GeekDad Review: Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Laptop

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop review
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop (photo by Brad Moon)

I’ve recently been testing out a few Dell laptops, including the new XPS 13 2-in-1, a model Dell boasts is the smallest 13-inch, 2-in-1 laptop on the planet. It also brought home a bunch of hardware from CES 2017, including a CES Innovation award. Does this convertible live up to the hype?

First Impressions

I work mostly with Macs. I do have a Surface 3 and a big HP tower kicking around my office, but those are mostly for keeping up with the Windows 10 world. When it comes to gear I use daily and carry around, I prefer Apple.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 Dell sent is enough to make me consider carrying a Windows laptop around, though—at least in terms of build quality, performance, and flexibility.

Right out of the box, this little laptop makes a great first impression. It’s built with premium materials, with a CNC machined aluminum case and a carbon fiber upper deck. It sports the Infinity Edge display first introduced with the award-winning XPS 13. This display has minuscule bezels that lets Dell pack a 13.3-inch display into a laptop that’s about the size of an 11-inch laptop.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop review
XPS 13 2-in-1 is thin, just 0.54-inches at its thickest point (Photo by Brad Moon)

I happen to have an 11-inch MacBook Air and, yeah, it’s pretty close.

Everything seems solidly built, and even the 360-degree hinge has a nice, precise movement to it without any wobble.

Hands on With the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Laptop

One of the things I like about MacBooks is their keyboards and trackpads. Keys have sufficient travel and feel responsive (well, not the 12-inch MacBook, but that’s another story). They’re backlit and the trackpads work well. In comparison, many of the Windows laptops I have had through the office have relatively mushy keyboards and, more often than not, the trackpads are terrible.

Not so with the XPS 13 2-in-1. Its keyboard rivals any that Apple puts out and its glass trackpad was precise and accurate. It’s also equipped with a Microsoft Hello fingerprint reader.

In terms of ports, Dell—like Apple—is onboard the USB-C train with this laptop. There’s a USB-C port on each side, and they double as power inputs for the compact charger. Unlike Apple, Dell included a USB-C adapter in the box, so I was able to plug in a standard thumb drive without having to buy a dongle. Having a USB-C port on each side was handy when it comes to plugging into power since you can connect to whichever side is more convenient in terms of cord management. There’s also a MicroSD card reader, but this isn’t the laptop for power users with tons of peripherals.

Performance was snappy and absolutely quiet. My review unit was equipped with a 7th generation Core i7-7Y75 CPU. Despite being an “i7” processor, it has only two cores, but does have the advantage of fanless operation. There was 8GB of RAM to work with (soldered and non-upgradable) and a 256GH PCIe SSD. I didn’t try anything horribly demanding with it, but I could have multiple windows open, stream HD video, run multiple apps, and it was never working hard to keep up.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop review
Nice keyboard, premium materials, USB-C (photo by Brad Moon)

Battery life was excellent. I was getting nine to 10 hours of use streaming video. You can eke out another four or five hours with less intense activity (writing in Word for example) and using battery management.

The star feature for me was the Full HD Infinity Display. Dell offers an optional Quad HD+ panel, but coming from a 13-inch MacBook Air with an ancient display, even the review unit’s Full HD version looked incredible. It’s sharp, bright, and the colors absolutely pop.

The 2-in-1 Factor

Of course, the selling point of this laptop over the traditional XPS 13 is its 2-in-1 form factor. With a 360-degree hinge, you can rotate the display into four primary “modes”: laptop, tablet, tent, and stand.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop review
Watching video in tent mode (Photo by Brad Moon)

Laptop is self-explanatory and as I’ve said, it does well in this mode. Tablet is pushing it a bit, as it is with all 2-in-1 devices with attached displays. You end up with a very thick and relatively heavy Windows tablet with keys on its back. Yes, it’s usable, but it’s not going to replace a standalone tablet for most people. Tent and Stand are variations on the theme of putting the display front and center with no keyboard out front. Handy for presentations or watching movies. This would actually be great for our camping trips where I load up a MacBook with movies for rainy days—having the keyboard out of reach would be very handy…

Should You Buy It?

If you’re in the market for a very portable Windows laptop, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is worth considering. I wouldn’t buy one for my kids—it’s well built, but I’m not sure how much sustained abuse it could take. And it’s definitely not a gaming machine. But it offers a sleek look, a great display, snappy performance, and all-day battery life, plus a lot more flexibility than a traditional laptop.

Starting at $999.99 (the unit I tested retails for $1299), it’s also reasonably priced. However, I would recommend spending the extra $200 for the next model up as the entry level version has just 4GB of RAM (barely enough now and you’re stuck with it forever) and the more expensive models double the storage to 256GB and upgrade it to faster PCIe SSDs.

Brad has been a GeekDad core contributor since 2007 and writes about technology for a wide range of outlets. He's also a WFH dad, resident Canuck, outdoor enthusiast, camper extraordinaire and frequent reviewer of gadgets, devices and gizmos.