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Dell XPS 18 review

A huge tablet that's also an all-in-one PC

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Cinebench R10: 8830
3D Mark 11: Ice - 33371, Cloud - 3745, Fire - 544
Battery Eater Pro: 124 minutes

Judging the capabilities of the Dell XPS 18 is just as awkward as deciding what kind of machine it is. In terms of raw power, it's well off the mark for a pure all in one, with the slightly more expensive iMac battering it for CPU and GPU power.

But this isn't just an all-in-one. It's portable too, so perhaps it's fairer to pit it against Ultrabooks. Actually, it proves to be middle of the road there, coming in behind the likes of the similarly priced Gigabyte U2442F for processing power. And yes, it's slightly less powerful than the Sony Vaio Tap 20, which is its only direct competitor, but because the Sony lacks an SSD, we wouldn't count the Dell out for speed.

For graphics power, it's pretty much on a par with what we'd expect from the integrated GPU. As we said, we could play SimCity smoothly at full resolution provided we had the effects turned down, which was fine. For older games, or fairly mainstream stuff, it'll do the job.

Dell XPS 18 review

The Sony Vaio Tap 20 may perform slightly better thanks to having a lower-resolution screen, but that's a trade-off. The HP Envy Rove 20 will offer much improved graphical performance with Intel's next-generation Haswell GPU tech, but we'll have to see exactly how much when it's released.

So, Dell's XPS 18 isn't a powerhouse, but the more important part is that it still feels very nippy - it certainly feels as fluid as an Ultrabook. Boot-up times are short, and it's fairly quick to come on from standby, though it's annoying that it doesn't turn on by pressing the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse - you have to press the button on the side of the screen.

The keyboard and mouse are a bit of an irritation, with the keyboard being just ugly and cheap, and the mouse having to be manually activated by pressing the power button on its underside whenever you want to use it, instead of just clicking its top buttons, as any sane person would expect to be able to do.

Dell XPS 18 review

They keyboard is perfectly comfortable, though, if a little soft, and the mouse is similarly acceptable, though the wheel is horribly wobbly, due to the ability to click it left and right as well as roll it forward and back.

More than that, though, Windows 8 just often feels hostile to the mouse user. It's nicer to trackpad owners, but getting your head around using hot corners and scrolling sideways in the apps screen is an unintuitive process. You'll often just think it's easier to use the touchscreen.

Handy, then, that the touchscreen is as responsive as you'd hope, and it's easy to navigate the parts of Windows that have been optimised for it. That said, it would be good if the on-screen keyboard made better (and more ergonomic) use of the vast space of the display.

Dell XPS 18 review

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Most importantly, the display itself is excellent. Being Full HD 1920 x 1080 helps, making it brilliantly detailed, but colours are brilliant, and it's perfect from basically any viewing angle. HD movies look absolutely flawless on it, and it's great for photo editing. The only small concern about the display itself is that it doesn't go quite as bright as we'd like - though it's fine for most situations.

The brightness ties into what turns out to be a big visibility flaw, though: it's massively, distractingly reflecting. In a closed office setup, this is almost never a problem. But the Dell XPS 18 isn't designed to be purely used in dark, pokey offices. You're supposed to carry it to the living room or kitchen. Where there's sunlight.

Sunlight is not good. We basically couldn't see anything while trying to watch a movie on it while cooking on a sunny day. We could hear it well enough, because the stereo speakers are damn loud (and nicely clear - they're very good), but we could barely see anything. It picks up fingerprints a lot, too, but they aren't too visible when you're using it in a dimmer environment.

Dell XPS 18 review

When picking it up and taking it around, we really started to see the appeal of the portable all-in-one. On a duller day, when we could actually see what was happening on-screen, it was brilliant for popping in the kitchen and watching a movie while cooking or washing up. On a lazy Sunday evening, climb into bed and prop it up on some cushions and watch a film, and you're utterly transported in a way you just aren't with 10-inch tablet.

Note that we said about propping it up, though. Frustratingly, the little flick-out legs on the Dell XPS 18 are only good for solid surfaces - on your lap or elsewhere, you'll have to find your own solution to getting it to the angle you want.

Of course, there's one more consideration for using it as portable device: the battery. So Dell says five hours of use, but our fairly intense battery benchmarks give it just over two hours. Inevitably, use cases will vary here - we were able to watch a whole 1080p movie on it and still have a decent amount of battery left, so it's fine as a portable movie screen.

But still, we were hoping for more than even Dell's claimed five hours - it's massive, so we figured there might be a massive battery life. We know the big, high-res screen will be the biggest drain, but still.