Rotating the display in and out of tablet mode is smooth, and the machine has a slight catch to lock the display in place in both configurations. When locked in place, the screen is perfectly flush with the aluminum edges. While rotating the display, you'll notice the frame that surrounds the display is nice and solid.
We found the XPS 12's display to be colorful and vibrant. The 12.5-inch screen supports a 170-degree viewing angle and has an HD resolution of 1920 x 1080. This 400-nit display is brighter than the typical 200-nit panels, making the XPS 12's screen easier to see in brightly lit environments and outdoors too.
The XPS 12 has a full size, chiclet keyboard that's spill resistant. This keyboard is also backlit which is a nice extra if you're frequently working at night or in low-light conditions. The XPS 12 also has a glass integrated touchpad with gesture support. This touchpad is nice and roomy. On some occasions, we accidentally hit the touchpad while typing, thereby moving the mouse. This is annoying but if you don't rest your hands while typing, it shouldn't be a problem. The touchpad is flush with the body of the XPS 12.
One of the advantages of the convertible design used by Dell is the fact that the keyboard is hidden when the XPS 12 is in tablet mode. This design prevents you from accidentally hitting keys in tablet mode, protects the keyboard from accidents, and also gives you a smooth surface to grip when holding the machine.
On the left edge of the XPS 12, you'll find a screen-rotation lock button, headphone/microphone combo port, power switch, and volume controls. Instead of a traditional button that you'd push for power, the XPS 12 uses a sliding switch. The right edge of the machine houses five battery status indicator lights, battery status button, USB 3.0 port with PowerShare, another USB 3.0 port, Mini-DisplayPort, and power adapter port.
Above the display, you'll find two digital array microphones, a camera status light, the camera, and an ambient light sensor located near the center of the machine. Centered below the display is a Windows button.
In an effort to keep the XPS 12 thin and light, Dell was forced to make a few sacrifices. Like most other ultrabooks, the XPS 12 does not have an optical drive. It also lacks an HDMI port and a LAN port.
You won't find a lot of icons and clutter on the default Start screen of Dell's XPS 12. Of course, you can still customize this Start screen to your liking. The default desktop is also free from clutter. That's not to say the XPS 12 doesn't come with a few preinstalled apps, however. Out of the box, you'll find various Dell tools preinstalled including Getting Started, Digital Delivery, Dell Shop, Backup and Recovery, PC Checkup, and others. A trial version of Microsoft Office is also preinstalled on the system.
Dell's Support Center is powered by PC Doctor. This app provides information about the specifications of your exact machine as well as providing various checkup and backup services. The app notified us of BIOS updates, Windows updates, and offered to improve the boot up time of the machine.
When using the XPS 12 in tablet mode, the screen will automatically rotate according to orientation. The accelerometer isn't quite as fast to respond as some smartphones, but it still adjusts reasonably quickly.
|SANDRA, PCMark 7 and Cinebench Performance|
We kicked off benchmarking with SiSoftware SANDRA 2012, PCMark 7, and Cinebench, which provide a look at how the system’s individual components perform as well as how the ultrabook as a whole handles everyday work and multimedia tasks. We compared the Dell XPS 12's scores to similar systems we have tested recently, keeping in mind each system is likely to have different software and low level hardware configurations. We test each system we review in the condition it arrives in from the manufacturer, though we disable security software and sleep settings so they won’t affect the benchmarks.
SiSoftware SANDRA 2012 lets us take a look at the way particular components perform. We ran benchmarks that test the system’s processing power, memory, and storage performance. SANDRA 2012 is the latest version of this benchmark and it is compatible with Windows 8. Each SANDRA benchmark compares the system being tested (the red bar in each graph) to comparable systems.
SANDRA Processor Arithmetic and Multimedia Performance
SANDRA Memory Bandwidth Performance
As you can see, the Core i5-3317U in the XPS 12 earned a mid-range score in comparison to other reference systems in the Processor Arithmetic test. The Processor Multi-Media test wasn't quite as kind to the XPS 12, but the system still achieved a respectable score. We see more of the same in the Memory Bandwidth test: the XPS 12 wasn't a chart-topper, but it still held its own.
Futuremark’s PCMark 7 is a well-known benchmark tool that runs the system through ordinary tasks, including word processing and multimedia playback and editing. Graphics and processor power figure prominently in this benchmark, but graphics power doesn’t play as big a role here as it does in another Futuremark benchmark, 3DMark (which is designed for testing the system’s gaming capabilities).
The XPS 12 outscored all other systems in our comparison including the similarly equipped Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13. We'll give the Core i5-3317U, 128GB SSD, and Windows 8 credit for making the XPS 12 a speedy and smooth system.
