Thanks to Microsoft, you can't talk about Windows 10 tablets without mentioning the Surface Pro 4. It's easily one of the best looking slates and it's as powerful as a traditional laptop. Given the Surface series' success, it's no surprise PC makers have come up with similar devices, like the Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 700 and HP Spectre x2.
The Dell XPS 12, however, is one of the most divergent Windows tablets to come out in years. Rather than relying on a kickstand or flimsy, magnetic keyboard, this 12.5-inch slate docks into a rigid keyboard base that does away with the hinge while offering a tactile typing experience on par with a business-grade laptop.
The Dell XPS 12 is a beautifully sophisticated device, and simultaneously one of the strangest 2-in-1 laptops ever created. Like many hybrid devices before it, the XPS 12 is made up of two disparate parts that split into a 12-inch tablet and a keyboard section called the Premier Base.
However, the big difference is that there is seemingly nothing holding the device's two halves together when you have it on your lap. You won't find any latching mechanisms or prongs to secure the screen to the keyboard. Rather, the screen merely slots in place with a groove cut into the premier base.
It's a bit unnerving that there's nothing tangibly holding the device's two halves, but it all works surprisingly well. Through the forces of gravity, friction and a few finely tuned magnets, the base holds the top section of the device snuggly in place while still allowing you to easily lift it off.
Once you get over the fact there isn't a hinge, it begins to feel natural to open and shut the screen. The tablet section almost always aligns – without any fuss – with the bottom portion of the device when folding it closed.
The oddest thing about this 12-inch tablet is its large bezels, which is contrary to the infinity screen design seen on the rest Dell's XPS series. However, it makes sense, as the larger edges allow you to hold the slate without accidentally triggering the touchscreen. The top bezel is also particularly large to make way for the tablet's speakers, which I'll touch on more later.
All your base are belong to us
Overall, the XPS 12 is a brilliantly designed product that works astonishingly better than you would think it has any right to. But there are some caveats to this design. Because there isn't any hinge, you can forget about tilting the screen to your liking, as it remains at one fixed, 110-degree angle while docked with the base.
A Dell representative explained the company conducted extensive research to find the optimal angle at which most users tilt their screen. Otherwise, you can close the XPS 12 and confidently know the screen will be held securely in place by the premier base. Alternatively, you could flip the tablet section over, so that the display is face up and at a slight angle for drawing with the stylus.
For the most part, it does feel as if Dell designed the XPS 12 around the optimal viewing angles while using the device at a desk and on my lap. Unfortunately, the experience isn't as ideal once you try taking this hybrid device anywhere else.
For instance, as soon as you tilt the device slightly forward, the screen simply slips off its base, potentially spilling onto the floor.
There's no risk of the screen falling off when you have the XPS 12 tilted back because the base's rear hooks slightly to catch it. Unfortunately, because the device is designed to allow you to close it, there isn't anything to stop the tablet from tumbling forward. It's a huge limitation that prevents me from using the hybrid while lying back or even while sitting with my legs crossed.
Dell bundles an additional magnetic fabric cover (not a keyboard cover), another accessory that complicates the XPS 12's already funky setup. But it comes with the perks of a pen loop and additional magnets to hold the tablet in place. When you open up the XPS 12, the fabric cover's extra slack folds down to extend the base in a similar fashion to the Surface Book's fulcrum hinge.
If the premier base sounds troubling to you, the good news is Dell bundles the tablet with an alternative 'slim' keyboard cover that essentially turns the XPS 12 into a Surface-like device. The slim cover envelops the device with a keyboard panel as well as a back cover with a built-in kickstand.
This combo opens up the slate to a few more ergonomic positions because you can tilt the screen back and use the kickstand like an anchor when your leg is up. Unfortunately, the slim cover's keyboard just isn't as good because it doesn't clip to the chin of the tablet to act as an extra point of stability.
Without this feature, it's a bit more awkward to type with the device even if you have it sitting flat on your lap. Otherwise, though the Slim Base lives up to its name with a fabric-lined exterior, backlit chiclet keyboard with 1.3mm travel and, amazingly, a glass trackpad.
As a tablet alone, the XPS 12 is marvelous, too, and I'm not just talking about the premium sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass on the front of the slate. It's as thin and light as Dell's Android-powered Venue 10 tablet.
The XPS 12's better half, the premier base, is outfitted with a keyboard that feels as tactile as the firm's business line of Latitude laptops. The keys are much larger than I'm used to seeing on 12-inch devices, like the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 and Lenovo Yoga 900S.
On top of that, each key is slightly concave to match the curvature of your fingertips while offering 1.9mm of travel. The XPS 12's premier keyboard is the closest thing to typing perfection, beating every Windows 10 laptop and tablet I've ever used.
The glass touchpad is equally as enjoyable. Although it's a bit on the small side, it's extremely smooth and recognizes multi-touch gestures with just the right amount of palm rejection – all without fine-tuning any of the touchpad settings.
Despite the 2-in-1 combo's distinct parts being so different, they're both made of a magnesium alloy, unibody chassis similar to Lenovo's business laptops. However, rather than having a cold, plastic-like exterior, this device is coated with a much more pleasant and warmer feeling coat of soft touch paint.