Dell XPS 27 review: Almost everything you could want in an all-in-one

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The Good The updated Dell XPS 27 is highlighted by excellent performance and features, plus a higher-than-1080p touch screen, Nvidia graphics, and Intel's latest fourth-gen CPUs. An HDMI input lets it double as a display for a game console or cable box.

The Bad The main benefit of Intel's new chips, amazing battery life, isn't applicable here. The adjustable stand could offer more flexibility.

The Bottom Line As a big-screen upscale all-in-one with touch and decent gaming chops, the latest version of Dell's XPS 27 is a great all-around home PC that covers a lot of bases.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9

With all the attention being paid to Windows 8 laptops, tablets, and hybrids with touch screens, it can be easy to forget that an all-in-one desktop is perhaps the most natural use of a touch screen in a computer. In fact, years before Windows 8 made touch a near-requisite for all new PCs, these desktop-bound systems had already made big inroads into touch screens, with varying success.

But the Windows 8 era now gives us a certain conformity across different PC types. Your laptop, tablet, flip-screen hybrid, or desktop all-in-one all share the same tile-based Windows 8 interface and very likely all have a touch screen. We've seen a handful of all-in-one systems, from Vizio, Asus, Lenovo, and others that have managed this Windows 8 transition well, but no one has a kitchen sink product quite like the Dell XPS One 27.

Even in its previous incarnation, released just after Windows 8, this system was a favorite of ours. The latest update keeps the prices steady, at $1,599 to $2,599, but adds Intel's new fourth-generation Core i-series CPUs, also known by the code name Haswell. It also upgrades the dedicated Nvidia GPU to a GeForce 750M, which should be good enough for all but the most serious gamers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The XPS One is packed with notable features, including a higher-than-1080p screen resolution, at 2,560x1,440, and an HDMI input for using the 27-inch screen as a display for gaming consoles, cables boxes, and other devices. That makes the XPS One especially useful for a smaller space where you'd want both a PC and a small television monitor.

At $2,099 for our review configuration, this isn't an inexpensive choice, even by Apple iMac standards. And while being one of the first to add Intel's new CPUs is great, the main advantages -- better battery life and improved integrated graphics -- are lost in a desktop system with a separate graphics card. The latest trend in all-in-one PCs, adding a battery so the screen can be detached and moved around easily from room to room would have been a nice addition, although Dell's XPS 18 all-in-one offers this feature.

Despite those small caveats, the XPS One is well built, looks great, and is just plain fun to use. I'd strongly consider it for a central hub of your household computing, or as a one-stop entertainment device for a den, bedroom, or dorm.

Dell XPS 27 Asus Transformer AIO Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon Dell XPS 18
Price $2,099 $1,299 $1,699 $1,349
Display size/resolution 27-inch, 2,560x1,440 touch screen 18.4-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen 27-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen 18-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen
PC CPU 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-4770S 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-3350P 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT750M 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 730M 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT620M 32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000
Storage 2TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive 1TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive 1TB, 5,400 rpm hard drive 1TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD/DVD RW combo Dual-layer DVD burner None None
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit) Windows 8 Pro (64-bit)

Design and features

The Dell XPS looks its best head-on. The black bezel under edge-to-edge glass is thick but not unattractive, and the entire 27-inch display seems to float over a rectangular metal base with rounded edges.

Other all-in-one systems have more aggressive designs, to be sure. Apple's razor-edged iMac, the Asus Transformer AiO, and even Dell's own very slim XPS 18, which also doubles as a battery-powered tabletop PC, all show more imagination than the thick XPS 27. The hinged arm connecting the stand and screen is purely functional, like a robotic arm in a factory assembly line.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That arm could also stand to be more easily adjustable. There's no option to tilt the screen back 90 degrees to point directly up in what one might call a coffee-table mode, and even adjusting it along its 60-degree range of motion requires two hands.

But, once you get the XPS 27 set up at a suitable angle, it looks great sitting on your desk and makes at least some of the ports and connections easily accessible along the side edges, with the optical drive (DVD or Blu-ray, depending on your configuration) along the right edge and USB, SD card, and audio ports on the left edge.

Included with the system is a Dell wireless mouse and keyboard set. Both are plastic and won't win any design awards, but the compact keyboard makes good use of limited space, including full-size keys and a full number pad. Multimedia functions on the keyboard are still mapped to the F-keys in an old-fashioned manner, requiring you to hold the Fn key down to, for example, raise and lower the volume. Other PC makers, such as HP, reverse those function-mapped keys so you can adjust volume and screen brightness more easily from the keyboard, although the XPS 27 does have screen brightness touch controls below the right side of the screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The real selling point here is the giant 27-inch display. Unlike most of the 27-inch all-in-one PCs we've seen, the XPS 27 has a 2,560x,1440 native resolution, which is significantly higher than the typical 1,920x,1080 found on higher-end laptops and all-in-ones. The previous-gen XPS One 27 also had this higher-res screen, and it was one of the things we liked the most about it. It's also what you'll find in the 27-inch Apple iMac, although without touch. We've seen similar high resolutions in laptops such as the Toshiba Kirabook and MacBook Pro, but all those extra pixels packed into a much smaller screen is a different, more striking experience.

The XPS 27 screen is bright and clear, if a little glossy. HD video, games, and photos all look fantastic, and even the least-expensive XPS 27, at $1,599, has the same high-res display. Fingerprint marks from the touch screen were minimal, although I found that I ended up using the touch screen less than I expected, perhaps because I placed the large 27-inch display further away than I would a smaller one or a laptop.

Dell XPS 27
Video HDMI-in, HDMI-out, Thunderbolt/display port
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 6 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive DVD burner

Connections, performance, and battery

Our $2,099 review unit included a standard DVD drive, a slot-loading model accessible from the right side of the display, and a more-expensive $2,599 configuration trades up to a Blu-ray drive. Besides plenty of USB 3.0 ports, I especially liked that the XPS 27 (similar to some other all-in-ones and even a few larger-screen laptops) includes an HDMI-in jack. That means you can plug a game console, Blu-ray player, or even a set-top cable box into the back of the system and just use the screen as a 27-inch display. Input switching is done via a touch button on the front bezel, although there's also no way to control the volume on the built-in speakers when inputting an external video source.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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