- Small, thin, and light
- Excellent screen with a high resolution
- Touch enabled display works well
- Excellent specifications for an 11”
- Good Battery Life
- Runs very cool
- Only two USB ports
- Sound rocker not very useful
- Keyboard takes getting used to
Some products are simply ahead of their time because they employ concepts and ideas that consumers aren’t willing to accept. The Dell XPS 11 initially fell into this category, a statement which is reinforced by the fact Dell introduced the original XPS 11 in June 2013 and discontinued it just 6 months later. Originally the XPS 11 was offered as either an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 model with the latter costing a hefty $1499. Currently the laptop can be purchased for $899 or less online. At this price point the Dell XPS 11 becomes a very attractive Ultrabook considering its specifications and form factor. As such it may warrant a second look.
The Dell XPS 11 is marketed as a 2-in-1 because of the XPS 11’s ability to be folded back into a tablet style form. In this mode the XPS 11 is still highly usable due its touchscreen and high resolution. The screen of the XPS 11 will also automatically reorient itself into portrait or landscape mode depending on how you hold it. Marketing spin aside, the XPS does indeed function quite well in both modes.
The construction and design of the Dell XPS 11 is a mixed bag for most consumers. On one hand you have a sturdy, ultra slim, light weight, and robust design made of carbon fiber and aluminum that allows the XPS 11 to be used in two different modes. On the other hand you have a screen with too much flexibility, an oddly styled keyboard (more on that later), and an overly large screen bezel. One of the nicest things I can say about the build quality of the XPS 11 is that the bottom half of the notebook is very sturdy with no flex and a nice tight build.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about the screen. It has an excellent resolution for an 11-inch notebook (2560 X 1440), but the enclosure’s build quality is concerning. There is far too much flexibility in the screen. This could lead to early breakage if the laptop is continually opened from a side instead of the center. The flex hasn’t prevented my normal use of the XPS 11, and the screen may survive for years thanks to the Corning Gorilla Glass covering the screen, but I would’ve liked to see a more sturdy design with less flex.
Additionally, the bezel around the screen is nowhere near optimal. The unusually wide bezel is supposed to provide space for your fingers to hold the screen in tablet mode, but it’s easily a half inch too wide all around. On the upside, the Windows logo beneath the screen is actually functional, switching the laptop between desktop and metro modes when touched. It also provides haptic feedback when used.
Ports and Features
A closer look at XPS 11 frame reveals that it’s feature rich and port poor. A quick look at the ports reveals only two USB 3.0 ports (one on each side), an HDMI port, a full SD card slot, a single headphone port, and an up/down volume rocker. While this is good for a tablet, it isn’t so impressive for a notebook. The inclusion of at least one additional USB port on either side would’ve been very useful. Many accessories require dual USB power/data inputs to work correctly and won’t work with the XPS 11 because the dual cable can’t reach both sides of the notebook.
In terms of usability, it’s important to mention the power button (on the front edge of the laptop) isn’t easy to push when in laptop mode due to the slim design. I understand that Dell was likely going for the ease of use for tablet mode, but I’m sure there had to be a better location for the button. This is a small complaint but one you’ll likely have every time you want to cycle the power on the XPS 11.
The Dell-branded AC adapter comes with two optional wall plugs and is modular in nature. You can opt for the standard three pronged extension cable to the wall, or for the space conscious you can plug in the AC to Wall adapter which saves space, weight, and allows for vertical and horizontal plugging in. This is definitely a design win for Dell and more manufacturers should include such an adapter with their devices.
Keyboard and Touchpad
First and foremost, the initial reviews dinged the XPS 11 for its oddball keyboard, which was reportedly difficult to use. This stems from the fact that the keys on the XPS 11 don’t actually depress. They’re touch sensitive and the laptop announces key presses with an audible tone. As a user, this means your only indication of successful entry is an audible tone or looking at the screen to see if your entry appears on the screen or the key action occurs. This departure from the standard can be a difficult adjustment.
Personally I stopped having issues using the keyboard after a little more than one week. I think if you can adapt to gadgets and technology, then this new interface will work fine for you. The mechanical, or moving key style, keyboard may eventually be replaced with a travel-less keyboard on more 2-in-1 laptops, so the sooner people adapt to this type of technology the better. The bottom line though is this new style keyboard takes time to get used to.
While I generally prefer chiclet style keyboards, I found using the XPS 11’s keyboard to be much easier than I anticipated. The entire keyboard surface is coated in a layer of silicone, giving it a pleasantly soft finish. The keys are raised islands separated by glossy plastic that helps you locate and hit the correct keys.
The touchpad is powered by Synaptics drivers and is just the right combination of size, sensitivity, and feel. The right and left click portions of the touchpad are done very well and there’s great feedback without being overly clicky.