Dell XPS 13 2-In-1 (2019) Review: A Near-Perfect Intel 10th Gen Laptop

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Dell XPS 13 7390: A Tablet With the Premium Active Pen

Dell's XPS 13 7390 is a convertible notebook that, as we previously discussed, folds back on itself to use as a tablet, and the hardware does a remarkable job. As you would expect from a 2-in-1 PC like this, the system automatically disables both the keyboard and trackpad in tablet mode. Thanks to the magnet in the battery compartment, the 2-in-1 notebook's lid stays firmly folded open at 360 degrees without flopping around. There's also a gyroscope built into the unit, so the screen automatically rotates when you twist it around in your hand. 

tablet lying down

One potential issue that we noticed is that for tablet mode, the display bezels were almost a little too thin. Dell focused on minimization for the webcam so that it would fit into an approximately 1/4" bezel at the top of the display. The side bezels are even thinner than that. As a result, the best place to grip the XPS 13 7390 is on the hinge edge. Fortunately it doesn't matter which hand you use since the unit automatically rotated the screen. The touch display seemed to reject our palms most of the time, but meaty, sausage-like fingers can get in the way of the screen itself, obscuring part of the window. Just about every TV show and movie has a 16:9 (or even wider) aspect ratio these days, so we could afford to lose some pixels on the top and bottom while streaming Netflix.

Speaking of streaming video, tablet mode is also pretty nice for watching movies on your favorite services. The maximum 500-nit brightness is plenty bright for watching your favorite shows and movies. Reading ebooks and web pages in portrait mode worked well on the 1920x1200 default display, too. Despite the extra-bright screen, there's no HDR rating here, and Windows doesn't detect an HDR-capable display. For that we'd need to upgrade to the 4K display. Text is relatively sharp thanks to a 170 dpi pixel density too, at Windows 10's default scaling of 150%. The XPS 13 7390 is roughly the same size as an 8.5" x 11" piece of standard notebook or printer paper, so the form factor is comfortable to read. Broadly speaking, tablets are nice media consumption devices, and Dell's Ice Lake convertible acquits itself nicely for that task. However, we think the optional 4K screen upgrade would really be a benefit for those who want to use the PC as an e-reader or personal movie machine. 4K HDR movie streams are plentiful on the most popular services, and at 340 pixels per inch, that high resolution should make reading a joy. 

XPS 13 7390 as a Tablet

It's hard to discuss a 2-in-1 convertible PC like the XPS 13 7390 as a tablet without also talking about Windows 10's touch interface. To that end, Microsoft has put in a lot of work to make tablet mode work on convertible machines. Just about everything you'd ever want to do in the company's flagship operating system is available in touch mode. For instance, pull down on an application's top bar to dock it on one side of the screen, set up a split view, and open a second app. Pinch to zoom or rotate, three-finger pull-down app minimization, and three finger swipe left or right to switch open apps all worked perfectly for us. 

tent facing left

Text input is necessary on tablets, and for that the on-screen keyboard works just fine. If you're interested in writing your autobiography or writing code, using the XPS 13 7390 in traditional laptop mode is probably better suited for long typing sessions. On the other hand, firing off pithy aphorisms on Twitter or replying to emails quickly are both tasks well-suited to the on-screen keyboard. Autocorrect and autocomplete both do a fine job limiting the hunt and peck process. All of Microsoft's new keyboard additions like emoji and kaomoji support are here, too.

Dell's Premium Active Pen PN579X

Input methods aren't limited to just your fingers in tablet mode. Dell also sent us the PN579X Premium Active Pen to use with the XPS 13 7390. This $99 intelligent stylus supports Wacom's AES 1.0 and 2.0 protocols along with Microsoft's Pen Protocol (MPP) version 1.51 over Bluetooth 4.2. Artists should find a lot of utility in the Active Pen, since it supports 4,096 pressure levels for detailed artwork with a Windows Ink-compatible display, including both the 1920x1200 and 3840x2400 touch displays available for the XPS 13 7390. None of that matters if there's a ton of latency, however, and Dell designed this pen to report pressure, direction, and more at 240 Hz. 

pen alone

The PN579X also has customizable buttons which can each be bound to one of several actions, like opening OneNote or invoking Windows digital assistant Cortana. The Quick Launch button can even open OneNote and let you take notes while the machine is locked. The battery life for this active stylus should not be a concern; Dell says the Premium Active Pen will run for up to 12 months, assuming two hours a day of use. The battery is a user-replaceable AAAA cell. When you're not using the stylus, it can be magnetically attached to any of several points on the side of the XPS 13 7390's frame. While I'm no graphic artist, we gave the PN579X a go. 

The nice thing is that the pen just works. In Windows Ink apps like Whiteboard and OneNote, the pressure sensitivity felt spot-on to us. Press harder to get a fatter line, and use a lighter touch to get thinner brush strokes. Using the pen felt just like any other pen on paper for the most part, but the screen is slicker than any sheet of loose leaf, which at first made it easy to have the pen slip, but that's a problem with many pen-and-screen writing tools. We found that the end of a brush stroke stayed with the pen consistently throughout our experimentation. There wasn't any discernible lag while we scribbled on whiteboards and in OneNote notepads.

sketch
Giving the XPS 13 7390 to the guy with no art skills may have been a questionable decision

On the side of the pen near the tip is a two-way rocker switch. Holding the rocker back enters a lasso selection mode, which did a nice job of selecting whatever was on the screen. Pressing the rocker forward puts the pen in eraser mode, which makes undoing your mistakes a snap–perhaps a little too easy. The location of the rocker had us accidentally pressing it more often than we'd like, and so rather than drawing my self portrait, we were erasing big chunks of him. Eventually we figured out how to hold it in a way that made the switch accessible without accidentally pressing it during normal use. The button at the "eraser" end of the pen invokes whatever app you hotkey it to, which by default is OneNote. This works even when the notebook is locked for easy note taking. 

How does all the Ice Lake performance packed into such a tiny body fare when we use it heavily? Let's find out.

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