Our favorite ultraportable business laptop just got a lot more flexible. Dell's new XPS 13 2-in-1 is a super-compact hybrid laptop with a flip-back display, so you can use it like a tablet. It's a variant of the standard XPS 13, which – in our estimation – happens to be the best commuter-friendly laptop on the market.
It retains that laptop's glorious edge-to-edge display but also offers a slightly less-powerful processor and shorter battery life. The lack of even a single full-size USB port will also make this laptop a hard sell for some workers.
Still, the XPS 13 2-in-1's sheer versatility, gorgeous design and excellent pen support make it a really enticing work machine.
Like other systems in the XPS line, the XPS 13 2-in-1 sports a striking edge-to-edge display with razor-thin bezels. It looks great and helps keep the system really compact — a perk if you need to stuff it into a crowded work bag before your daily commute. In fact, the XPS 13 has a smaller footprint than any other 13-inch 2-in-1 laptop in the world.
It's nice and slim, too. This 2-in-1 measures about 0.54 to 0.32 inches thick (it tapers from back to front), making it slightly thinner than the standard XPS 13 (0.6 to 0.33 inches). Rival 2-in-1 laptops are also thicker than the XPS 13 2-in-1, including the HP Spectre x360 (0.54 inches) and Lenovo Yoga 910 (0.56 inches).
Dell pared down the port selection on the XPS 2-in-1, compared to the standard model; you get a Thunderbolt 3 port (which can support up to two 4K monitors) and a USB-C port. The lack of even a single full-size USB port might be a deal breaker for some workers who need to connect older accessories such as USB thumb drives or mice. It's worth pointing out that Dell packs a USB-C to USB 2.0 adapter in with the XPS 13, so you will be able to connect those accessories if needed -- so long as you don't misplace your the adapter.
The standard XPS 13 has two full-size USB ports, as do both the Spectre x360 and Yoga 910.
Of course, what sets this system apart from the standard XPS 13 is the rotating hinge, which gives you access to the system's sharp 13.3-inch touch display. Not everyone needs this functionality, but, for me, it's a game changer. I just love using the touch screen for scrolling and navigating around documents and web pages. And there are plenty of touch-optimized Windows apps you can install, too.
As with all 2-in-1 laptops, there are a couple of different ways to use the XPS 13 2-in-1's flexible design. You can fold the keyboard all the way back for tablet mode, though the XPS 13 is a bit too thick and heavy to carry around like an iPad.
Workers will probably get more mileage out of the intermediate stand and tent modes, where you fold the keyboard back just partway, then prop the system up on your desk. Those orientations provide easy access to the screen for using touch apps, particularly in cramped quarters – on an airplane tray table, for instance.
But Dell's Active Pen (sold separately for $49) is the best reason to buy the XPS 13 2-in-1 over the non-convertible model. The display includes a pen digitizer with 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity as well as reliable palm rejection so you can write naturally with your hand leaning against the screen.
Sketching and writing with the pen feels smooth and accurate. When jotting down notes in OneNote – Microsoft's excellent note-taking app, which comes installed on the XPS 13 2-in-1 – I was able to fluidly taper my strokes and vary my line width, just like I can with a real pen. The pen has two programmable side buttons, one of which triggers an eraser in most apps so you can easily correct mistakes.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 boasts a bright, 1920 x 1080-pixel Infinity Edge display that stretches from one edge of the machine to the other, thanks to the system's super-slim bezels. It feels surprisingly immersive for a screen measuring just 13.3 inches.
It's sharp and colorful, too. When I watched the HD trailer for "Transformers: The Last Knight," the swirling colors of a galaxy looked lively, and I could make out every bit of spraying debris as the giant robots pummeled each other.
I can't complain about the typing experience on the XPS 13 2-in-1, even if its 1.3mm of key travel is a bit below what we look for in a keyboard. The keys felt springy and provide plenty of tactile feedback on each stroke, so typing is quite comfortable.
