- Review Date: 05/01/2013
- Bottom line: The Dell XPS 18 fulfills a niche somewhere between a large screen ultrabook and a dedicated all-in-one desktop PC. It mostly works, though the market for such a product is still in its beginning stages.
- Pros: Portable around the house. Huge screen for a portable. Thinner and lighter than previous portable all in ones. Ultrabook performance in a tablet form factor. Wi-Di compatible. 12 month subscription to McAfee Security.
- Cons: Stand is charging only. Limited ports. Kickstands are plastic/polycarbonate.
The Dell XPS 18 ($1,399 list) is a portable all-in-one desktop PC. Larger than a tablet or laptop, but smaller than a full blown all-in-one desktop, the Dell XPS 18 lets you bring a full Windows 8 PC around the house or office corridors with you. It won't fit on an airline tray table, but it will fit on the dining room table, on top of the desk in the den, and on the nightstand next to your bed.
Design and Features
The Dell XPS 18 looks like a tablet on steroids. Measuring 11 by 18.25 by 0.69 inches (HWD) and weighing 5.08 pounds, the XPS 18 is quite thin and light by desktop standards. That said, its 18.4-inch touch screen is larger than just about any other portable, and displays full 1080p HD resolution images and videos. While the system is nominally portable, we don't recommend carrying it around the country with you or relying on it during a long commute. You can't comfortably cradle it in you arm like you would with a smaller tablet like the Microsoft Surface Pro ($999 list), unless you're taller than a center on a NBA basketball team. The XPS 18 is really a tabletop PC, and its built-in battery means that you don't have to shut the system down when you move it from room to room. This way you can take the system from the kitchen to the patio so you can continue to watch "Good Eats" on the verandah.
The exterior is somewhat barebones, owing to the fact that the system is so thin. The XPS 18 only has two USB 3.0 ports, a hidden SD card reader, a Noble lock port (compatible with Kensington locks), and a headset jack. Notably absent are things like a mini DisplayPort or HDMI port. You can use Wi-Di to connect to an external display, but that will require an adapter. Both USB 3.0 ports are black instead of the more common blue, but that's OK since there are no USB 2.0 ports around to confuse users. All in all, it's a more svelte solution than the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ($999.99), which pioneered the portable all-in-one concept. The XPS 18 also has a much higher resolution screen, the 1080p HD screen on the XPS 18 trumps the 1,600 by 900 resolution screen on the Sony Tap 20. The Sony Tap 20 is almost twice as heavy as the XPS 18.
Our review unit came with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, already paired to the system. We also got a recharging stand, which has a jack for the AC adapter, plus a magnetic power connector similar to the one on the Microsoft Surface Pro. The stand has a tilt mechanism and magnets to hold the system in place. It's easy to get used to lining up the Windows button on the XPS 18 with the line etched on the front of the stand. A status light and the system's chirp lets you know that the power connector is providing power to the system. There isn't any locking mechanism on the stand, so this setup isn't meant to travel together while connected. You'll have to remember to move the system and the stand separately around the house.
Ideally, the stand should stay in a central location like your home office, while the XPS 18 moves around the house with you. The system has a pair of kickstands that pop out of the back, allowing you to stand the system up at a mostly vertical angle for viewing videos, or flipped 180 degrees at a mostly horizontal angle for better screen interaction.
The kickstands feel sturdy enough, but they're still a pair of plastic/polycarbonate feet that pop out of the chassis body. In contrast, the Microsfot Surface Pro's metal kickstand feels much sturdier. The XPS 18's metal stand feels like the way to go if you use the system as a desktop everyday. For all its bulk, the Sony Tap 20 feels like it has a better built-in stand compared to the two XPS 18 configurations that don't come with the metal stand. If you simply want to share the screen, you can fold the two kickstands and use the XPS 18 flat on a table like a very large touch-screen tablet. The Asus Transformer AIO (P1801-B037K) ($1,299) works in a similar manner, where you take the screen with you. However, in the Transformer's case the PC's system components stay put in your home office, while the Android tablet works as a detachable remote control screen for that PC. With the XPS 18, the PC components are in the chassis, so you'll save the potential management headaches of supporting two devices with two different operating systems. Plus you halve the number of systems that could potentially crash and interrupt your work.
The system comes with some pre-loaded apps, which include Skype, Amazon, Kindle, Microsoft Office Trial, and Dell Shop. We noted that the XPS 18 comes with 12 months of McAfee Security to protect you against online threats. This is a much better deal than the 30-60 day trial version that comes with most PCs. Most of the other apps included are convenient, if you already use the services. Otherwise, they are tantamount to ads for these various services. If you wish, you can remove the pre-loaded apps when you take the system out of the box or at any other point in the future. The XPS 18 came with a couple of apps to help you get used to the touch screen, incuding Fingertapps Instruments, which is a music rhythm game, and Air Hockey by Identitymine. The system comes with a one-year warranty.
The XPS 18 comes with ultrabook-class components: Intel Core i5-3337U processor, 8GB of DDR3 memory, a 32GB mSATA caching SSD for speed, and a 500GB hard drive. All of these components gave the XPS 18 excellent day-to-day performance, shown by the system's class-leading PCMark7 score. The XPS 18's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 is sufficient for running DX11 3D games, but not for playing high-end games smoothly. Its performance fell short of the Asus Transformer AIO and the current midrange all-in-one Editors' Choice the Apple iMac 21.5-Inch (Late 2012) ($1,299 list), both with discrete Nvidia GeForce graphics, but the XPS 18 was on par with other systems running integrated graphics. The XPS 18 was also middle of the pack at multimedia benchmark tests like Handbrake and Photoshop CS6, due to its mobile processor. The iMac, Transformer AiO, and Dell Inspiron One 23 ($1,199) are quicker due to their full power desktop Core i5 processors.
The XPS 18 isn't being promoted as a true tablet or a laptop replacement, but it does have a battery for portability around the house. We ran our laptop battery rundown test on the system, and the XPS 18 returned a battery life of 4 hours 38 minutes. This is much better than the Sony Tap 20, which lasted less than two hours (1:48). In fact, the XPS 18 actually is within striking distance for high-end ultrabooks in the same price range. This is largely due to the XPS 18 having a high-capacity 69WHr battery (due to its relatively large chassis) compared with the miniscule batteries in ultrabooks. The XPS 18 will last as long as a laptop around the house or office, but portability in the traditional sense is another matter.
The Dell XPS 18 is a promising entry in the burgeoning portable all-in-one desktop field. It kind of makes sense for those users who want a much larger screen than on a tablet or laptop PC, but are willing to trade 3D and multimedia performance for a system that can move around the house or office. It's more useful than most Windows 8 slate tablets as well as some laptops. Still, the XPS 18's form factor is still made for a tabletop, and as such we have to compare it to similarly priced all-in-one desktop PCs. In that regard, the Dell XPS 18 is still outperformed by the current EC, the Apple iMac. But if what you need is an around the house portable PC, the Dell XPS 18 deserves serious consideration.
Compare the Dell XPS 18 with several other desktops side by side.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.