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Dell XPS 11

  • Category: Notebook Computers

  • Review Date: 2/5/2014
  • Bottom line: The Dell XPS 11 convertible ultrabook/tablet comes with an incredibly high-resolution screen and a lovely carbon fiber chassis, but a couple of large flaws keep it from outrunning the pack.
  • Pros: 253 ppi, 2,560-by-1,440-resolution screen. HDMI port. Very thin and light. Premium build.
  • Cons: Uncomfortable, quirky membrane keyboard. Middling battery performance.
Editor Rating: 3.00

By Joel Santo Domingo

The Dell XPS 11 ($1,399 list), the company's latest convertible tablet/laptop, is one of the lightest and thinnest fully functional devices of its kind out there. It sports attractive carbon fiber on both sides of the laptop, and a higher-than-1080p-resolution screen. However, the inclusion of a membrane keyboard (instead of a traditional mechanical one) and middling battery performance keep the XPS 11 firmly in the middle of the pack.

Design and Features
The XPS 11 is a very compact convertible. It measures 8 by 12 by 0.59 inches (HWD), and weighs just 2.44 pounds, so it's certainly lighter than carrying both a tablet and a laptop together. While Apple has put its mark on aluminum construction with the Apple MacBook Air 11-inch (Mid 2013), Dell looks to do the same with carbon fiber. The XPS 11 is swathed top and bottom in carbon fiber for strength and lightness. The effect is quite attractive, since you can see the weave of the carbon fiber (it's not covered up as it is on the Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch). The system's 11.6-inch touch screen is covered by a pane of Corning Gorilla Glass NBT.

The 11.6-inch screen is one of the XPS 11's standout features. It has a 2,560 by 1,440 resolution, which is much higher than 1080p HD. The XPS 11's has 253 pixels per inch (PPI), higher than the 227 PPI in the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (2013). This gives the XPS 11 the ability to view 1080p videos clearly, as well as the 4K videos streaming online. It also gives you lots of space for viewing and editing raw photos without having to zoom in too far. There's one unfortunate side-effect: On Heaven and Adobe Photoshop CS6, the menus and UI elements looked tiny. Newer programs and Windows 8-compliant programs looked fine, as did the windows in desktop mode.

Dell XPS 11

The XPS 11 has a dual-axle hinge with 360-degree flip on the screen, similar to that of the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. Like the Yoga 2 Pro, you can use the XPS 11 in four modes: Laptop, Tablet, Tent, and Stand. Each mode has its uses: Laptop and Tablet modes are self-explanatory; Stand mode puts the touch screen closer to you than in laptop mode; and Tent mode looks like it sounds. Systems like the Lenovo Yoga have the disadvantage of having physical keys facing the table in stand mode or your fingers when in Tablet mode. This concern is addressed by the XPS 11's membrane keyboard.

While attractive and durable, the membrane keyboard is quite uncomfortable to use on a day-to-day basis. It's fine for quick Web searches and for entering info into forms, but if you are typing the great American novel, you'll want to hook up an external mechanical keyboard. There's no give or key travel, which can be hard on your fingertips. The keyboard defaults to audible clicking feedback from the speaker every time you tap a key, but that doesn't help it feel any better. A hard typist will find the experience painful. This is one of the prime drawbacks of the system, and could be a deal-breaker if you type more than a few hundred words at a sitting.

Despite its thin profile, the XPS 11 is chock-full of ports: There are two full size USB 3.0 ports, and a HDMI port and SD card reader, both of which are absent from systems like the Apple MacBook Air 11-inch and most tablets. In comparison, the Sony VAIO Tap 11 has only one USB 3.0 port, HDMI, and a microSD card reader. Wireless onnectivity on the XPS 11 is very good, with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and WiDi 3.0 support.

Our review unit came with a 256GB mSATA SSD, which is certainly enough storage for many users. The system had over 200GB available when we first set it up. The base model has an 80GB hard drive, which could prove to be a bit tight if you carry lots of photos and videos with you.

The XPS 11 is thankfully free of bloatware; the only extra apps we saw on the Start screen are things like Amazon, Kindle, Intel Experience Center, Dell Shop, My Dell, Pocket Cloud, Microsoft Office (trial), and photo gallery. The XPS 11 comes with a one-year warranty.

Performance
The XPS 11 has decent power for such a small convertible laptop. It's equipped with an Intel Core i5-4210Y processor, 4GB of DDR3L memory, Intel HD Graphics 4200, and that 256GB mSATA SSD. The Sony Tap 11 is has the same graphics and CPU, and both performed similarly on our benchmark tests. The XPS 11 boots quite quickly—within a few seconds—and apps launch just as fast. The system seemed a little more sluggish when browsing, but well within expected norms.

The XPS 11 turned in a decent 4,111 points on the PCMark 7 test, faster than the 3,574 points of the Sony Tap 11, but less than the 4,685 points of the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. The multimedia benchmark scores for the XPS 11 were fine: 2 minutes 14 second for Handbrake and 6:50 for the Adobe Photoshop CS6 test. These scores are a few seconds faster than the Sony Tap 11, though the Apple MacBook Air 11-inch and high-end ultrabook Editors' Choice Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus are measurably faster.

But having such a thin profile and high-resolution screen comes at a price. The XPS 11 got just under six hours of battery life (5 hours 55 minutes) on our battery rundown test. Granted, this is two hours longer than the Sony Tap 11 and a bit better than the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro (5:42). But all these pale in comparison to the Apple MacBook Air 11-inch (10:42) and Samsung Book 9 Plus (8:15).

As a showpiece for Dell's XPS line, the Dell XPS 11 certainly is impressive with its premium materials and svelte dimensions. It also has the four flexible laptop and tablet modes pioneered by the Lenovo Yoga convertibles, and a nice, crisp screen. However, a middling battery life and especially the uncomfortable membrane keyboard keep the system from scoring higher. Our current Editors' Choices for high-end ultrabooks (the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus) and ultraportables (the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch) are much better choices if you need a powerful laptop in the $1,000-to-$1,500 price range.