In the Open GL test, the XPS 12 scored very well, earning third place behind the Asus Zenbook UX32VD which features Nvidia GeForce GT 620M graphics and the Intel Whitebook which features the same Intel HD 4000 graphics as the XPS 12.
The XPS 12 also scores well in the CPU component of this test, earning fourth place behind the Asus Zenbook UX32VD, Intel Whitebook, and Lenovo IdeaPad U310.
|3DMark 11 and Gaming|
Ultrabooks aren't designed for heavy gaming. Even so, it's good to know what to expect from any system you're thinking about buying. Although they may not be designed with gaming in mind, ultrabooks can (and will) be used for light-duty gaming. To help you get a feel for the type of gaming performance you can expect from the Dell XPS 12, we loaded a few gaming-related benchmarks to see just what it can do.
Futuremark’s gaming 3DMark 11 benchmark is a grueling test that makes use of DirectX 11 and several highly-detailed demos to put a system's graphics card through its paces. We opt for the Performance setting in the benchmark when we test notebooks and ultrabooks, so keep that in mind if you compare the scores to a system that ran the Entry or Extreme version.
With its Intel HD 4000 graphics, we weren't expecting the XPS 12 to top the charts in the 3DMark 11 benchmark. As you can see from the chart, a discrete GPUcan make a big difference in this test. The Dell Latitude E6530 includes the same graphics as the XPS 12 but it has a more powerful Core i7 processor, which plays a role in its higher score. If you compare the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 which features the same processor and graphics as the XPS 12, the XPS 12 wins by a few points.
To get another perspective on the XPS 12's gaming capabilities, we fired up the "Ranch" demo in Far Cry 2. This FPS game features lush vegetation and plenty of explosions and graphical mayhem. For this test, we turned off AA and used a resolution of 1280x720.
The XPS 12 held its own in this benchmark, earning third place and beating out most of the systems with Intel integrated graphics. Again, we see here that the Dell Latitude E6530 with an i7 CPU and the same Intel HD graphics beats the XPS 12.
|Battery Life Testing|
The XPS 12 uses a built-in 47W/H 6-cell Lithium Ion battery. Based on tests from Dell labs using the MobileMark 2012 benchmark, Dell says users can expect up to 6 hours and 7 minutes of battery life in typical use from an XPS system equipped with 4GB memory, Intel HD 4000 graphics, Intel Core i5-3427U, and 128GB SSD. Our test system has a different CPU but otherwise similar specifications.
To give you an idea of how long the XPS 12 will last and to help you compare the XPS 12's longevity to other systems, we ran two battery tests. For both tests, we set the screen's brightness to 50% and turned off all screen savers and sleep settings.
Keep in mind your usage patterns will significantly impact the XPS 12's battery life. If you are watching videos, downloading files, or putting the ultrabook in sleep mode when the system is not in use, this will impact the time your system can run before needing to recharge.
Our web browsing test is the same one we run on tablets and smartphones. This test is designed to show how long a system can handle simple Web browsing. The test refreshes a page every three minutes and runs until the system shuts down because the battery is depleted. We also use Battery Eater Pro, which runs a heavy workload continuously to show you what the system can do when its CPU, GPU, memory, and storage drive are seeing heavy use. If you plan to use the ultrabook to work with multimedia (or even to do a lot of word processing) the results will give you a picture of what to expect.
The XPS 12 didn't score exceptionally well in either test. In our web browsing test, the XPS 12 outlasted only one other system, the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD. The XPS 12 fared a bit better in the Battery Eater test, earning a mid-range score, while lasting for about two hours.
As user continue to contemplate the choice between the power and functionality of a full laptop and the portability and touch capabilities of a tablet, we're likely to see more convertible ultrabooks come to market. Dell's implementation of a convertible ultrabook in the form of the XPS 12 is a great one. We like the fact that the keyboard is hidden behind the screen when using the machine in tablet mode. We also appreciate the backlit keyboard on the XPS 12 when using it in laptop mode.
Overall, the XPS 12 performed well in our benchmark tests. It earned the top spot in the PCMark benchmark which measures a system's overall performance and responsiveness. In real-world usage, the system performed well and felt very quick overall. Battery life is a bit of a disappointment with the XPS 12, however. Since the battery is not user replaceable, don’t expect to get a full day's worth of work from the machine without a nearby power source.
Dell offers the XPS 12 at a starting price of $1,199.99. More powerful systems than the one we tested, such as models with a Core i7-3517U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state hard drive are also available.
If you're in the market for an ultrabook, you'll quickly discover the XPS 12 isn't the cheapest option out there. However, the XPS 12 is a solid, well-built system that has some additional features you won't find on these lower-priced ultrabooks. For anyone who is willing to spend the premium to get a convertible ultrabook, we encourage you to check out the XPS 12.