Dell's XPS 12 is a well-rounded hybrid that comes ready for work, with a snap-on keyboard included out of the box. It has plenty of strong points, including a roomy 12.5-inch display and a handsome, sturdy design. Plus, the $999 XPS 12 offers a larger screen and better performance than the entry-level Surface Pro 4, which is about the same price. Unfortunately, Dell's hybrid is held back by painfully short battery life. Does it belong in your work bag anyway?
Compared with the Surface Pro 4's flashy aluminum design, the Dell XPS 12 looks like it means business. The boxy black design of the tablet is nothing special, but it gets the job done, and is very sturdy and durable.
While it's still plenty portable, the XPS 12 isn't as thin or light as its rivals. Tipping the scales at 2.8 lbs. with the keyboard attached, it's a bit heftier than the 2.37-lb. Surface Pro 4 and the 2.68-lb. HP Spectre x2. It's not a huge difference, but it's something that commuters and frequent travelers might want to consider.
Like the Surface Pro 4 and HP Spectre x2, the XPS 12 snaps magnetically onto a keyboard dock. Dell lets you choose between two options: the standard "Slim Keyboard," which has a rigid design and allows for a single, fixed viewing angle; and the flexible, folding "Travel Keyboard," which props the tablet up with a kickstand and costs $50 extra.
Do you want to type with the XPS 12 in your lap? If so, the standard Slim Keyboard is the better option because it's much more stable when balanced on your knees. It also has deeper, springier keys than the Travel Keyboard, so it provides a more comfortable typing experience overall. It doesn't allow you to adjust the viewing angle, however, so that can be a real problem.
The Travel Keyboard case is the more versatile option by far. It uses a fully adjustable kickstand to prop the tablet up while you type, so you can tilt the screen to any viewing angle you want. It also features a fabric loop to hold Dell's optional active stylus (sold separately for $50).
Unfortunately, kickstand-based hybrids will never feel as stable perched on your knees as a traditional laptop. As with the Surface Pro 4 and the Spectre x2, typing on your lap with the travel keyboard is a bit awkward, and causes the screen to wobble a bit.
For most users, the Travel Keyboard is the better option. The fact that the Slim Keyboard is more stable when typing on your lap won't do you much good when the single steep viewing angle doesn't allow you to clearly see what you're doing. And if lap-ability is really important to you, I suggest you skip the XPS 12 and pick up a traditional laptop instead.
The travel keyboard offers a decent but not great typing experience, with about 1.2 millimeters of travel on each key stroke. That's shorter than the 1.5mm we look for in a laptop keyboard. I also wish they felt a bit snappier, but at least the keys are nicely spaced. Overall, I much prefer the Surface Pro 4's keyboard, which offers deeper keys with more feedback on each stroke.
The XPS 12's 12.5-inch display isn't a lot bigger than what you'll find on rival machines, but the extra bit of screen space does help make certain tasks — like viewing large documents and spreadsheets — more comfortable. The Spectre x2 has a 12-inch display, while the Surface Pro 4 has a 12.3-inch display.
Size aside, the XPS 12's 1920 x 1080-pixel screen looks pretty good. Text is nice and crisp, and images are clear, though colors aren't as vibrant as on the Surface Pro 4 or the Spectre x2.
An active stylus can be purchased for $50, which is a perk for workers who want to take notes right on their tablet's display. Dell's stylus can detect up to 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, so handwriting feels smooth and natural. I was able to feather my strokes and vary my line width, and palm rejection was reliable.
Overall, the note-taking experience is comparable to what you get with the Surface Pro 4, which includes a stylus out of the box. The Spectre X2 is also compatible with an active stylus, which is sold separately for $59.
While testing the XPS 12's pen, I really wished the tablet had a built-in kickstand, a la the Surface Pro 4 and the Spectre x2. Those devices let you flip out the kickstand to get a nice angled writing surface while you write.
Unfortunately, the XPS 12 might not last long enough on a charge to get you through a long business flight. The device died after a meager 5 hours and 17 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi. Rival hybrids like the Surface Pro 4 (6:05) and the HP Spectre X2 (6:31) lasted significantly longer.
Dell took a forward-thinking approach to the XPS 12's port selection. In addition to an SD card slot for expanding the slate's internal storage, it has two USB Type-C ports, without a single full-size USB port in sight. That could ultimately be a nice perk, since most peripheral makers are starting to adopt the USB Type-C standard. The ports can also be used to connect the XPS 12 to an external monitor (or two.)
On the other hand, workers who want to connect older accessories – like a USB mouse, keyboard or external hard drive – will have to buy an adapter.
My XPS 12 review unit came equipped with a 1.1-GHz Intel Core m5-6Y75 processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage, which proved nice and zippy for everyday work tasks, even if it's not really cut out for heavy multitasking.
It racked up a decent score of 4,875 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That's not bad for the price, though it trails pricier machines like the $1,149 Core m7-equipped HP Spectre X2 (5814), and the $1,329 Core i5-equipped Surface Pro 4 (6,811).
The XPS 12 also fared pretty well on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in 5 minutes and 13 seconds. That's on a par with the HP Spectre x2, though the Core i5 Surface Pro 4 finished in a much quicker 4 minutes and 11 seconds.
Dell sells the XPS 12 in exactly two different hardware configurations. The entry-level model featured in this review comes with an Intel Core m5 processor with 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a 12.5-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel touch screen for $999. That’s a good sweet spot for workers with basic computing needs.
A pricier model is also available with a higher-res 3640 x 2160-pixel (4K) touch display and a roomier 256GB SSD for $1,299. I wouldn't recommend that model for most workers, though, since the higher-res display is sure to sap your battery life even quicker than the standard model.
Remember that you’ll have to shell out an extra $50 to pick up the stylus if you want it.
The XPS 12 is a solid work companion that doesn't really excel in any area. The hybrid slate offers a bigger display than competing 2-in-1s, which is good for screen-intensive productivity, but it's not that much larger than the Surface Pro 4's screen. The XPS 12 also provides good pen support for avid note-takers, and relatively zippy performance for the price.
On the other hand, Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 and HP's Spectre X2 offer longer battery life and a sleeker design with a built-in kickstand. They can also be outfitted with faster processors than the XPS 12, if you're willing to pay a little extra.
If you like the idea of a slightly larger screen on your 2-in-1, and can live with short battery life, then the XPS 12 is worth a look.