Review: Dell XPS 18

Dell's answer to the Sony Vaio Tap 20

Our score: 4/5
Reviewed: July 12, 2013 11:41 AM
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Published: July 12, 2013 11:41 AM
By Rémi Jacquet / Alexandre Botella
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
The XPS 18 is a hybrid all-in-one desktop/tablet, Dell's answer to the Sony Vaio Tap 20. The 18.4 cm Full HD screen detaches from the stand to become a 1.5-cm-thin slate running Windows 8 with four hours of battery life.

Design4/5

Dell XPS 18
Dell XPS 18


Dell XPS 18

The XPS 18's body is made from quality materials. The back is brushed aluminium, which doesn't scratch easily or retain many finger smudges. The edges are lined with a rubbery plastic that ensures good handling and provides a certain amount of protection from shocks. The optional black metal stand is just as well finished. A magnetic strip on the back keeps the display in place while you tilt the screen backwards. It's not a bad idea, as it allows you to either keep the screen upright or lay it down flat, as shown above.

Dell XPS 18
Dell XPS 18


 
The stand acts as a docking station. When you slide the tablet in place the screen and stand's connectors (shown here) line up to provide the power. The only inconvenience is that you often have to try several times before they link up just right—the magnetic part isn't as magnetic as it could be, which doesn't always help matters.

Dell XPS 18
When the white light goes on, the screen is in place. Bingo!

Dell XPS 18

In the box are a wireless keyboard and mouse. The chiclet keys offer rapid, comfortable, quiet strokes, despite the relatively short travel distance. It includes shortcuts for the volume, play/pause, quick search, file sharing and settings. Like the tablet, the keyboard's materials are well chosen; the glides do their job well, keeping the keyboard firmly in place.

Dell XPS 18

The mouse is ambidextrous and as basic as the come, with left- and right-clicks, a scroll wheel that scrolls vertically and horizontally in steps, and a not-so-easy-to-reach button on either side.

When used as a tablet, the XPS 18 weighs a non-negligible 2.3 kg, so it isn't easy to cradle in one arm and tap and swipe with the other hand while standing up.

Dell XPS 18
Dell XPS 18


The tablet/display also has flip-out feet in the back that allow it to stand upright, as above, or almost horizontally, as below.

Dell XPS 18

In both positions the tablet remains stable thanks to the non-slip surface on the edges and feet.

Dell XPS 18

Or you can flip the feet inward to use the tablet flat on a table or sitting on your lap.

Dell XPS 18Heat readings with the components under stress
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera

The air coming out the air vent has a tendency to get quite hot—not too comfortable when you have it on your lap. Also unfortunate is the highly glossy screen surface, which causes glare and reflections in brightly lit rooms.

But the touchscreen—the primary user interface in tablet mode—is responsive enough and recognises multipoint gestures well. The graphical icons are larger than the icons on "traditional" touchscreen laptops, making touch interactions easier.

Dell XPS 18

One of the XPS 18's biggest weak points is the connectivity. There are just two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone/microphone combo jack and an SD card reader. No video out, no extra USB ports and no Ethernet (RJ45) for wired connections. That's little indeed—even the Vaio Tap 20 has Ethernet. It's too bad, because the stand could have been used to provide extra ports. As is, every time you detach the screen to use it as a tablet, you have to unplug all your peripherals... and then plug them all back in when you put it back on the stand.
 

Display4/5


The IPS panel that Dell used provides wide viewing angles in every direction, a major plus for a device that's meant to go in multiple positions.

Dell XPS 18
Grey colour temperature
 
Dell XPS 18
Gamma
 
Dell XPS 18
Delta E
 
Also on the XPS 18's side, the screen's contrast ratio is 1050:1 and stays constant even when you lower the brightness. The colour fidelity is nearly perfect with a Delta E of 4 (three and below is you're aiming for, so four isn't bad at all). Only professional photographers or graphic designers will notice the difference. On these last two points the Sony Vaio Tap 20 comes out on top with a Delta E of 2.6 and 1250:1 contrast, but the XPS 18 wins for resolution with 1080p, compared to 1600 x 900 on the Sony.

Audio3/5


The sound through the headphone output is clean, high in volume and faithful. This flawless performance will work well with any pair of headphones.

Dell XPS 18

Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = heavily altered



But the built-in speakers are another story. They're lacking both in the high-end and the low-end, they saturate at max volume and they produce a great deal of sibilance (making hissing "s" and "sh" sounds). The only thing these speakers do well is reproduce the vocal range intelligibly.


Our model: Dell XPS One 18
The model we were sent to review features an Intel Core i7-3537U processor, 8 GB of RAM, an Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset, a 500 GB HDD (5400 RPM) and a 32 GB Express Cache SSD. Everything we've mentioned so far applies to all versions of the XPS 18, but the Processor Power, Games and Power Use sections below apply only to the model we tested.



Processing Power5/5


With an Intel Core i7-3537U running the show, the XPS 18 certainly doesn't lack oomph. This low-consumption Ivy Bridge CPU is crafty enough to handle any type of activity at more than reasonable speeds, from basic word processing to 3D modelling.

It gives the XPS 18 average performances similar to the all-in-one HP Envy 23 TouchSmart, which carries a desktop processor, the Intel Core i5-3330S. The Sony Vaio Tap 20, which we tested in its Intel Core i3-3217U configuration, is much slower in comparison. On average, a task that takes 1 minute 50 seconds for the Tap 20 to execute takes the XPS 18 just 1 minute. Of course, the speeds will vary depending on the application. For example, we exported a number of photos to JPEG in Lightroom and it took 530 seconds on the Sony and 288 seconds on the Dell. But when we archived files in WinRAR the difference was much less striking: just two seconds (98 s for the Tap 20 and 96 s for the XPS 18).

The humbly sized mSATA 32 GB Express Cache SSD is used only to boost responsiveness. It does not provide storage space for user files and content. But it works well, bringing the startup and shutdown times to just 15 seconds, at most.
 

Gaming2/5


Taking care of the graphics is an Intel HD Graphics 4000, which decodes Full HD (Blu-ray quality) movies and runs small apps like MS Paint and Angry Birds without a hitch, but when it comes to bigger video games, only titles like FIFA will be playable in Full HD. Anything more demanding will require major concessions in the resolution and quality level.

Battery life & power use:

The Dell XPS 18 runs plugged in or using its onboard battery. The battery provides 4 hours 10 minutes of video playback in airplane mode with the screen brightness at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in. That's a full two hours more than the Vaio Tap 20. While the battery is charging, the XPS 18 consumes 43 W on the Windows desktop and 47 W while playing movies. When fully charged (a full charge takes about 3 hours 20 minutes), it uses 17 W on the desktop and 21 W during video playback.
4/5 Dell XPS 18 DigitalVersus 2013-07-12 12:41:00

Pros

  • Good keyboard
  • Capable of running on battery (4 hrs 10 min of video playback)
  • Full HD display with excellent contrast
  • IPS screen
  • Processing power

Cons

  • No TV functions
  • Mediocre speakers
  • Only two USB ports
  • Battery non-replaceable

Conclusion

The Dell XPS 18 is more fun, more powerful and more lightweight (and more expensive) than the competing Sony Vaio Tap 20. It offers good handling and enough computing power to handle any task except serious gaming. All it's missing is more connectivity and better speakers.

OUR SCORE 4/5
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