Withand its touch-optimised interface finally upon us, computer makers are busy showing off their latest laptops with touchscreen capabilities -- and what a weird bunch they are.
Dell has stood up to be counted among them. Its XPS 12 is a 12-inch laptop with a screen that can flip over, fold down and turn into a tablet.
It comes with a Full HD screen, an Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM. That lot will cost you £1,000 from Dell's online store.
Should I buy the Dell XPS 12?
The Dell XPS 12 looks like a standard laptop, but the screen is able to rotate, then fold flat, turning into a chubby tablet. It does this in order to let you properly experience the touch-optimised Windows 8 software in tablet form, but provide a full-sized keyboard for getting on with proper work.
It might seem a pretty bizarre way of doing things, but it works surprisingly well. It's easy to flip over and feels much more sturdy than it looks. If you're keen to experience Windows 8 on a touchscreen, but can't decide between a tablet or laptop, the XPS 12 is a great compromise.
The XPS 12 is running the full-fat version of Windows, allowing you to install all the standard desktop software you would on any Windows machine. Windows 8 is easy to get to grips with, but it's sadly lacking in apps for the moment. If you love playing the latest mobile games, you'd be better suited with an Nexus 10, but the XPS 12 gives you access to proper PC games from the likes of Steam.or a
Physically, it's an attractive and well-built machine. The 12-inch display has a Full HD resolution and looks great, making it a good choice for media addicts. It's easily powerful enough to handle all your everyday tasks and has enough juice to tackle things like photo editing too.
At £1,000, it's pricey, but with its compact size, folding screen, excellent build quality and decent performance, the Dell XPS 12 does a lot to justify it. For the same money, however, you could buy a Microsoft Surface to satisfy your Windows touchscreen cravings and a decent performing normal laptop. If you don't need a convertible machine, you could potentially save yourself a bundle.
Design and build quality
With its traditional clamshell design and physical keyboard, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the XPS 12 for just another laptop. Only once you open the lid and press on the screen do you realise that it flips over to become a touchscreen tablet.
As a laptop it's pretty good looking. Both the lid and the base are clad in rubberised carbon fibre. You'll find machined aluminium around all the edges, making it look and feel like a delightfully premium and expensive piece o kit. It might not have the minimalist elegance that makesso popular, but it's not in any way ugly.
To transform it into tablet mode, simply apply some pressure to the screen and it will clip free of the aluminium frame, rotating on a horizontal axis. It can click back into place facing the other way, so you can close it and swipe around as you would on a normal tablet. You can also stand it up like a tent if you want to sit back and watch some video on it.
The clips are strong enough to hold the screen in place when you're poking at the Windows 8 live tiles, and yet it's easy enough to clip out and rotate. The hinge itself looks like it would be very fragile but it actually feels pretty sturdy, as does the aluminium frame it sits in.
I gave it plenty of abuse in my hands-on test and I was left satisfied that it could take a fair amount of battering throughout its life. It's perhaps not the most elegant solution -- if the hinge isn't open fully then the screen will simply bang against the keyboard when you flip it. There's also a couple of slightly irritating software issues I'll come back to later.
The rest of the machine feels well put together. There's little flex on the lid, wrist rest or keyboard tray and the metal hinge doesn't display any unpleasant bending when you open it. The aluminium edging is thick enough to shake off the odd drop and the carbon fibre base will go some way to protecting the delicate internals when you chuck it on your desk in a bad mood.
At 316mm wide and 216mm deep, it's compact enough to throw into a backpack and with a width of only 19mm at its thickest part, you'll have plenty of room left over for your books. It weighs in at 1.54kg which is pretty hefty for a machine of this size. If you need to travel light then it might not be the best option. The Gigabyte X11 ultrabook might be more for you -- it weighs a mere 975g.
Around the sides you'll find two USB 3.0 ports, a mini display port, a volume rocker, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a slidey little power switch. Sadly, there's no SD card slot, so you'll have to use a USB reader if you want to grab those photos off your camera. A 128GB solid state drive is on board to store all your media.
You also don't get an Ethernet port, so if you need to connect to a high speed wired connection, grab a USB to Ethernet adaptor.
Keyboard and trackpad
Typing with on-screen touch keyboards isn't great for anything more than a couple of sentences. When you want to get on with some serious work, you'll be using the physical keyboard. It sports rounded, isolated keys that seem to have been lifted straight from Dell's other XPS ultrabooks.
That's no bad thing though, as they're very comfortable to type on, even for long periods of time. Dell's made good use of the space, stretching the keys over the entire base. You don't need to squash your hands up to type as though you're reaching for the last Pringle in the tube.
The trackpad is wide and offers a comfortable finger slide, thanks to the rubberised coating. It's responsive too, and has a satisfying click. If you're doing fine work like photo editing then you'll want to use a USB mouse, but it's perfectly good enough for most tasks.