Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (Late 2019) – An HONEST Review
This is the all-new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop, and I’m sure a lot of you might not be interested in this type of device since it by no means a gaming laptop. However, this device is really geared for people who prefer switching between a traditional laptop orientation to a tablet orientation.
Specs & Price
Now what’s really interesting about the XPS 13 is its form factor and specs. It’s fairly lightweight and it packs some power efficient specs. It has a new 10th generation Intel Ice Lake Core i7-1065G7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB NVMe SSD, and a HDR400 IPS display powered by Intel’s integrated Gen11 graphics. These are interesting specs since the standard Dell XPS 13 is now using Comet Lake U-series processors while the convertible notebooks like this 2-in-1 are getting Ice Lake chips with superior graphics.
The price of this particular config is $1,750 USD, but Dell always has a sale going on all the time, so you could pick this up for less than $1,600. Regrettably, the Canadian price for this laptop is around $2,500, which is a lot of money. Now for those of you who are keeping track of our Ice Lake coverage, we have reviewed the Razer Blade Stealth featuring a Ice Lake processor and a GTX 1650 discrete graphics card, so if you’re interested click here to read that article.
Design & Build Quality
All right, so let’s start with the design. Dell XPS notebooks have been known for their amazing build quality and this one is absolutely no different. There are two finishes available, a standard silver one with a black interior and the Arctic White which costs $50 more. I’m worried about how long this white model will stay clean, but if you like white MacBook looking products then this one is for you. I like the grip of the palm rest, it definitely compliments the typing experience, and the edges of the notebook are not too sharp, which makes it easier to type on. Opening the lid elevates the keyboard a bit, which gives it a slightly more ergonomic typing position. Overall, the build quality is really good, with very little flex when opening or pressing down on the lid. The only issue we found is that when the notebook is open past a certain point, the metal edges can scratch some surfaces since the bumpers aren’t large enough.
Keyboard & Backlighting
Now about the keyboard. I know some people have said that they love it, but the keys are absolutely the worst that I’ve encountered on a notebook. It feels like typing on a cheap version of the Microsoft Surface Cover and not a proper notebook. There’s hardly any key travel, no feedback, it feels dead, and when I compare this to the HP Spectre x360 it’s a night an day difference. There is actual proper travel distance, there’s feedback, it actually feels like you are typing on a keyboard. And honestly, this is by far one of the best keyboards that I’ve encountered and it’s even more obvious next to the awful the XPS 13 one. This is absolutely a no-go in my books.
The power button is located beside the delete key and it acts as a fingerprint sensor, which doesn’t work all that well. To make matters worse the LED backlighting is just embarrassing. I mean, look at it, the lighting doesn’t even shine through the key caps properly since each key seems to have something blocking the light in the middle. That makes it look like there’s a shadow underneath. They are not even bright and some keys are noticeably dimmer than others. Ironically, I had to turn off the backlighting to differentiate between the keys in darker environments. This is just an absolutely terrible implementation from Dell in my opinion. On the positive side, the track mat is great. It does feature Windows Position drivers, so gesture controls work flawlessly and it is wide enough so that you can use your five fingers to do your things. I guess that’s a good thing.
Ports & Multimedia
Port selection is extremely limited on the XPS 13 2-in-1, which is unforgivable on such an expensive device. On the left hand side, you get a USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 port and a microSD card reader, which is absolutely pointless. Switching to the right, you will find an audio Jack and another USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 port and that’s it. No full-size HDMI or USB Type-A port, which means if you have one of them occupied when just powering or charging up the notebook you only have one available. If you’re using a mouse that means you have no ports left for an external hard drive or USB flash drive or other accessories. You might have to go for an external dongle, and Dell does offer a USB Type-C to Type-A adapter. If I were to bring back the HP Spectre x360, it comes with a full-size USB Type-A port and two USB Type-C ports, which at least gives you options.
The speakers are really good for a 13-inch notebook. They are not front-facing, but rather they are on each side of the notebook and they bounce the sound off the table surface. As you can above, our webcam test of the XPS 13 2-and-1 gave us absolutely terrible results. I mean welcome to 2019 where you spend $1,800 USD on a laptop and this is what you get. It’s kind of unacceptable. This is potato quality, it’s worse than potato quality in my opinion. And what’s interesting is that as I was doing my recording and testing the microphone I noticed in some files there were some audio cracklings in the video. So basically, every part of this webcam is horrible.
Display & Handling
The display is a 13.4-inch WLED-backlit touchscreen with a resolution of 1920 x 1200, which means it has a 16 x 10 aspect ratio. There is a 4K option available, but that will cost you an extra $300. The colors on the 1080p display look fantastic, the contrast is amazing, and it has great viewing angles. It’s also a very sharp panel and very bright with HDR400 and Dolby Vision support. Therefore, outdoor visibility shouldn’t be an issue, but it is a glossy screen so do take note of that.
