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Hands on with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 hybrid

Hands on with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 hybrid

Are you searching for a lightweight, portable clamshell notebook that can do a great impression of a tablet? Look no further than the XPS 13 2-in-1.

Dell announced the XPS 13 2-in-1 hybrid at CES 2017, unveiling the device as an updated take on the original XPS 13 2-in-1 clamshell notebook. The XPS 13 2-in-1 borrows the design of its predecessor, adding screen hinges that allow the display to rotate and lie flat against the keyboard -- a popular design for current 2-in-1 notebooks.

What makes this device stand out from similar hybrids is its bezel-free display -- a growing trend in 2017. But, while the design makes this hybrid one of the most attractive machines in this category, how does it stack up in overall performance?

[ Related story: 5 of the most anticipated tablets of 2017 ]

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Dell

Dell's XPS 13 2-in-1 can be a laptop and tablet, and has an edge-to-edge screen.

Design & Display

The original Dell XPS 13 was well received with it's edge-to-edge screen and although I never had a chance to review it, I was instantly impressed by the thin bezel. And, now that I've spent some time with the updated 2-in-1 model, I can safely say that the display is just as striking in person.

dell xps 13 rose composite 3 use Dell

Dell XPS 13

But what's most exciting about the lack of bezel is what it means for the overall form factor of the notebook. The unique InfinityEdge display allows Dell to pack a 13.3-inch display into the typical size of an 11.6-inch notebook. In fact, the size feels so compact that during the first few days of testing, I felt like I was working on my Surface Pro 4 and not a 13.3-inch notebook. My eyes also kept naturally looking for the bezel, something I'm accustomed to with every other notebook.

The form factor of the XPS 13 2-in-1 is one of the biggest selling points. Portability is always at the top of my list when I'm investing in a new notebook. I want a notebook that I can throw in my purse or carry-on bag, without feeling weighed down.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 surpasses my expectations. At 2.7 pounds and .54 inches at its thickest point, it's lightweight, thin and low-profile. The notebook measures just under 12-inches wide and it's 7.8-inches deep. It's not bad-looking either -- with aluminum, carbon fiber and a Gorilla Glass display.

Dell focused on spreading attention equally across the notebook, rather than fall into the trap of focusing too much on design or performance. The device features a responsive trackpad, a comfortable and back-lit keyboard, a fingerprint scanner for authentication and a smooth, comfortable finish on the palm rest.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 is a thoughtfully designed device and one that won't make you feel like you need to sacrifice on small features or design elements based on your budget. No one wants to invest hundreds of dollars in a new notebook, only to discover the trackpad is hypersensitive or the keyboard is mushy.

[ Related story: 6 new 2-in-1 devices to watch for in 2017 ]

Ports

If a device advertises itself as a 2-in-1 should easily switch from work to play. and ports play a major role in that type of flexibility. You shouldn't have to search around for adapters and dongles just to connect to an external display, keyboard and mouse. A notebook should take you from workstation to couch to the road, with as few peripherals or headaches as possible.

But as notebooks get thinner and lighter, more manufacturers have followed Macbook's footsteps and ditched full-sized HDMI, DisplayPorts and USB ports. Instead, the trend is turning towards USB Type-C connectors that can do it all -- as long as you have the right adapter.

I've had to temper my great port-expectations because I know it's not reasonable to expect a full USB or HDMI port on a thin, compact device. But, that doesn't mean I'm ready to say goodbye to every port. While the Macbook is an extreme example -- it features just one USB Type-C port for everything, including charging -- Dell found a comfortable middle ground on the XPS 13 2-in-1.

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 features a dedicated USB Type-C port for charging -- there's an additional Thunderbolt 3 port on the opposite side, which can be fitted to adapt to nearly anything including USB 3.0, HDMI and USB-C. I don't mind using one or two adapters if it means a smaller, lighter device. I regularly use a DisplayPort to HDMI converter with my Surface Pro 4, so that didn't bother me.

But when I went to connect my wireless Logitech keyboard and mouse, I immediately felt the lack of a USB 3.0 port. I could get a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, but I like the connectivity and ease of the USB wireless receiver. I can just pop it into any device, without having to mess around with my Bluetooth settings. I understand the industry standard is changing to USB Type-C, but the technology is still so new, and most consumers still have devices and peripherals they aren't ready to replace. Even one dedicated USB 3.0 port can go a long way.

If ports are important to you, you can always opt for the non-hybrid Dell XPS 13 model, which still features two full USB 3.0 ports, as well as the Thunderbolt 2 USB-C port. It's slightly thicker by a few millimeters, but If you value connectivity over the hybrid-design, it's something to consider.

Performance

Our review unit included a 7th Generation Intel Core i7 processor, 256GB of SSD and 8GB of RAM -- more than enough for the average user. It's not enough for heavy gaming, but you won't have any problem running your favorite desktop programs, streaming content or multitasking apps. Even with multiple apps and browser windows open, the device rarely lagged. But if you regularly use taxing programs -- like the Adobe Suite -- you might want to upgrade to 16GB of RAM for a slight boost in overall performance.

I spent plenty of time watching YouTube videos, browsing the internet and using my regular work programs like Slack and the Office Suite. The device never felt bogged down -- although you might need to evaluate the bloatware that ships with the device. For example, this device shipped with McAfee installed, which significantly choked performance until I could uninstall it. I wish more companies would follow the HP Spectre X360, which is optimized for Windows 10 and features minimal bloatware.

If you're an entertainment and media junkie, you'll have no problem streaming your favorite shows. The display is crisp and clear, offering great color representation that leans towards the cooler side for white balance. The speakers, however, offer mediocre performance, but that is typical on small notebooks. Music sounds tinny and hollow, but I found them perfect for watching YouTube and Netflix.

Battery life is typically anywhere from seven to 10 hours. I'm rarely far from an outlet, but if you travel regularly and need a device that can last 10 plus hours a single charge, you will want something with more juice. You can opt to purchase the Dell Hybrid Adapter + Power Bank, which will give you an extra 11-hours of usage. Or, you can look at the non-hybrid XPS 13, which boasts a battery life of more than 20-hours, depending on usage.

Conclusion

If form factor and portability are important to you -- the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is an excellent choice. Every feature feels like it was thoughtfully designed, and performance is right where you need it to be for average use. You'll get enough power for work or entertainment, making it the ideal device for road warriors or students. It's enough to get work done while also delivering on entertainment at the end of the day.

The price point is what pushes this device into one of my top 10 favorite hybrids. The entry level model, with an Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM starts at $999, similar to the Surface Pro 4 with Type Cover.

At the highest configuration, with an Intel Core i7 processor, a Quad HD display and 16GB of RAM, it retails for $1,799. But you can find a comfortable middle ground -- one configuration features an Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM and a Full HD display starting at $1,399.

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 strikes a balance between design and practicality. It isn't the sleekest or fastest hybrid on the market, but I'd be more than happy if my IT department handed me one to use for work.

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