A laptop that turns into a tablet with a clever swivelling screen
The Dell XPS 12 looks very similar to the company's XPS 13 ultrabook, but this Windows 8 laptop has a twist. Like the now discontinued Inspiron Duo netbook, the screen flips around 360 degrees on a cantilever hinge so it can be used as a tablet.
Although the screen hinge and frame look fragile, it's actually quite sturdy and it's weighted so it doesn't take too much force to flip the screen. It's not only eye-catching and clever, but it also feels intuitive too. Some of the other Windows 8 laptop-tablet hybrids we've seen have more fussy, complicated designs.
The catch is that the XPS 12 isn't very comfortable to use as a tablet. Although the rounded corners and edges means there are no painfully sharp surfaces, at 1.5kg it's too heavy to hold for any period of time. While this is light for a laptop, it's heavy for a tablet. The periodic noise of the cooling fan and the accompanying gusts of warm air from the cooling vents are both distracting and unpleasant for tablet use.
The 12in screen is almost painfully bright and Dell has squeezed in a very high resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels. This means text is crisp, images are detailed and high definition movies are displayed in their full glory.
The catch is that the screen can be uncomfortable to use, especially if you have a poor eyesight. When used as a laptop the screen is usually held further away from you, usually on a desk or lap. In these positions the combination of high screen resolution and small screen size makes text onscreen much harder to read comfortably. Depending on the program or website you are using, zooming in either doesn't work well or work at all.
Another problem is battery life. When playing videos, the XPS 12 lasted just four hours which is short compared to dedicated tablets. It lasted just under seven hours when scrolling through web pages which isn't bad, but it's not as long as other ultraportable laptops.
We were also disappointed to find that there is no memory card reader, but Dell has used the space to fit some surprisingly good quality speakers instead. There are only two USB3 ports and a Mini Displayport connector. The latter can be used to connect a DVI or HDMI projector, monitor or TV with the appropriate adapters which are sold separately.
The XPS 12's various problems are a shame as it does have other things going for it. The backlit keyboard is one of the best we've used - the large and responsive keys make typing a pleasure. The carbon fibre construction feels very robust. The XPS 12 is also fast. The dual core 1.9GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of memory and the 256GB SSD make this a very fast computer.
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We had high hopes for the Dell XPS 12, but this expensive computer isn't a usable tablet or an especially practical ultrabook.
Clever swivelling screen; Excellent keyboard; Light for a laptop
But heavy for a tablet; Squinty screen
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