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Review: 2016 Dell XPS 12 – A 2-in-1 Wonder

by Paul Strauss
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I’ve been a regular user of the 2015 and 2016 model Dell XPS laptops – the XPS 13 and XPS 15, and have been very impressed with the overall performance, usability and build quality of these portable workhorses. So when I was given the opportunity to test out the smallest member of the XPS family, the XPS 12, I came in with pretty high expectations – and Dell has delivered yet again.

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The XPS 12 is a 2-in-1 Windows 10 laptop/tablet which packs a 12.5″ IPS display in either 1080p (176 PPI) or 4K (352 PPI) resolution. My review unit showcases the 4K display, and it’s really spectacular, offering incredible sharpness, eye-popping brightness, rich colors, and a tiny bezel that lets it pack a bigger screen in a smaller space. The 4K display also offers a 100% color gamut, which is really great if you work on photos or design projects and want accurate images. If there’s any downside to the 4K display, it’s that you can expect substantially less battery runtime compared to the 1080p screen. If you plan on plugging in, this is a non-issue.

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Like other XPS models, the system is clean and minimal in design, with a durable body made from magnesium alloy, coated with a soft touch paint to keep it from slipping out of your hand when used in tablet mode. When carried with its standard keyboard, the system weighs just 2.8 lb. With the Slim Keyboard, it’s 3.5 lb, and just 1.75 lb when used as a standalone tablet. In other words, this is a very lightweight system. Transitioning between laptop and tablet modes is seamless, and menus and taskbars even automatically adjust based on which mode you’re working in.

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It comes with the Premier Magnetic Folio – a keyboard that has a fixed angle, a built-in stand and long-travel keys, along with a cloth-wrapped cover. The optional Slim Keyboard ($50 upcharge) is thinner and lighter, and has a fully adjustable kickstand, though the keys only have a 1.3mm key travel. To be honest, I didn’t notice the difference, and much preferred the flexibility of the Slim Keyboard, compared to the fixed angle of the stand on the standard model. There’s only one advantage I can see with the Premier Magnetic Folio – it can be used as a tablet stand for those times that you don’t need the keyboard.

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The other advantage off the Slim Keyboard is how the system folds up like a notepad, whereas you need to slide the tablet out of the stand and into the case section on the Premier Folio for transport.

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Depending on your location on the planet, Dell offers four different CPUs, all of which are 6th-gen Intel Core m models, ranging from a 2.2 GHz Core m3-6Y30 up to a Core m7-6Y75, each with a 4M cache. These CPUs are a far cry from the slow Atom CPUs found in some netbooks and lightweights, offering impressive performance for productivity and day-to-day work. My Geekbench 3 scores for the XPS 12 with a Core m5-6Y54 were 2815 (single-core) and 4642 (multi-core). These scores were comparable to those I got from a full Core i5-5200U on last year’s XPS 13. Storage comes in the form of either a 128GB or 256GB SSD.

Connectivity is provided via two USB type-C connectors, which can be used to either connect external devices or as a charging port. Both ports also offer support for Thunderbolt 3 devices, which is great for connecting fast external storage devices or external displays. Dell also offers a couple of adapter options – a $75 dongle that adds HDMI, VGA, Ethernet and USB 3.0 ports, and the forthcoming WD15 dock which lets you connect up to five peripherals, power and an external display.

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Battery life for the XPS 12 is rated at up to 8 hours of web browsing, and 6 hours, 52 hours of video playback on the 1080p display, while the 4K model takes a pretty big hit – 5 hours of web browsing, and 4 hours, 29 minutes of video playback. Keep in mind that those figures are based on running at a fairly dim brightness level. Real world, expect between 3 and 4 hours of battery life on the 4K model.

Since the XPS 12 works as a tablet as well as a laptop, Dell sells the Active Pen ($50), a stylus which offers on-screen writing using applications like Microsoft OneNote. It took a little hunting on the Dell website to find the requisite driver to get the pen to work, but once I did, it worked well. The pen feels good in the hand, there’s good palm rejection, and is precise and responsive, and it offers pressure sensitivity when used with the proper application – Bamboo Paper supports this out of the box.

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Overall, the Dell XPS 12 is a very capable system for anyone who wants the flexibility of both a tablet and a laptop PC, without sacrificing speed. It performs well, and is lightweight, while still feeling substantial in construction. That said, I highly recommend spending the extra $50 on the Slim Keyboard option, as it makes transporting the system less clumsy, and provides much greater versatility in terms of screen angle.

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U.S. Prices for the Dell XPS 12 start at $999.99 for the 1080p model with 128GB SSD, and $1299.99 for the 4K model with 256GB SSD. Each comes with 8GB of RAM.

[FTC Disclaimer: Technabob was provided with the hardware tested in this review by Dell at no cost. However, all reviews on Technabob are the unbiased opinions of our authors, and in no way represent the views of the product manufacturers represented here.]

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