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Dell XPS 12 review: A unique take on the convertible laptop/tablet

Review Sections

The 12.5-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is incredibly high for an ultraportable laptop. The Windows 8 not-Metro interface scales nicely to it, but Web pages and the traditional Windows desktop view can look very shrunken. Fortunately, the display's pinch-to-zoom feature works great, much as it does on an iPad or Android tablet. That said, I found some Web sites didn't render correctly after pinching to zoom, and in Google Docs, for example, the onscreen cursor and the zoomed view didn't quite match up.

Audio was predictably thin, but fine for basic online video watching. Interestingly, the original Dell Duo had a sold-separately docking stand with bigger speakers built in.

Dell XPS 12 Average for category [ultraportable]
Video DisplayPort HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None None

Expandability, performance, and battery life
With such a small body, the port selection on the Dell XPS 12 is likewise slim. The most notable deviation from the norm is the video output -- you get a DisplayPort output, rather than the more common HDMI.

Dell offers four base configurations of the XPS 12 (the unit I reviewed is the most expensive one). The entry-level model starts at $1,199 for a Core i5 CPU and 128GB SSD, and by adding either a Core i7 CPU, a larger 256GB SSD, or both, you can take it all the way up to $1,699. Several of the more design-heavy Windows 8 laptops we've seen have targeted that premium price range, but a $1,600 laptop is still a very tough sell, no matter how clever its engineering.

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With an Intel Core i7 low-voltage CPU and 8GB of RAM, the XPS 12 was predictably fast in our benchmark tests. Honestly, if you're interested in this system, the lower-end Core i5 configurations will be more than fine for everyday Web surfing, productivity, and media playback tasks.

Battery life was, unfortunately, not the strongest in this laptop. That's a shame, as this is a slim system clearly intended for travel or use as an untethered tablet. In our video playback battery drain test, the XPS 12 ran for 4 hours and 43 minutes, which is on the low side for an ultraportable laptop -- especially one with a power-efficient SSD hard drive. Anecdotally, while using this laptop I found myself reaching for the A/C adapter more often than I'd expected.

The Dell XPS 12 is unique among the Windows 8 laptops we've previewed and reviewed, offering a different take on the convertible laptop/tablet concept. At the same time, it's not exactly an original idea, being based on one of Dell's previous high-concept designs, the Inspiron Duo.

The flip-screen construction is surprisingly practical for sharing your screen with others, and using a touch screen with a keyboard and touch pad works well in Windows 8. But it's hard to justify spending $1,699 when the XPS 12 doesn't entirely satisfy as a slate-style tablet, even if Microsoft shoulders most of the responsibility for that. If you're in love with the XPS 12's design, I'd suggest sticking to the less expensive configurations.

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)

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

Load test (average watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Dell XPS 12
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Lite-On IT SSD

Sony Vaio Duo 11
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Toshiba SSD

Toshiba Satellite U925t
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD

Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 620M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Toshiba SSD

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