Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review

A pristine hybrid laptop, but not a very powerful one

Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.


 Here’s how the MSI GE62 Apache Pro performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark Sky Diver: 1,315; Time Spy: 120; Fire Strike: 674
Cinebench CPU: 219 points; Graphics: 32 fps
Geekbench 3 Single-Core: 2,954; Multi-Core: 5,426
PCMark 8 Home: 2,251 points
PCMark 8 Battery Life: 4 hours and 43 minutes
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 6 hours and 48 minutes

Judging by these benchmark scores now that we have an idea of the XPS 13 2-in-1’s modus operandi, they really come as no surprise. Prioritizing portability and battery life with one of Intel’s new mobile chips designed for fanless systems, the laptop performs categorically worse than the Lenovo Yoga 910 and HP Spectre x360 across the board.

That’s because both of those systems employ full-fat Intel Core i series processors in comparison to the Intel Core Y series CPU inside the XPS 13 2-in-1. As such, the Core i chips run at a base frequency more than twice as fast as the Core Y model.

And, frankly, this is noticeable in using the device. A simple workload the Slack app and several Google Chrome tabs (more than 10) causes intermittent lag measurable in milliseconds while typing. This problem isn’t severe to the point of considering the laptop unusable, but is nevertheless annoying for something that costs a thousand bucks to start.

Battery life

So, how’s the battery life considering the lengths Dell took to get to a decent number? Sadly, the prognosis isn’t great. While Dell promises up to 10 hours of productivity and 15 hours of Netflix streaming, we saw far smaller numbers from our benchmarks.

PCMark 8, which simulates a productivity workload while running down the battery at 50% screen brightness and all backlighting and radios disabled save for Wi-Fi, produced a time of 4 hours and 43 minutes. That’s a respectable result and comparable to what its key rivals reported on the same test.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 also reported a just-fine battery life of 6 hours and 48 minutes in our own battery rundown test, which loops 1080p video under the same settings and conditions. However, the Spectre x360 hung on for nearly two hours longer on the same test.

You see, while the XPS 13 2-in-1 uses a lower-power processor to preserve battery life, it also sports a smaller battery – 46Whr to the standard XPS 13’s 60Whr battery – than HP’s laptop and likely Lenovo’s. (The latter doesn’t disclose battery size.)

After all, Dell’s laptop is an 11-inch-wide device housing a 13-inch (diagonal) screen, so you can only fit so much battery.

Our own experience using the laptop over the past few weeks indicates that the XPS 13 2-in-1 could perhaps reach Dell’s promised 10 hour mark if you manage the brightness more conservatively and liberally use the Battery Saver feature in Windows 10. But, expect to take an even worse performance hit using that tool specifically.

Using Dell’s laptop like a tablet

The viability of Dell’s 2-in-1 as a tablet is also mixed. First off, it’s a convertible hybrid, so you’ll never shake the feeling of those keys beneath your fingers when holding it bent 360 degrees. However, the keys and trackpad deactivate quickly, and the fingerprint sensor on the keyboard deck works just as snappily as it does normally.

We can see the laptop’s appeal as a versatile video-watching and doodling or drafting device, and it succeeds in both of those areas, thanks to its low weight and sharp, color-rich touch display with strong palm rejection. You can even get a centered and upright webcam using the tent mode, which stands sturdily, though you’ll lose easy access to the keyboard.

Speaking of the display, watching movies and TV on the XPS 13 2-in-1 in its various modes is a delight, even at 1080p resolution. Strong color reproduction and wide viewing angles are key to this and, in a largely still-FHD world, pixels aren’t everything. (Just use your headphones, as the tiny speakers sat on either edge of the keyboard base can only do so much given their size.)

As for pen support, Dell sells its own Active Pen for $49 (£83, AU$79), but not as part of the package. The latest Active Pen works just fine after pairing (a process that involves manually installing drivers – yuck) and offers a hefty aluminum feel, but has no way of attaching itself to the laptop for easier storing via magnets or felt loops. Frankly, it’s a well-tuned accessory just waiting to get lost.

We liked

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is one of the most attractive in its category that we’ve seen in a long time, in true Dell fashion. It sports the firm’s usually excellent keyboard and trackpad, on which typing for long periods doesn’t produce much fatigue at all. Dell even managed to at least center the webcam this time around – a change we hope makes it into the traditional models in short order. Also, with just McAfee, Waves MaxxAudioPro and Dropbox pre-installed, bloatware is at an all-time low.

We disliked

That all said, the laptop is lacking in power and longevity in comparison to competitors with both larger batteries and faster chips that require more cooling. Going for a design that’s as portable and long lasting as possible is admirable, but the trade-offs between power, portability and longevity should be revisited in the next version (or perhaps pursue new battery suppliers).

Final verdict

Visually speaking, this is the 2-in-1 XPS 13 that fans of the original have been waiting for. It takes the winning design of the much-loved laptop and makes it work in a 2-in-1 scenario. However, in getting there, Dell lost of a lot of the power and a bit of the longevity that has characterized the original for years.

Dell is one of the few laptop makers we’ve seen put weight behind the Intel Core Y series of processors for convertible hybrid 2-in-1 designs. And, now that we’ve stacked it up against Core i series-packing 2-in-1s, it’s easy to see why it’s a rarity.

While the draw of a more tablet-sized convertible 2-in-1 with a gorgeous screen and excellent inputs is appealing, getting less power and longevity for about the same price isn’t. Dell diehards will be pleased with its aesthetics, but more discerning buyers should give the XPS 13 2-in-1’s competition extra consideration.

Joe Osborne

Joe Osborne is the Senior Technology Editor at Insider Inc. His role is to leads the technology coverage team for the Business Insider Shopping team, facilitating expert reviews, comprehensive buying guides, snap deals news and more. Previously, Joe was TechRadar's US computing editor, leading reviews of everything from gaming PCs to internal components and accessories. In his spare time, Joe is a renowned Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master – and arguably the nicest man in tech.