Clients and colleagues might get well acquainted with the underside of your chin if you plan to use the XPS 13 2-in-1 for video conferencing. The system's webcam is placed in an awkward spot underneath the display, which means that it captures low-angle shots when you're taking calls in Skype or another video chat app.
Since it's a 2-in-1, you have the option of flipping the system upside down (into tent mode) to raise the webcam up a little higher. The downside is that you lose access to the keyboard in that orientation. Still, it's a decent option that you don't have with the non-convertible XPS 13, which also has a webcam located beneath the display.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 can easily last through the end of the workday, but it's far from the longest-lasting laptop in its category. It ran for a very solid 8 hours and 27 minutes on our battery life test, which beats the ultraportable laptop average of 8 hours and 4 minutes.
Rival systems ran longer though, including the HP Spectre x360 (10:06) and Yoga 910 (10:36). Both of those machines are noticeably larger and heftier than the XPS 13 2-in-1, though.
You can log onto the XPS 13 2-in-1 with one touch, thanks to the fingerprint reader located just below the right edge of the keyboard. The one-touch reader proved super responsive during my testing period, reliably whisking me to the desktop every time I tried it. It's a really nice perk for security-minded workers, and it takes just a minute to set up.
Eventually, you won't even need to use the fingerprint reader. That's because the XPS 13 2-in-1 has an IR camera that's capable of facial recognition. Later this year, it will let you log in to the system just by looking at it – but not just yet. Dell says the feature will be rolled out in a Windows 10 update in the coming months. If it works as well as the IR camera on other systems I've tested, it'll be worth the wait, since facial recognition is both easier to use and potentially more secure than a fingerprint reader.
With the XPS 13 2-in-1, Dell managed to pack a surprising amount of power into a compact package. My review system came equipped with a 1.3-GHz Core i7-7Y75 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage. That configuration allowed the system to speed along nicely with my typical workload, which involves more than a dozen Chrome tabs, a handful of documents and some light photo editing in Photoshop. And while editing a large spreadsheet with HD video streaming in the background from YouTube, I didn't notice any lag while switching between tasks.
The system notched a pretty solid score of 6,498 on the Geekbench 4 synthetic test, which measures overall performance. Still, that's a bit under the category average of 8,147. It's also beneath the performance scores of the Yoga 910 and HP Spectre x360, which both scored a little over 8,000.
The difference can be explained by the fact that both of those systems come equipped with Dell's higher-power Core i7 U-Series chips, compared to the more modest Core i7 Y-series processor in the XPS 13 2-in-1. The Y-series chip has some advantages, though. It runs extremely efficiently, which allowed Dell to build a sleek, slim laptop that runs cool. Plus, it's more than powerful enough to tackle everyday work tasks.
The Dell performed similarly on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in 4 minutes and 14 seconds. That's not bad at all, but it lags behind the Spectre (3:34) and Yoga (3:33).
Dell sells the XPS 13 2-in-1 in a handful of hardware configurations. The low-end model comes equipped with a Core i5-7Y54 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $999.
Most workers would be much better off with the mid-range model featured in this review, though. It provides twice the RAM (8GB), as well as double the storage (256GB), all for $1,199.
Dell also sells a high-end model with a speedier Core i7-7Y75 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of SSD storage and a sharper 3200 x 1800-pixel display for $1,799. That configuration is overkill for everyday work tasks, however.
The XPS 13 2-in-1's flip-back display is a big perk for workers who want to take notes and use touch screen apps. Plus, it boasts speedy performance and a comfortable keyboard. And commuters will love the fact that it's significantly smaller, thinner and lighter than any competing 2-in-1 laptop on the market.
On the other hand, mobile workers might want to take a look at the HP Spectre x360 ($949) and Lenovo Yoga 910 ($1,199), both of which last an hour and a half longer than the XPS 13 on our battery life test. Both also fared slightly better on our performance tests and offer multiple full-size USB ports – a feature that's omitted entirely from this laptop. But no other laptop can match the XPS 13 2-in-1's combination of portability and versatility, making it very easy to recommend.