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Dell XPS 11 2-in-1 Ultrabook review

HardwareReviews
7/10
by James Morris, 16 May 2014Reviews
Dell XPS 11 2-in-1 Ultrabook review

The hybrid has very much taken over from the Ultrabook as the focal point for notebook development. Where Dell's regular notebooks have had incremental developments, such as the Latitude 3330, the XPS 11 2-in-1 Ultrabook is something of a radical departure. Measuring just 15mm thick, clad in soft-touch carbon fibre, and with a keyboard that rotates 360 degrees to transform the device into a tablet, this is a decidedly stylish product. But it also comes with a few limitations.

If looks were the only consideration, the XPS 11 would win our recommendation in a heartbeat. The carbon fibre chassis exudes quality and feels solid despite the 15mm thickness. Weighing in at just 1.13kg, it's also very pleasant to carry around and is sure to turn a few heads like the MacBook Air did a few years ago. Add in the party trick of transformation into a tablet and you have a very attractive package, at least on the aesthetic level.

There are some areas where Dell has gone a little too far, though. The power button is so subtle it took us five minutes to find it (front right-hand corner of the base). And in order to achieve the incredible thinness, Dell has been forced to make one quite serious design compromise when it comes to the keyboard. The rubbery membrane format used is not up there with a proper notebook keyboard, although it is better than an on-screen one. However, we have actually had better typing experiences with Bluetooth tablet accessories.

Dell has made some particularly curious choices with the keyboard that appear to be a triumph of form over content as well. The line of keys at the top and the bottom of the keyboard bleed into the surrounding area, making it hard to be sure where your fingers are without looking. But the worst thing is that there is also no discernible action to the keys, with a clicking noise used instead to indicate keystrokes. This is sure to annoy anyone in the adjoining seat even if it doesn't irritate you, and it’s likely to be the first default setting you change. Overall, this is not a notebook you will want to use to produce large quantities of text. Fortunately, the sizeable one-piece trackpad does redeem matters slightly.

The 11.6in touchscreen TFT, however, is more impressive. There are now higher-resolution notebook displays out there, for example on Lenovo's Yoga 2 Pro, but the 2,560 x 1,440-pixel display is almost four times what many 11in Ultrabooks from the previous generation offered. The screen is quite shiny, but viewing angles are reasonable in all directions, with a great range of colours, although contrast isn't outstanding. Its touch abilities are accurate and the low weight means the XPS 11 feels better as a tablet than other hybrids we have tried.

Dell has clearly had battery life on its mind when deciding on the core specification for the XPS 11. The processor comes from Intel's latest Haswell generation, but is an ultra-low voltage Core i5 4210Y, which runs at a nominal 1.5GHz with a miserly 11.5W power profile. It has two physical cores, although Turbo Boost allows a single core to rise to 1.9GHz, and Hyper-Threading turns the two real cores into four virtual ones. Unfortunately, this has been partnered with a mere 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, when 8GB is starting to be the norm even amongst Ultrabooks, and there is no option to upgrade.

The processor supplies the graphics as well, in the shape of Intel HD Graphics 4200. In theory, this is an improvement over the Intel HD Graphics 4000 that came with the previous Ivy Bridge generation of Intel processors. However, as this is an ultra-low power processor, the maximum frequency is 850MHz, so performance is not going to be a significant leap over HD Graphics 4000, although power consumption should be miserly. Unlike the RAM, main storage provision is not so mean. There's a 256GB Samsung PM851 solid state disk included, twice last year's Ultrabook norm, and loads for a tablet. The sizeable SSD doesn't appear to have impacted significantly on the price, either.

Not surprisingly for such a skinny notebook, the Dell XPS 11 doesn't have quite the full complement of ports. There are just two USB 3.0 ports – one on the left, one on the right. However, there is still a full-sized HDMI port on the left, rather than the mini or micro variety, alongside a combined headphone and microphone mini-jack. The right side hosts the SD card reader and Kensington lock slot. There is no VGA option nor wired Ethernet dongle included, although you could always add the latter to one of the USB 3.0 ports.

We normally expect Dell's XPS range to be vying for a top spot on the performance heap. But the XPS 11's low-power processor and integrated graphics don't bode well for it as a processing powerhouse. In the Cinebench R11.5 rendering test, it only managed 1.54, which is about half what a more conventional Ultrabook like Toshiba's KIRA 101 can now achieve. Similarly, the OpenGL graphics portion of Cinebench R11.5 provided a result of just 10.13, again half what the KIRA 101 manages. The story continues with a Futuremark 3DMark 11 result of 557, and just 267 in Firestrike test of the latest 3DMark.

The XPS 11 fares a little better when it comes to everyday work activities. Turning to Futuremark's PCMark 8, the results of 1,447 in the Home test and 2,368 in the Work test are both acceptable, if not outstanding. However, the XPS 11 does fare better in perhaps the most important factor of all – battery life. Despite its svelte construction, the XPS 11 endured 329 minutes of PCMark 8's Home test before running out of juice. We ran this test in Power Saver mode to maximise life away from the socket. Backing up this result, the XPS 11 also managed 181 minutes of our gruelling Battery Eater Pro test, which runs processor and graphics on maximum. So you can expect three hours of life with intensive work, and five hours plus of less taxing everyday activities, which is impressive for a notebook this thin, even if there are regular Ultrabooks that can last longer, and tablets that can manage quite a bit longer still.

Verdict

Dell's XPS 11 2-in-1 Ultrabook really looks the part, and promises a lot. But it falls short in a key, or should we say keyboard, area. It's light, performance may not be stunning but it's perfectly adequate for a notebook this portable, the price isn't extortionate, and battery life is decent too. Unfortunately, though, whilst the crossover tablet functionality works well, we wouldn't want to enter lots of text with the XPS 11. This is a real shame, because it comes so close to being a great hybrid, but fails to deliver in one fundamentally important place.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Dell Latitude 3330

Processor

1.5GHz Intel Core i5 4210Y

RAM

4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

Intel HD 4200

Hard disk

256GB Samsung PM851 solid state disk

Optical disc

None

Display

11.6in LED backlit touch TFT with TrueLife and 2,560 x 1,440 pixels

Networking

802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Interfaces

2 x USB 3.0, HDMI, combo headphone and microphone, SD card reader

Width x Depth x Height

300 x 201 x 15mm

Weight

1.13kg

Warranty

1 year NBD with premium phone support

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