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.
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.
When the white light goes on, the screen is in place. Bingo!
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.
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.
The tablet/display also has flip-out feet in the back that allow it to stand upright, as above, or almost horizontally, as below.
In both positions the tablet remains stable thanks to the non-slip surface on the edges and feet.
Or you can flip the feet inward to use the tablet flat on a table or sitting on your lap.
Heat readings with the components under stress
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera
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.
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.
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.
Grey colour temperature
The sound through the headphone output is clean, high in volume and faithful. This flawless performance will work well with any pair of headphones.
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.
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.
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.