PC

Dell XPS 15: Hybrid laptop that is both powerful and sleek

Dell has added a convertible variant of its premium XPS 15 laptop.

The long-running XPS 15 series is known for having souped-up specifications that cater to power users.

I do not know if consumers wanted a two-in-one version that can switch between tablet and notebook forms. But I know that with its 15.6-inch screen, this hybrid laptop transforms into a giant, hefty tablet that is impractical to hold with one hand.

Dell has done well to ensure that this hybrid is slim at just 16mm thick. But there is a problem with having such thin sides - it lacks full-size USB Type-A ports.

Like the Apple MacBook Pro, the Dell supports only USB Type-C connectors - two USB Type-C ports and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Given that most PC accessories, from portable hard drives to mice, still use the larger USB Type-A port, a dongle is a must.

Unlike Apple, Dell has included a USB Type-C to USB Type-A dongle in the package. But it is not enough. Want to connect the Dell to a monitor? You will need a USB Type-C to HDMI cable or dongle.

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $3,099

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-8705G (3.1GHz)

    GRAPHICS: AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL Graphics 4GB HBM2 memory

    MEMORY: 16GB DDR4

    SCREEN SIZE: 15.6 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 2 x USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3, 2 x USB Type-C Gen 3.1, microSD card slot, audio jack

    BATTERY: 75 watt-hour

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Those planning to use the XPS in the office, especially with older monitors and devices, might have to fork out for a dock, like the Dell Thunderbolt dock ($469).

Its sleek design may also explain why Dell has chosen a new type of keyboard for the XPS 15 hybrid.

This "MagLev" keyboard uses magnets instead of the usual rubber cup to repel the keys after they have been pressed. This design allows the keyboard to offer a surprising amount of tactile feedback, despite its paltry 0.7mm key travel.

It took me a while to get used to its shallow feel, but I like its clickety sound. The keyboard is also backlit, though it looks dimmer than most.

The glass-coated touchpad is very smooth and tactile. But like the laptop's carbon-fibre palm rest, the touchpad smudges easily, though these grease stains can be wiped clean with a cloth. Its silver aluminium lid and unibody chassis are more resistant to fingerprints.

The laptop comes with a Dell stylus with up to 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt support. It is as thick as a normal pen and feels responsive with hardly any lag. It can be attached to the left of the XPS via magnets.

The local model does not have a 4K display option. But I am more than satisfied with the full-HD screen on the review set. Colours look rich and it can get very bright (400 nits).

The bezels are fashionably slim at the top and the sides, though it means that the Web camera and the infrared camera (for face recognition) are awkwardly positioned at the thicker bottom bezel.

It is equipped with Intel's new Core i7-8705G chip, which notably comes with a built-in graphics chip from rival AMD. This AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL chip achieves a Digital Content Creation sub-score of 5,188 in the PCMark 10 tests, compared with 4,834 for the Asus ZenBook Pro UX550, which is powered by a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics chip.

The Dell is even good enough to run games at a decent clip. It manages 53 frames per second in Crysis 3 on a High setting at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.

The laptop's internal fans are quite noisy when running graphically intensive applications. But it never gets uncomfortably warm to touch.

It has excellent battery life, lasting seven hours and seven minutes in the video-loop battery test with the screen set to maximum brightness.

• Verdict: Dell has crafted a very thin yet capable convertible laptop. But the keyboard is shallow and dongles are a must.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2018, with the headline 'Hybrid laptop that is both powerful and sleek'. Print Edition | Subscribe