(Pocket-lint) - The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is one of the best larger portable laptops you can buy. But its key audience is likely to be made up of people who don't like MacBooks and who do have a lot of money to spend.
However, the 2018 XPS 2-in-1 has an ultra-shallow keyboard and no full-size USB ports, which is not what we expect from a 15-inch laptop. Like an old friend who starts wearing sunglasses indoors, we're not sure about this style direction.
But the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 still offers enough to be brilliant and, the real jaw-dropper, is that it's powerful enough to play the role of a genuine gaming laptop. That explains that massive price tag then, eh?
- 354mm x 235mm x 16mm; 1.967kg
- CNC machined aluminium case
The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 may take a few cues from Apple's MacBook lineup, but visually speaking that's not the case. From lid to the lettering on the keys, this Dell is classic XPS design all the way.
There's a checkerboard carbon fibre finish on the keyboard surround, an anodised aluminum lid and more aluminium on the underside. It won't make you look like a poseur in a business meeting, but doesn't come across as a stuffy work laptop either.
The XPS 2-in-1 does not have quite the flawless build of some other XPS models though. We've noticed just a little flex to the right side of the keyboard keys, by the right shift button. It doesn't spoil the laptop's feel, but it's a shame as Dell XPS laptops are typically as well-made as MacBooks. That is not easy to achieve.
You may not see any such compromise in the standard XPS 15, but this 2-in-1 is, of course, a hybrid model. It has a touchscreen and a hinge that flips all the way around. It's no show off, mind. The 2-in-1 can pass for a standard laptop, as its hinge looks normal rather than the "explosion at a watch shop" hinge of the Lenovo Yoga 920. Call us boring, but we like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1's reserved style.
Thanks to the sheer power, 15-inch screen and a design that doesn't try to shed every possible ounce, the Dell is only reasonably portable. It weighs just under 2kg and is, obviously, significantly larger than the XPS 13.
However, its footprint is about as small as a 15-inch model's can get. Just look at the screen surround: there's just a few redundant millimetres above and to the sides. And while the space below is larger, this is where the webcam and display driver tech sits. Cut this out and you'd also seriously squeeze the keyboard and trackpad.
We tend to prefer 13-inch laptops when working remotely, but the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is one of the best laptop designs if you need the extra display space. That's largely the point of this model's existence.
- 15.6-inch 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) InfinityEdge LCD
- sRGB, DCI-P3 and Adobe RGB colour gamuts
- Anti-reflective touchscreen
The XPS 2-in-1 offers either 1080p or 4K screens. On review here is the higher-res version, which just so happens to be a stunner. Its high pixel density makes Windows 10 look radically sharper than a 1080p laptop, the contrast is excellent, and the colour vivid.
There's pro-level calibration too. An application called Dell PremierColor lets you choose the colour gamut. There's DCI P3, sRGB, Adobe RGB, REC 709. If this sounds like someone reading off a barcode, it means you can choose how deep the deepest tones appear. If it sounds like music to your ears then, well, this is likely the laptop for you. Although the screen doesn't quite cover all of Adobe RGB, despite getting close.
It's also a touchscreen, with a pane of Gorilla Glass 4 over its surface. However, there's an anti-reflective coating that makes reflections about 40 per cent less annoying than they usually are.
The screen can also sit at any angle. We don't use 15-inch hybrids as iPad-a-like tablets. That seems a bit silly. However, you can get an active stylus (£58-62) to turn the XPS 2-in-1 into a graphics tablet, or fold it over to act as a digital recipe book without taking up your entire kitchen surface.
Dell didn't send us the stylus, but we did try out an HP alternative, which works because they use the same Wacom technology. You get 4096 pressure sensitivity levels and the must-have palm rejection feature, which stops the capacitive touch layer from firing off when you rest a hand over the surface while scribbling.
- 2x Thunderbolt 3 with DisplayPort
- 2x USB-C 3.1
- 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD
The XPS 2-in-1 is a clear winner for designers who will appreciate its stylus, the fantastic screen and larger display area. But it doesn't have a single "old style" USB port.
There are two ultra-fast Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports and another two USB-C ports specced to the USB 3.1 standard. But there's no dock to tool you up with the USB ports most of us still need. The Dell DA200, a little dongle with HDMI, Ethernet and USB connectors, costs an extra £60. You'll find cheaper options online.
Dell is working of the upsell angle and this is a little annoying when we have to pay £2000-ish for higher-spec versions of this laptop. But, hey, at least there's a microSD slot on the side. You don't get one of those with a MacBook.
Like older XPS laptops there's also a handy little LED indicator to let you know the battery level without turning the 2-in-1 on.
Keyboard and Trackpad
- 83-key 0.7mm travel MagLev keyboard
- Backlit keys
- Glass touchpad with integrated buttons
Dell has also come up with a fancy new keyboard. It uses MagLev tech, a switch that uses a magnet for its clicky action.
Hate shallow keyboards? You probably won't like the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1. That was our instinctual reaction too: 'oh no, what has Dell done?'
