Portability is one of the most important features for any on-the-go freelancer. Trying to balance power, battery life, and size tends to mean sacrificing one in favour of the others. Want something with a lot of power? It’s not going to last long without a power point. Need a long battery life? Prepare for that sucker to weigh a tonne. The Dell XPS 13” 2-in-1 balances the trio well without sacrificing too much to deliver a lightweight device.
Unboxing the XPS laptop was a new experience for me when I was presented with a tiny 13” laptop in sleek silver exterior. The laptops I normally unbox are 15”+ monoliths encased in black and red details which don’t really suit being an everyday carry. Weighing in at 1.24kgs, the XPS 13” is the perfect size to slip into your backpack, handbag, or satchel and jet off to your next meeting. I took it out with me several times, and it even came on an excursion to paintball training where I was helping my team with some social and sponsorship deals.
Working with the laptop on the go is a fairly painless experience, if not a tiny bit terrifying. I’ve never used a convertible laptop before, so bending the screen backwards was an anxious experience the first time, but provides a whole new way to work. It can feel a little awkward if you’re using the laptop as a tablet, as you’re pressing keys on the exposed keyboard but a quick readjustment of your hands sorts that out. However, it feels clunky in the converted mode, and not just because of the keyboard. Despite this laptop measuring in at 13.7mm thick, it doesn’t feel as slim while in tablet mode – possibly because I’m used to tablets being paper thin.
The size of the keyboard isn’t an issue, however. While it takes a moment to adjust to the size of a smaller keyboard when you’re used to using a full-sized desktop but it’s a comfortable adjustment. It’s a quick keyboard and makes it easy to type up short or long documents with the short keystrokes and smallish-keys. The only issue I had was bumping the touch pad which would send the cursor into a mysterious position, but this is definitely a PEBKEC issue because I do it with every laptop ever. Also, for those who are into this kind of thing – the keyboard is quiet, so you won’t annoy the people around you with the constant tak-tak-tak of furious typing.
Opening the device can be difficult at times. The 13” XPS has a 5.2mm InfinityEdge bezel with a Corning® Gorilla® Glass NBT™ screen which means there’s no notch in the edge to separate the screen from the keyboard. It’s really fiddly to open and I often needed two hands to hold the laptop steady while I tried to pry it apart. But when you do, the screen is bright and displays colours fantastically. You get a bit of glare from sunlight on the glass, so it’s not a laptop I’d recommend to use in the sun – find a shady spot close to Wi-Fi and go nuts. It’s a great screen to watch or stream videos and doing some minor image editing on.
My major issue with the screen is that it marks so easily. Because the XPS 13” is marketed as a touch screen device, you can use it as a tablet (as mentioned above), but I hope you don’t mind fingerprints and smears all over the glass. It turned me off using it as a touch screen device because I didn’t want to spend 20 minutes every few hours cleaning off marks to keep using the screen.
The other test I put this neat little device through was some gaming (obviously). While it isn’t a dedicated gaming machine, the basic specifications would give you enough variety for some on-the-go time wasters. I also tried streaming games through Steam. This seems like the better option if you’ve got a good connection as you’re able to play games in full-spec while away from your rig. Since streaming isn’t as resource heavy as playing games directly off the hardware, you won’t need to worry about pushing the little laptop to the limits.
Battery life won’t be an issue either. I managed to get a few days of life from the battery when I was using it on my travels. You’ll supposedly get just over 8 hours of battery life for everyday use, and a little over 7 hours for your Netflix binge sessions. Even at home while I was using it as a dedicated media screen while working on projects, the battery was consistent and didn’t need too many settings adjusted to really get all the juice out of it.
It uses a Thunderbolt™ 3 connection for the AC adapter which is great for a quick charge and keeps the frame of the laptop as thin as possible. You’ve also got a MicroSD slot, USB-C ports, fingerprint scanner and all the other basic necessities you’d expect. The power button is hidden away on the side which took a bit of getting used to, but again, it’s all designed to keep the size down.
Like all current generation laptops, it comes preloaded with Windows 10 and a range of software options available. To me, retail installs of Windows 10 feel a little bloaty. You can have a range of storage options on the XPS 13” (up to 1TB), but you’re going to spend some time uninstalling the software you’re not going to use. There’s also no optical media drive which isn’t a huge surprise for a device which prides itself on its side – if you’re worried about this, USB optical drives are cheap and portable too.
The Dell XPS 13” 2-in-1 is a tidy machine. It stands up to the quality expected of Dell in their XPS line and balances portability, power and weight nicely. I’m still not sold on convertible devices as they tend to feel chunky and not as nice as dedicated tablets (something I’ve felt from years of working in tech retail). But, if you can overlook a messy screen and sometimes clunky feel from tablet mode, the XPS will fit right into your life. It’s stylish, lightweight and easy to use as an everyday carry.