(Pocket-lint) - There are a few kinds of hybrid laptop: ones with screens that pull off; those with 360-degree hinges; and (now rarer) ones whose screens flip around, almost independent of the base. Dell has had a go at the lot, but it seems to have settled on a style in the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.
This is a very laptop-like hybrid, whose hinge simply lets the display fold back further and further until it reaches the back of the keyboard half. It's a similar style to what Lenovo has also settled on in its 2-in-1 hybrid Yoga laptops.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 has a lot of the same draws as Dell's other XPS laptops, although we do rather get done over in the UK, where the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 starts at £1,349. US buyers can get an entry-level model for $999 (making the UK equivalent around 68 per cent pricier - even Brexit can't explain that).
As 2-in-1 devices go, is it worth the splash of cash?
Dell XPS 2-in-1 review: Design
- 360-degree hinge
- Slim and light at 1.24kg
- Aluminium and carbon fibre construction
From a quick glance the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 looks like a Dell XPS 13 with an extra-foldy hinge. But it's actually a rather different kind of laptop.
It has less power, but is significantly thinner and lighter. Take its 14mm thickness, add in Dell's now famous slim-surround InfinityEdge screen, and its 1.24kg weight makes for a laptop that's hard to beat if you're after something to carry around all day, every day.
There are plenty of straight-up laptop alternatives, of course, like the MacBook 12, the Asus ZenBook 3, HP Spectre 13, but there's a low-flashiness appeal to how Dell makes its most style-driven laptops.
Like the XPS 13 and XPS 15, the lid and bottom of the 2-in-1 are aluminium, but the inside is soft-touch carbon fibre-infused plastic. It has warmer feel than metal, but also seems just as tough, without the flexing you'd see in a cheaper plastic surround.
The superb portability is at least as much a draw as the hybrid form, and we've certainly appreciated it more during testing. People must find uses for these flip-over hybrids, though, as companies keep on making them.
Potential uses include browsing while you cook, watching Netflix in bed and letting you fit the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 on all but the tiniest of plane/train tables. Or just looking flashy in a work meeting.
Dell XPS 2-in-1 review: Connectivity
- No full-size USBs; pair of USB-C
- microSD card slot
- Fingerprint scanner
This is the first Dell laptop to really delve into the latest trends of ultra-portable laptops, in that it leaves out full-size USB ports entirely. It's a vision of the laptop as a cousin to the phone rather than something into which you'd want to plug hard drives, mice and monitors. You get two of the smaller USB-C 3.1 ports instead. If that's going to be a struggle then there's also a USB adapter cable in the box should you not quite be ready for the peripheral-free future.
Most laptops of this style do not have a memory card slot, but the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 does. Sorry photographers, it's not a full-size SD card slot but a microSD one instead.
Like the other XPS models, there's also a little battery indicator: press a button on the side and a row of LEDs light up to tell you how much juice is left. It's not on all the time, to avoid it becoming irritating.
There's one present here that's missing from its bigger, more traditional laptop brothers too: to the right of the keyboard there's a fingerprint scanner in the form of a little indented square. This lets you sign-in with a finger press rather than a pin or password. To date most of these Hello pads have been quite unreliable, but this one works very well. It has almost never failed to work on its first try - a far cry better than what we experienced in the ZenBook 3.
Dell XPS 2-in-1 review: Keyboard and trackpad
- High-quality backlit keyboard
- Textured glass trackpad
Thankfully Dell has avoided using the new wave ultra-thin keyboard - many competitors typically feel like you're tapping away on squares of glued-down dry lasagne sheets - instead opting for a 'board with keys that move with only a bit less travel than Dell's larger XPS models.
We've typed a few thousand words on the laptop with no issue (indeed, you're reading them). It doesn't feel cramped, partly because this is isn't a truly tiny laptop. It's big enough for a full-size keyboard, and that's the main thing that counts. It also has a keyboard backlight, making it easy to work, or noodle about on Facebook, in the dark.
The trackpad beneath the keys is strong too. Its surface is smooth textured glass, it has a meaty click that doesn't have too high-pitch an action and isn't hard to press at speed.
It doesn't have pressure-sensing smarts like the latest MacBooks but is a rival in terms of pure feel. The trackpad alone is enough to make the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 more appealing than the Asus ZenBook 3, whose pad is nowhere near as nice.
Dell XPS 2-in-1 review: Display
- 1080p display, with QHD+ an upgrade option
- Normal colour saturation rather than ultra-wide gamut
- Touchscreen with glossy finish
We could happily use this as our main work machine. A lot of that is down to the screen. As the name suggests, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 has a 13.3-inch display. It's covered with tough Gorilla Glass, and as a hybrid it is, but of course, a touchscreen.
There are two display specs to choose from: both use tablet-like IPS LCD panels, but one has resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, the other 3200 x 1800. Dell sent us the lower-end version, which is a very solid display.
You don't get the ultra wide colour gamut of some laptops, but its tones are vivid enough to avoid appearing undersaturated. There's enough brightness on tap to use the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 outdoors and contrast is very good.
Dell doesn't seem to make any specific claims about deeper colour reproduction in the top-end screen version, but it will be noticeably sharper. You can see pixels in our 1080p one without trying too hard, although the higher resolution is very much a luxury upgrade that many won't really need. As much as you may want it.
