The XPS 12 as a Tablet

I’ve been using Android tablets for almost two years now, along with an iPod Touch 4th Gen. By this point, I’m well aware of their benefits as well as limitations. Frankly, there’s no way I would ever want to use one of the current tablet devices as my primary work system—even with a keyboard, the experience would be far less than ideal! But as a secondary (or tertiary) device, tablets can be quite useful. I carry my Android tablet with me to some weekly meetings and find it a great tool for pulling up information, or when I’m heading out to some new address the built-in GPS functionality and turn by turn directions are also quite useful. So, that’s the short rundown of how I’ve been using tablets for the past year or two; how does the Dell XPS 12 work when placed into a similar role?

Frankly, it can feel a little bipolar—some things work great, and others have me grumbling and searching for a solution for a while. The new Windows UI and applications are generally good and with a full Core i7 behind them (along with a fast SSD), the experience is very snappy. Even with a Tegra 3 tablet, I find that surfing the web can at times be tedious—some sites that aren’t optimized for a mobile device simply take far longer to load than I’m used to on my laptop/desktop; surfing the web on my iPod Touch is something I now actively avoid because it’s so slow. With the XPS 12, it’s as fast as a typical PC experience and works great.

Here’s where I run into my first trouble; my Windows 8 account (initially configured on a desktop) is set to open web pages in IE10 using the classic desktop application rather than the “new experience” fullscreen IE10. Opening up Internet Options shows this setting, but it’s grayed out. I eventually managed to change it to opening in the Win8 UI IE10 by resetting the Internet Options to defaults, but you’re probably wondering why this even matters. The issue is that when you’re browsing the web on a tablet, you switch between portrait and landscape modes, you might want to zoom in/out on an area, etc. All of that functionality is present with the IE10 Win8 UI, but not with desktop IE10. It also doesn’t work the way I want if I use an alternate web browser like Chrome or Firefox, since these are just standard Windows desktop applications.

There are bigger fish to fry than the occasional issues with browsing the web, however. One problem isn’t really Dell’s fault: I am unable to find Windows 8 versions of quite a few applications that I use regularly on my Android tablets. There simply aren’t as many applications in the Windows 8 Store right now, and of the applications that are there (on all platforms, really), many are of questionable quality. Given time, I suspect most application developers will begin supporting Windows 8, but for the time being it’s a concern.

I think the biggest hurdle for me has to do with the size of the device. Having used several 10” (give or take) tablets, along with a 4” iPod Touch and a few 7” devices, I have to say that 7-10” is the ideal size for most users looking at a tablet. Smartphones can do a lot, but I don’t know many people that are really looking for a large (4.5” or greater) smartphone, and for those of us with less than stellar eyesight I think the smaller displays are simply too small for many tasks (reading lots of text). Maybe it’s just the old curmudgeon in me, but 7-10” is a good size for a note taking, reference material type of device. 12.5” on the other hand starts to feel too conspicuous. I took the XPS 12 to a meeting where I regularly use a 10” Android device (and many others do as well), and when I pulled it out to read through some of the topics we were discussing, I felt incredibly conspicuous—like everyone in the room suddenly looked over and wondered who had brought the gigantic tablet. Maybe it was all in my head, but those extra couple inches make a big difference. The same goes for the doubling of weight, and at roughly 3.3 pounds the XPS 12 is a moderately heavy Ultrabook, never mind tablet.

Subjective Summary

There’s a well known phrase that I used as the subtitle of this review: Jack of All Trades. The corollary to that is “Master of None”, and that certainly applies to the XPS 12. It’s not the thinnest or best looking Ultrabook out there, it’s not anywhere close to being the best tablet I’ve used, and while the capability of running a variety of Windows applications is good on one hand, it can also get in the way at times (like when you’re after a tablet-style fullscreen application). There’s no particular area where I would say the XPS 12 is at the top of its class, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad device. The real question is what you’re looking to do with your next Ultrabook. If you’re primarily after a laptop but you occasionally want the convenience of hiding the keyboard and using the device as a tablet, I think Dell is on to something with the XPS 12. If on the other hand you primarily want a tablet but you occasionally want to type and use it as a laptop, a detachable keyboard/dock would seem the better approach.

