Dell XPS 12 review: Welcome battery boost for a unique hybrid

Dell XPS 12
Video mini-DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery
The collection of ports and connections on the XPS 12 is slim, and it lacks an SD card slot, and note that you get a DisplayPort output, rather than the more common HDMI. However, I liked the manual button on the left edge for turning automatic screen rotation off and on, and just below that button is a handy volume control rocker switch, which is always appreciated. There's also an NFC antenna in the wrist rest, for tapping and connecting NFC devices. It's still not a technology that's been widely adopted, but it has great future potential.

Dell offers three stock configurations for the XPS 12. We're testing the lower-end $1,199 model, with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. For $1,399, you can double the RAM to 8GB and trade up to a Core i7 CPU. Jump to $1,799 and the SSD is a 512GB model.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In our performance tests, the XPS 12 and its Core i5-4200U CPU performed as expected, matching up with other recent ultrabooks using new fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processors. That means this is more than powerful enough for mainstream use, such as Web surfing, social media, office productivity, and HD video playback and in anecdotal use, much like other recent laptops such as the Sony Vaio Pro 13 or Samsung Ativ Book 9, the XPS 12 felt fast and responsive, including excellent touch-screen response. There's no discrete graphics chip, however, so don't look for gaming capabilities beyond basic casual and browser-based games.

The most notable change in the updated XPS 12 is in battery life. Thanks to Intel's latest generation of power-efficient CPUs (sometimes referred to by the code-name Haswell), laptops and tablets of all stripes are seeing big jumps in battery life, and this is no exception. The previous XPS 12 ran for 4:43, which we found disappointing at the time. This new model ran the same video playback battery drain test at 7:13, which was just a minute off from the Haswell-powered Acer Aspire S7 we just reviewed.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
Has anyone completely nailed the hybrid middle ground between laptop and tablet? I wouldn't say so, but Dell's flip-screen XPS 12 at least makes for a more solid laptop than most of the detachable-screen models we've seen. The carbon fiber body gives it an upscale feel, and the new Intel CPUs take care of our main issue with its predecessor, battery life.

The twitchy accelerometer and touch pad are the main knocks, as well as the relatively high starting price for a Core i5/4GB RAM/128GB SSD configuration, but I can say that each version of this design, from the original Inspiron Duo on, has gotten better.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

HandBrake MMT
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations
Dell XPS 12
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,745MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400: 128GB Lite-On SSD

MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Samsung ATIV Book 9 (13-inch, 2013)
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 2GHz Intel Core i7 3527U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 256GB SSD

Sony Vaio Pro 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 4500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz;1659MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 512GB Samsung SSD

Acer Aspire S7-392-6411
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (Dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4400: 128GB SSD

Find more shopping tips in our laptop buying guide.

What you'll pay

    Pricing is currently unavailable.

    Editors' Top PicksSee All

     

    Join the discussion

    Conversation powered by Livefyre

    Where to Buy

    Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook

    Part Number: DNCWI109H
    Pricing is currently unavailable.

    Quick Specifications

    • Installed Size 4 GB
    Hot Products