But after a few hours typing, that feeling simmered down. This laptop does have much better travel than a MacBook, there's good key resistance and very clear press feedback. We can type on it fast, accurately and comfortably.
This is the best shallow keyboard you'll find in a Windows laptop, and many will prefer it to the MacBook feel. But it won't convert those who love ThinkPad keyboards. And we still prefer the feel of a deeper keyboard, one with a less "high-pitch" click.
Below the XPS's keyboard sits an excellent glass trackpad. There's no magnetic or haptic tech here, just a top-quality surface with a standard clicker and no annoying driver issues.
Performance and Gaming
- 8th Generation Intel Core i7-8705G Processor (8M Cache, up to 4.1 GHz, 4 cores)
- 16GB DDR4-2400MHz RAM
- 512GB M.2 2280 SSD
The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is a true performance machine. It uses 8th Generation Intel Core processors. And if you've read up on these, you'll know they offer a massive performance upgrade over the previous generation.
However, gaming is the really exciting part here. A normal Core i7 CPU still uses a pretty weak Intel HD graphics chipset. The XPS 15's i7-8705G has something much better: a Radeon RX Vega M GL GPU.
We often use old favourite Skyrim to test laptops with integrated graphics, but that won't even make the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 sweat. So we levelled-up to The Witcher 3.
At 1080p resolution and high graphics settings, the game runs at an impressive 46-55fps. That's smoother and prettier than when running the game on a PS4. At Ultra settings it's still playable, too, hovering around 29-33fps.
This AMD and Intel team-up should have Nvidia worried. The Radeon RX Vega M GL is better than an Nvidia GTX 1050. And it flattens the GeForce MX150 you'll often find in general purpose laptops that can handle the odd bit of gaming.
Of course, for gaming people there are other options. For example, you can get a Razer Blade 15 with a GTX 1060 Max-Q CPU for £1699, and that'll beat the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and save you money.
Take the GPU part out of the equation and the XPS's i7-8705G is as quick as the Core i7-8550U processor used in the Dell XPS 13. It has four cores, eight threads, and can handle pro-grade apps as well as some desktops. The 15-inch 2-in-1 is a great laptop for creative professionals.
However, this laptop's shell doesn't seem designed to handle a maxed-out CPU and GPU for too long. The fans rev quite loud after a little while, and the keyboard gets hot. We did review the laptop during a summer heatwave in the UK, though, so that won't have helped.
Battery Life and Speakers
- 6-cell 75Wh battery
- Stereo speakers
Dell makes bold claims for the XPS 15 2-in-1's battery life. It says the 75Wh battery can last up to 15 hours.
This is way off the real-world results. It lasts for roughly seven-and-a-half hours when streaming YouTube content.
It's the one part of Dell's web page claims that doesn't ring true. With that sort of disparity it's hard to even imagine how you could get 15 hours of use without disabling the GPU, seriously throttling the CPU, dimming the screen and doing almost nothing with this laptop.
However, it's not a bad result when you consider this is a powerful, large-screen laptop with lots of pixels on that display. It'll still get you almost through a full day's work as long as that won't involve taxing the processor too much.
The XPS 15 2-in-1 uses a USB-C socket for charging. But as you have three left to play with, it's no real problem.
Finally, there's the speakers. These sit on the underside, for a decent stereo image. Volume is reasonably loud, there's solid mid levels, and a hint of bass. However, a MacBook has more open-sounding mid-range.
The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is just about the best hybrid laptop creative professionals can get today. It has a high-quality screen (that can use a pressure-sensitive stylus if you want), it's very powerful (good enough for gaming), plus it looks good too.
However, battery life isn't as strong as advertised, some other XPS models have stiffer keyboard surrounds, and the keys themselves are shallow. Its price tag is also rather massive - which may be at odds with such a product if you don't need the 360 degree hinge design. Oh, and the HP Spectre x360 is hundreds of pounds less.
Still, as hybrid laptops for creative professionals go, the XPS 15 2-in-1 is flippin' great.
MacBook Pro 15
No touchscreen. No flexi-hinge. A higher price. And a much worse GPU. However, you can't deny the appeal of a MacBook Pro. This time around the MacBook has noticeably better build quality. The 15-inch models also use Core i9 CPUs, with even greater power than the Core i7 XPS 15 2-in-1 tested here.
Razer Blade 15
If a Vega GPU still isn't powerful enough, check out the Razer Blade 15. These laptops use discrete Nvidia graphics cards, the GTX 1060 and GTX 1070. The 1080p version with a 1070 and 512GB SSD costs £2329, a chunk more than the £1849 of the comparable XPS model.
HP Spectre x360
Want to save money? The HP Spectre x360 is an ultra-premium laptop, but is significantly cheaper than the XPS. A 1TB, 16GB, Core i7 Dell model will cost you £2499. The Spectre costs £1899. It's slightly thicker, slightly heavier and likely uses a slower SSD. But look at that price difference.