(Pocket-lint) - When we think of Dell's XPS line we think laptops. But that's all about to change with the introduction of the 2016 Dell XPS 12 - a 2-in-1 tablet with keyboard dock that's feature-packed and looks set to take on the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. We got to see the XPS 12 some three months ahead of its predicted January 2016 release.

First thing's first, the XPS 12 is really a tablet with a keyboard dock, not a laptop like the XPS name might suggest. However, with the keyboard included in the box it gives a more immediate laptop-like experience than something like the Surface Pro 4 which sells the Type Cover keyboard dock separately.

We've seen a variety of keyboard docks for 2-in-1 devices, many of which house their own power and ports. Not so the Dell XPS 12: it keeps things simple, with a magnetic connector pushing power from the main tablet into the keyboard to power the great-looking backlit keys. We can see why there are no ports on this half of the product, as once disconnected you'd lose any connections, plus there's no faff in charging two parts - an issue with products such as the Asus T100.

However, there's one clear issue we have with the XPS 12's keyboard dock: the tablet can only connect in one position; there's no greater flexibility to tilt the screen back through any other angles whatsoever. Which is a bit like the original Microsoft Surface and an issue that Dell really should have for its first device.

The best Chromebook 2021: Our pick of the top Chrome OS laptops for school, college and more

Furthermore the way these two parts join, while solid in connection, looks a bit like two separate products when folded down. The XPS 12's screen has a second magnet housed somewhere across its top edge, so it makes for a solid sealed connection for transport, but the exposed connection to the bottom centre doesn't look good and, we suspect, will gather up all kinds of fluff from carry bags.

Pocket-lintdell xps 12 hands on image 14

Which might all sound somewhat negative, but there's a lot else to like about the XPS 12. One, its 12.5-inch screen houses a 4K (3840 x 2160 resolution) panel in what feels to us like an 11-inch device form factor. That's a lot of resolution squeezed into only a little space, outsmarting even the Surface Pro 4 in that department. Some will argue, however, that such resolution in a small form factor is overkill and that a 2K panel would more than suffice.

At the stage we saw the XPS 12 - described as the "Signature Edition" according to the model name - it wasn't in its final form. Two models showed some feature differences, such as the inclusion of a 13-megapixel rear camera in one and an Intel RealSense camera in another. Which will be in the final unit? Dell didn't have a firm answer just yet.

Unlike the also-announced updated Dell XPS 13 and XPS 15 laptops, the XPS 12 also ditches full-size USB ports, instead opting for USB Type-C for the sake of a slender form factor. That makes it slimmer and smaller than the Surface Pro 4, but also less powerful overall. Not that it lacks power. The XPS 12 we saw came loaded with the Intel Core M (m5-6Y54 to be exact) CPU paired with 8GB RAM.

With Windows 10 on board, an optional stylus (which we didn't see), ample power and a 4K screen in a small form factor, the Dell XPS 12 shakes up the company's very definition of the XPS line. This looks like an all-powerful 2-in-1 to take on the likes of the Surface, but it's in a different field to the even-more-powerful Surface Pro 4.

Final word on pricing and optional specifications aren't likely to be known until January 2016. Unless Dell World at the end of October reveals any more details. Watch this space.

Writing by Mike Lowe.