Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (9365) Laptop Review
Twist and shout! The XPS 2-in-1 we've been waiting for is here
About the Dell XPS 13 9365 (i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD)
This is the top-of-the-line XPS 13 2-in-1, with the fastest i7 available, 16 GB RAM, and a big 512 GB SSD. It'll perform about the same as the unit we used for this review.
About the Dell XPS 13 9365 (i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
This XPS 13 is similar to what we tested for the review, but with double the RAM. It should perform on-par with what we used.
For the past three years, the Dell XPS 13 has been our favorite all-round laptop for most people. It's compact, light, has a great display, solid battery life…Dell hit the sweet spot for all of these the first time around, and since then the recipe has gone unchanged. That is, until now. The new XPS 13 2-in-1 (MSRP $999, $1,299 as tested) is a new addition to Dell's lineup that takes the style and sophisticated build of the 13-inch and gives it a convertible 360-degree hinge.
Compared to the standard XPS 13, most of the design is unchanged. The keyboard, trackpad, and display remain top-notch, and the new hinges let you convert it into a tablet when desired.
Dell's had to make a few changes to accommodate the new hinge: the biggest is a switch to slower Intel processors that provide a little less performance for the money and the omission of normal USB ports. Both changes mean this new XPS 13 edition is less useful for power users. But, if you value portability and flexibility over all else, it's an awesome computer.
About the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (9365)
Dell's hit the ground running with this convertible XPS 13 model, offering a wide spread of options. The base model starts at $999 for the following package:
•Intel Core i5-7Y54 dual-core processor
•4 GB LPDDR3 RAM
•128 GB solid state drive
•Intel HD Graphics 615
•FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge IPS touchscreen
•WiFi AC/Bluetooth 4.2
•46 WHr battery
For my money, our $1,300 test model is the sweet spot for performance and price. The faster i7 chip inside is the best available, and gets you perfectly capable everyday performance, while double the RAM and SSD storage will leave you with a system that'll feel snappy for years to come. Moreover, opting for the 1080p display will let the XPS 13's battery last longer than with the optional QHD+ panel.
Like with the normal XPS 13, I seriously think that the entry-level version of the 2-in-1 offers middling value. Its $999 price seems great but being limited to a 128 GB SSD and only 4 GB RAM could really kneecap an otherwise decent package. Like most thin-and-light systems, the XPS 13 2-in-1 has a standard M.2 SSD and RAM that's soldered down so there's only one component that you can upgrade later on.
What We Like
Thin, sturdy design suited for use in any mode
Dell's normal ultrabook XPS 13 is an awesome laptop with a high-quality metal and carbon fiber case. The 2-in-1 version here preserves most of that, with new hinges that let you use the laptop in a number of tablet-like modes. Even the signature XPS InfinityEdge micro-bezel screen makes the jump to the 2-in-1 body style completely intact. There are compromises over choosing the standard XPS 13, but they're the right ones. Although I'll dive into those tradeoffs in a bit, the XPS 13 2-in-1 is every bit the high-quality computer that previous XPS models were.
The aluminum outer shell of the XPS 2-in-1 feels great, and the inner carbon fiber bit surrounding the keyboard makes the laptop look unique. The biggest design difference is super subtle, and it has to do with a band on the top and bottom cases where the WiFi antennas live. This was a nice aesthetic when it debuted in 2015, and this incarnation shows it holds up well in 2017.
Fast enough for most tasks
I'm gonna head processor complaints off at the pass—normal, everyday users will have a great time with the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. By making it slimmer than the standard ultrabook XPS, Dell had to rely on Intel's low-power Y-series processors instead of the industry-standard U-series chips. In practice, I've found these chips to be a little sluggish at times, and we were skeptical when Dell told us that this XPS would keep up with last year's chips.
Well, Dell was mostly right. Our tests show the XPS 13 2-in-1, with the Intel Core i7-7Y75 chip is only a little slower than the middle-of-the-road i5-7200U in the XPS 13 I reviewed earlier this year. Translation: it might be a low-power, fanless chip inside, but the i7 in the 2-in-1 is good enough for everything but gaming and heavier multimedia work.
Keyboard and trackpad that don't compromise
If there's a trend I've found disturbing in the laptop world, it's that keyboard quality has taken a sharp decline with some brands. Whether it's a funky layout or an overly flat keyswitch that feels like tapping on a wooden board (cough Apple cough), it's never been harder to find a great laptop that also has a great keyboard.
Even though Dell made the XPS 13 2-in-1 thinner than its standard counterpart, it maintained the integrity of the standard XPS keyboard and trackpad. Both feel nice to use and the trackpad is based on Microsoft Precision software, so it's among the best, most responsive around.
Windows Hello fingerprint reader standard, and an optional active pen are nice perks
For my money, the must-have feature of 2017 is Windows Hello compatibility. The XPS 13 2-in-1 has a standard fingerprint reader that enables password-free logons. Contrast that with the latest MacBook Pros, where Apple's more than happy to charge $300 for TouchID and the Touch Bar.