Dell XPS 2-in-1 review: Performance
- Not as powerful as the XPS 13
- Still feels fast for day-to-day use
- Not much good for gaming
Pure power is where the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 lags behind the normal, slightly larger, XPS 13. Instead of using one of Intel's normal dual-core laptop CPUs, it has an ultra-low power “Y” series chipset. You'll find this kind of processor in a handful of the thinnest and lightest computers, including the 12-inch MacBook.
Our review model has a Core i7-7y65, and the cheaper alternative has the i5 version. This will either be a non-issue or a deal-breaker depending on how steep your demands are. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 feels nimble, unlike a laptop with an Atom processor, but it's just not as powerful as the Core i7 you'd see in a slightly larger laptop.
The point of these ultra-ultra-low power consumption chips is to squeeze as much performance as possible without needing a fan. This laptop is passively cooled, making it completely silent. That said, at one point the SSD, or at least one of the internal components, did start clicking for a short period. Still, it's not mad-noisy like the high-powered Lenovo Yoga 910, for example.
We'd like to think anyone who's going spend hours editing video on Adobe Premiere would benefit from a CPU powerful enough to need a cooling fan, but the more mainstream impact of the efficiency-obsessed processor is gaming. No laptop with integrated graphics is a gaming powerhouse, but in the last couple of generations we've ended up with enough grunt to play Xbox 360-era games reasonably well.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1's gaming chops are in a lower league, though, losing maybe 10 frames per second compared to the non-hybrid XPS 13. Games playable on the Dell XPS 13 chug on the XPS 13 2-in-1. As these are Windows machines, not Nintendo Switch, you can always lower the resolution and turn off some graphical effects, but we don't feel mean saying this is machine is rubbish for gaming.
The only real day-to-day annoyance of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is it's relatively slow to boot given it uses fast SSD storage (256GB in our review model). If you tend to actually shut down your laptop rather than leaving it in standby, to save battery life, you lose some sense of responsiveness. There's no real explanation for this in the specs.
Dell XPS 2-in-1 review: Battery life and speakers
- 46Wh battery
- Around 10 hours of light use
There's a solid argument to be made that the lower-power CPU is a result of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1's slim frame, but Asus managed to cram the more powerful kind into its even thinner, lighter ZenBook 3. It's not so much a question of what chipset will fit, but what sort of battery life each will allow.
Dell's XPS line is a bit obsessed with battery life, and the 13 2-in-1 will significantly outlast a ZenBook 3. With light tasks like playing a movie or writing something in Word, it'll last just over 10 hours. At one point we took to working outside on a sunny day with the laptop, meaning a jump to 100 per cent screen brightness, and an hour ate just 12 per cent battery. That's over eight hours of use with a maxed-out screen: not bad at all.
The Dell XPS 13 lasts longer still, though. And unlike the Apple MacBook 12, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 does not have speakers that seem almost bizarrely powerful given the size of the laptop. Sound quality is fine enough, but a bit timid, lacking any low-end and with limited volume on tap.
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a laptop you'll enjoy using, but probably won't like to pay for (in the UK at least). It's very slim and light, avoiding using one of those annoyingly shallow keyboards, which makes day-to-day use ideal. Its 360-degree hinge design is far subtler than most too, in particular the bling watchband hinge of the Lenovo Yoga.
Unless every gramme of weight matters and you love the idea of its hybrid style, the 2-in-1 does feel like you're paying more and getting a little less compared to the normal Dell XPS 13. But if the variable positioning is essential for you and you're willing to pay then there are few finer, better balanced 2-in-1 style laptops on the market.
All in all, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a joy to use and a more versatile alternative to the smallest MacBook. It's a bit expensive though.
The alternatives to consider…
Lenovo Yoga 910
If you fancy something a bit more bling then Lenovo's watch bang hinge Yoga products certainly look the part. The 910 is a potentially great machine, so long as you don't go for the over-powered model: the Core i7 choice kicks in with fan noise at the drop of a hat. Otherwise this 4K master is a great looking piece of kit with all the same positional advantages as the XPS 2-in-1.
Read the full review: Lenovo Yoga 910: Fancy 4K meets fan-noise dismay
Asus ZenBook 3
Even slimmer and lighter than the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, and with a more powerful CPU, the ZenBook 3 was promising. But it has an annoying trackpad. It's less fun to use day-to-day than the Dell as a result, and lasts less long between charges too.
Read the full review: Asus ZenBook 3 review: A super-thin Macbook killer?
Apple MacBook (2016)
The laptop that started the whole low-connectivity mess we're in right now. It's less powerful than the Dell as it uses older-gen processors, and doesn't have a touchscreen or hybrid design. But it's still rather nice to use.
Read the full review: Apple MacBook (12-inch) review: Is port-free the future?
Acer Swift 7
A good lower-cost alternative to the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, the Swift 7 has some similar ideas, but misses out on a few features. There's no keyboard backlight, no touchscreen and no ultra-flex hinge. At £300-400 cheaper, though, it's still compelling.
Read the full review: Acer Swift 7 review: Has Acer finally cracked high-end laptop design?