The XPS 12 ends up being good in many areas, but ultimately the question is if it’s good enough—in particular, is it a compelling enough device to justify the price tag? As noted earlier, I think Dell (and Ultrabooks in general) are pushing the limit of what most consumers are willing to spend, and even though the XPS 12 has a lot of good features, at $1200+ it will be a tough sell. At $1000, there’s a lot to recommend, and considering you can get a Surface Pro with similar hardware and a type cover for $1130 (which is probably still too high for most!), that needs to be the starting point. (Note that the Surface Pro also comes with a pen, so that's probably a $50 add-on.) The next generation hardware with Haswell should hopefully reduce sizes and allow for better options, which leaves the XPS 12 as an interesting device for some, but one that will likely get replaced in another six months.

We’ll hit the performance results quickly on the next couple of pages, but there’s not much we haven’t seen before. The XPS 12 performs in line with its hardware, which means it’s a bit faster than Surface Pro but generally slower than standard voltage mobile processors. As with the Acer S7 (and thanks to Windows 8), it offers exceptionally fast boot and resume times (around 10 seconds or less) and decent performance for most other tasks. It’s not a gaming system (or at least, not a system to play games like Far Cry 3), and battery life isn’t going to be as good as any ARM-based tablet that you care to name, but performance in other areas is head and shoulders above the same ARM devices.

Subjective Evaluation: Pulling the Old Switcheroo Dell XPS 12 Laptop Performance Summary
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - link

    There's a specific application I use on my Android tablet (that is also available on iOS) that has text versions of several thousand books and magazines, and it's all linked together (e.g. you'll see a reference to an article and you can click it to go there). All of the content is freely available on the Internet, but instead of staying within a unified full-screen app (with the ability to make notes and highlight material), you end up having a bunch of web pages open (which requires an active Internet connection) and you can't take notes directly or highlight passages, nor can you have any notes sync between devices.

    The best you can find in the Windows Store right now is an app that only has about five books, none of the magazines or other manuals, etc. I'm pretty sure the group that makes the apps for Android and iOS will have a Windows Store app in the future, but it might be a year or two (or it might be a month or two -- who knows?).

    When I use the XPS 12 as a laptop, none of the above bothers me much, but in tablet mode the fullscreen apps are far more important. I don't want to open web pages and type URLs if I don't have to; I don't always have Internet either. I don't have a GPS in the XPS 12, which makes getting turn-by-turn navigation directions impossible (sometime I can get on a $200 or less Android tablet).
  • AncientWisdom - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - link

    " Maybe it was all in my head, but those extra couple inches make a big difference. " (Page 3)

    Sure made me laugh :-)
  • IndyJaws - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - link

    I have a 15z, and while I've been happy with it overall, the Cypress touchpad is proof Satan exists. I'd have hoped they got their act together in the 2 years since I got my machine, but the issues Jarred describes are very similar here, but to an even worse degree. I've only recently found a driver for another Dell laptop that has made it semi-usable, but for the most part, I find myself using a wireless mouse instead.
  • vectorm12 - Sunday, March 3, 2013 - link

    I keep wondering where the sub 700 € ultrabooks powered by AMD hardware went?

    There was loads of talk about how OEMs would design one Intel "Premium" ultrabook which would then filter down into more affordable and probably similarly performing ultrathins with AMD hardware inside?

    Right now I'm looking to replace my wife's 13" Macbook Pro with something halfway decent, but considering the small difference in price and the unfortunately high amount of shortcomings I'm still inclined to think spending a couple of hundred more on an Air is the smarter choice given the standard she's used to from the MBP.