But the XPS 13 2-in-1 packs a secret: Dell's built in a Windows Hello-enabled IR webcam that can recognize your face. Unfortunately, this function isn't enabled right now, and we're told it'll be unlocked with a Windows update sometime later this year. Having used other facial recognition systems with Windows, I'm confident it'll be quick and accurate in most lighting.
Dell's been a little spotty when it comes to active pen input, but the XPS 13 offers compatibility with a $50 accessory pen. It's a decent option, and turns the svelte laptop into a notetaking machine. For students or budding sketch artists, this pen is an accessory worth picking up. This pen won't rival those that the Surface or iPad Pro use, but in a pinch it's good for all but the most demanding professionals.
What We Don't Like
Ports can be limiting
There's no two ways about it—USB-C is poised to take the mantle as "most valuable port" from normal USB. This compact, reversible port has a lot of potential, but right now it's still uncommon enough to make it frustrating. The XPS 13 has just two of these ports, one powered by the awesome Thunderbolt 3 standard, and the other backed by normal USB 3.0. The problem is that these double as the laptop's charging plugs, so if you have to top off your battery, you'll be left with one free port to work with.
It's also a little frustrating to me that Dell swapped out the XPS 13's full-sized SD card slot for a microSD one instead. This makes it better for storage expansion where you leave a card in the computer at all times, but less convenient for retrieving photos or video from a camera's memory. I'll give Dell some credit here—at least they include a single USB-C to USB adapter as standard with the XPS 13 2-in-1, making the transition a little easier.
Weaker processors for more money
By far the biggest question I had about the XPS 13 2-in-1 was if the lower-powered Y-series Intel chips would upset the apple cart. These chips can handle everyday tasks efficiently, but can only hit their peak power for a short while. Compared to the typical Intel U-series chips, these processors aren't as good for sustained, demanding tasks.
The bottom line when comparing the standard Dell XPS 13 with the XPS 13 2-in-1: you're paying more for a computer that's not as fast. The Y-series i7 in the 2-in-1 we tested was demonstrably slower than even the U-series i5 in the normal XPS 13, which is around $200 cheaper. Dell has done some work to soup-up the 2-in-1 to be more responsive, clocking up the chip using its Dynamic Power Mode. This helps narrow the gap, but if you need the most performance out of an XPS 13, you're gonna want to buy the standard ultrabook XPS 13 instead.
Down-low webcam still makes everybody look bad
If you Skype a lot, you should know that the webcam is a particular weakness of borderless displays like on the XPS 13. Since there's no room at the top for a camera, Dell's put it beneath the screen's chin, which means the camera looks up at your chin instead of at your face.
I don't care if you're Lupita Nyong'o or Larry the Cable Guy—a webcam that looks up at you is inescapably unflattering. It's not as bad as the off-angle, side camera in the normal XPS 13, but it's still a big problem with this laptop. That said, at least you have some recourse with the 2-in-1: just put the laptop in tent mode with the webcam at the top, and it's good enough in a pinch.
Reduced battery life compared to the standard XPS 13
We've gotten some incredible battery life numbers from previous XPS 13 models. In our intensive PCMark 8 Home battery life test, this Dell scored 4 hours and 27 minutes. That's a great score for a thin-and-light notebook, but contrasted with the normal body style, it's a reduction of around an hour and a half. I still think the XPS 2-in-1 will last you most of a work day, but it's still disappointing to see that battery life was a casualty of the new, skinnier design.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, but only if you need the portability, and not the ports
This Dell 2-in-1 hits all the right notes, but its biggest struggle isn't against its own kin—it's against its excellent competition. Namely, one really great HP 2-in-1: the HP Spectre X360. HP's best comes in a prettier package, has a webcam that's in the right spot, and even packs fully-powered Intel chips inside, making it faster. Oh, and it's cheaper; the Spectre I reviewed with an Intel i7 chip, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB SSD rings the till at $140 less than the Dell. Very recently, HP even announced models with pen compatibility and even 4K displays, even further chipping away at the Dell's strong suits.
I hate to say it, but even though the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a computer that I would have been clamoring for a few years ago, this isn't 2014 any more; there's a world of great 2-in-1 laptops that fit just about any budget. Even Dell's own affordably-priced Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 models get you just about close enough to the quality and performance of this XPS, making the decision that much trickier.
That said, we think that Dell still on the right track, smartly making this a stablemate of the great, standard XPS 13 instead of a replacement. The XPS brand means high-quality products and the XPS 13 2-in-1 is no exception. Especially if you spring for the i7 version I tested, this is a competent, premium 2-in-1. It might not be the best value, or the fastest 2-in-1, but where it loses on the spec sheet, it makes up for with a unique character that Dell should be proud of.
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