Let’s talk about one of the main selling points of this device: The fact that it can act as a tablet, a standard notebook or just a screen. When in tablet mode I don’t really find it comfortable to hold. It doesn’t close as flat compared as the HP Spectre x360. The HP was certainly a lot smoother and more comfortable to hold in tablet mode. Touch input works really well, but the display does exhibit some wobbling. Overall though it’s pretty sturdy. Now in tent mode the device is pretty stable, but before you do that keep in mind that the metal frame does not have any bumpers so you could end up scratching the surface of this device.
The power adapter is very small so you can easily toss it in your backpack without worrying about taking up too much space. The power connector for the XPS has an illuminated tip, so it’s super easy to find in the dark. In terms of upgradability, well unfortunately you can’t upgrade anything on the XPS 13 2-in-1 because the RAM and the SSD are soldered in. If you want to spec this thing out, you better do it while you are buying it. Now before I talk about battery life, I do have to talk about the charging experience because it takes forever. The last 25% takes over two hours to complete, which is certainly frustrating. Battery life on the other hand is really impressive. In our light load test refreshing a Chrome web page for 15 seconds, the system lasted for around 10 hours. It’s not as great as the HP Spectre x360 but that’s because it has a bigger battery and of course a Whiskey Lake Core i7 processor. Under heavy load the XPS lasted for around two hours, which is about what we would have expected.
And now onto performance. Is the Ice Lake processor any good? Does the integrated Gen11 graphics make any difference compared to the UHD graphics on previous generations? Well I will be comparing three notebooks: The XPS 13 2-in-1 with the 25W Ice Lake processor (1065G7 and Iris pro graphics), the HP Spectre x360 which has a previous gen 25W Whiskey Lake Core i7-8565U, and the Razer Blade Stealth 14 with the GTX 1650 Max-Q. It really isn’t in the same category, but it uses the same 1065G7 as the Dell, but in a 15W configuration so it will be interesting to see how it fares in the CPU benchmarks. Starting things off with synthetics, the Dell performs really good with serious benefits over the older i7-8565U CPU. It’s interesting to see the performance of the 15W Razer, it’s even slower than the HP in multi-core benchmarks. Moving on to some rendering benchmarks with Corona Render and Blender, the results are pretty interesting. Blender sees a pretty significant advantage for the 25W Ice Lake processor in the XPS 13, but in Corona things were a bit odd since the technically slower CPU in the Razer Blade Stealth won here. Why is that? Well the Razer has a better cooling solutions, so its clock speeds remain higher than the XPS 13 during the test. Moving on to premiere and of course the Blade Stealth is a big winner here since it uses the GTX 1650 to accelerate rendering times. The Ice Lake processor in the XPS 13 did offer a lot more performance than the Spectre x360 though.
Switching over to some light gaming, I was pleasantly surprised by what Ice Lake offered here. It’s not really close to the Blade stealth, but it is a huge improvement over previous generations. You can actually get some light gaming done on this provided the Intel drivers behave properly.
Temperatures & Throttling
Another interesting thing is that the XPS 13 throttles clock speeds while it’s being charged, so the only way to get full performance is when it’s plugged in and the battery is full. It went all the way down to 1.7GHz while the other two notebooks were perfectly fine. Now based on some of the benchmarks you might have realized by now that temperatures are a bit of a concern. Under heavy multi-core workloads like Corona or Blender the clock speeds shoot up to 3.5GHz on all four cores, but a few minutes later package temperature hits 96°C and the CPU down clocks do 2.7GHz or even less. The XPS 13 is really quiet until that happens, and then the fans pick up speed. Dell did a good job and even under full load the sound never really got annoying. For exterior heat I wouldn’t want this on my lap when rendering a video, but otherwise temperatures didn’t get to worrying levels.
All right, so it’s time to conclude this video. Dell and Intel have worked closely together to showcase what the XPS 13 and the new Ice Lake processor can offer, but is this the laptop that’s more than a laptop? No, because in my opinion the keyboard is shockingly bad. The 2-in-1 functionality is not really the greatest, especially when compared to the HP Spectre x360, and then the minimal or the limited amount of ports is the biggest drawback of this notebook. Two USB Type-C ports is simply not enough, especially when one of those ports is used for charging. Also, there is thermal throttling under light gaming loads or even heavy multi-core workloads, so that’s something to consider.
However, if I take a step back and re-evaluate what Ice Lake has to offer, there are a few positive things about it. The first thing is most obvious, CPU performance is really good compared to the previous generation Whiskey Lake processors. You can actually do a little bit of a gaming on it because the Gen11 graphics is pretty impressive. This notebook also offers great battery life. It also has Wi-Fi 6 so there’s future-proofing down the line, and it’s got great build quality too. However, would I pay $1,500 for it? No, because while the performance is great, I just feel like the rest of the notebooks leaves a lot to be desired. Thankfully, we have a few notebooks with Comet Lake processors coming in soon, so that will be interesting to test out.