    Dell, HP, Asus and the other OEMs should be able slam Apple on price/performance but in this case they are more like equals.

    At least I'm happy to see highres displays starting to show up on these machines.

    Honestly I feel a 13" MBP equipped with the retina display would be solid value. User-upgradeable battery, RAM(2 SO-DIMMs instead of the stupidly soldered primary SO-DIMM) and SSD/HDD. Would kill all competition even if it was priced similarly to the 13" "MBP with retina display".
  • CeriseCogburn - Monday, March 4, 2013 - link

    It's the proletariat crap consumerism we have nowadays.

    Then we get the insane bottom dollar acquisition talks about Apples production takeover strategies, and what's left is the crap sandwhich everyone pretends to hate until they buy one, then the love never ends.

    If anyone does produce the correct device that isn't a crap sandwhich, the first and only thing anyone ever hears is it's a ripoff.

    Instead, we get a crap sandwhich, and an on the spot economics lesson by the posting would be CEO, who notes that 50 cent a bom is 50 million bucks.

    So expect many crap sandwhiches, forever.
  • JasonJ65 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    This Dell XPS 12 is by far the worst device that I have ever purchased. Touch screen stops working all the time, constantly unable to connect the wifi, cannot find hot spots, crashes at least once per week. Dell's solution is to continue reinstalling the drivers. Not what I expected for $1700. I've gone back to my $300 HP2000 which has turned out to be a much better purchase.
  • simonmarksmith - Sunday, April 21, 2013 - link

    If the touchpad or touch screen stop working on your XPS try touching the metal casing with your other hand... Here's a video of what I found happened with mine.
  • sheehanje - Monday, April 22, 2013 - link

    I know I'm a bit late to the party with this review comment - but I would first like to point out that prices have started coming down on the XPS 12. I got an 8GB i7 model with 250GB SSD for $1300, and they are dropping even further.

    As a Network Analyst/Engineer/Duct Tape Master, I am constantly in wiring closets, in meetings, and on the go. The XPS is what I would call a perfect blend of Laptop/Tablet. For MY purposes, it works better than any other hybrid out there. One reason the flip screen works so well is for documentation - I can use it in full tablet mode, or just flip the screen around easily go through large PDF's in either portrait or landscape using the base (keyboard) as a prop. It is sturdy, unlike most tablet stands, were I can navigate without worrying about the unit flopping over.

    There are some glaring omissions on what could be a grand slam of the jack of all trades laptop. GPS is not included, which is disappointing to me. It's not a deal breaker by any means, but the cost of adding GPS is negligible these days in a modern device. Also, as mentioned, there is no digitizer pen capability with the XPS 12. I don't find that as crucial. It would be nice, but it does reduce the sensitivity of the touch screen - which the XPS is one of the best touchscreens I've ever used. I just ordered a Jot Pro for note taking - but even that will be used sparingly.

    My last con is the touchpad - it is ill conceived to say the least. I've had all the mentioned issues - and it has horrible response. Button presses often go amiss. One thing I will say, it has gotten me used to the touchscreen, because I'm now constantly trying to use gestures on my non touch screen Mobile Precision laptop.

    I highly recommend this hybrid to anyone that needs flexibility between a laptop and tablet. Especially IT pro's that need to between the office and the field. (The field being wiring closets or datacenters). To me, Dell hit a triple with this. It is so close to being a home run, but I'll take it given the current generation of Tablet/Laptops hybrids.
  • rburnham - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - link

    I don't mind the price of this because the specs are really good. However, the bulk worries me. In order to get a tablet with 256 gigs of storage and a 1080p screen, it seems like just about everything I can find are these sort of thick hybrid/convertible units. Sony's Duo slider unit comes to mind.

    What I would really like to see is something with a detachable keyboard, like Samsung's 700T tablet, which has the perfect style, but with 256 gigs of storage.

    I have not found the perfect Windows 8 tablet yet, but the XPS 12 come really close.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now