- Hinge design
- Good battery life
- Sharp screen
- Awful keyboard
- Shaky in tent and stand modes
- Runs hot
Quick TakeA sleek laptop/tablet 2-in-1, the Dell XPS 11 provides solid connectivity and a generally good Windows experience in all modes, but suffers from a terrible keyboard and a bit too high a price.
The convertible Windows 8.1, laptop/tablet 2-in-1, is an interesting idea in a market of detachable keyboards and dual Windows/Android OS systems. Following this paradigm, the Dell XPS 11 is one of only a few models (besides the Lenovo Yoga 11s) to feature a 360-degree hinge design, and this computer makes good use of it, especially as it is lighter than the Yoga. But do the performance and usability of the XPS 11 match up with the sleek, flexible nature of the device?
Build and Design
The Dell XPS 11 is a sharp, light, and sleek-looking machine. At 0.6″ thick and only 2.5 lbs, the XPS 11 is light and thin enough that you can use it strictly as a tablet, but not quite light enough that you’d only want to use it as such. The device is oddly proportioned compared to a traditional notebook, being 11.8″ wide and 7.9″ deep, causing the screen to appear much wider than in other 11” notebooks. The carbon-fiber construction is comfortable to hold and sturdy-feeling, though the silicone palm rest and keyboard began to feel slightly slimy after continued use.
The XPS 11 features four different modes of use thanks to its 360-degree hinge: Laptop, Tent, Stand, and Tablet. These features allow the user to utilize the Windows 8.1 operating system in a few different ways (we like the stand mode for reading sheet music on). However, what it gains in flexibility from this design, the XPS 11 loses in physical stability. The hinges are floppier than we’d like, making using the touchscreen in the tent or stand modes a bit precarious. As well, there are no grips or texturing on the edges of the device, so it easily slides on a tabletop in tent mode. The device switches screen orientation easily enough when the screen is rotated, but it takes a little under a second to fully react when it needs to switch, so it’s not perfectly seamless.
The power button, which is a basic pressure-activated switch, is placed on the front edge of the device, directly under the right palmrest. Though a good placement in tablet mode, it is easy to accidentally press the power button when switching modes or by pushing down a bit too hard in tent mode, thus putting the device to sleep.
Ports and Connectivity
Though it only has two USB 3.0 ports, the device’s overall connectivity is good. A full-sized HDMI port means the XPS 11 can connect to TVs and other HD displays easily, which is something that tablets like the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 lack. Bluetooth 4.0 and an NXP NearFieldProximity (NFP) provider allow the XPS 11 to connect with smartphones and other mobile devices or accessories with ease. A headset jack, 3-in-1 media card reader and Noble lock slot round out the XPS 11’s ports.
|Left: AC Adapter, USB 3.0, HDMI Port, Headset Jack||Right: Card Reader, USB 3.0, Lock Slot|
Display and Speakers
The 11-inch UltraSharp LED touchscreen features a sharp 2560×1440 resolution, but the display is overly reflective. Blacks are rich and deep, colors are vibrant, and the viewing angles are excellent. The screen is a bit unresponsive near the top edge away from the hinge, and fingerprints accumulate easily on its glossy surface. However, generally the multitouch capability worked very well.
The speakers were loud enough for personal use or a small group. Playing classical or metal tracks caused some noticeable hum at high volumes, but YouTube video watching for example would be fine at normal listening volumes. While the included Realtek Waves MAXXAudio 3 sound codec (found in the computer’s settings menu) offers different listening options for Music, Voice, Movies and Gaming, when we played music with vocals through each, the Gaming option sounded the best and clearest overall. Set to Music, the vocals sounded like they were being sung through a thin pillow.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Taking a note from the Surface keyboard, the XPS 11’s chiclet-style keyboard is almost entirely rubberized silicone for ‘comfort’ while in tablet mode, though the material felt sticky and the keys didn’t feel at all responsive. The flat nature of the keys made it hard to know if you actually are pressing the one you need, and there is no ‘snapback’ from them to let you know something’s been pressed. The rationale behind it is to make the computer easier to hold in tablet form, but in notebook form we would have preferred using a USB keyboard (even though that would leave only one USB port remaining). The keys took so much effort to press that our fingers started hurting after typing for only a half hour on it. While it is designed for keys to not break or pop off, if a key does malfunction, it doesn’t appear that the keyboard assembly can be removed easily, as the silicone is fused with the palm rest around it. We would have preferred a keyboard like that featured on the Yoga 2.
The trackpad is a slick, matte black glass which, while it looks like the bottom is the only area you can click, is entirely clickable throughout. It is strange that Dell decided not to use a more rubberized, heavy-duty trackpad, since it is placed in what seems a likely place for users to hold the device when in tablet mode. However, it generally functioned well, responding to two-finger scrolling easily and was responsive to touches close to the edges of the trackpad.