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Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Hands-on

Dell has doubled down on its successful XPS laptop lineup this year, using CES 2018 to launch not only a revamped version of the ever-popular XPS 13, but also a brand-new XPS 15 2-in-1.

There’s a lot more to the new convertible than just a larger screen size though. It also boasts an impressively slim profile, a new ‘maglev’ keyboard design, and is one of the first laptops to market boasting the new Intel Core processor with integrated Radeon graphics.

We went hands-on with the XPS 15 2-in-1 at CES, and here’s what we thought.

Price and release date

As with just about everything announced at CES, we don’t have totally firm release date and pricing info for the new 15in convertible, but Dell has announced some details of the US launch at least.

The XPS 15 2-in-1 will go in sale in the US in April, with prices starting from $1,299.99 – though we don’t know yet just how much it will cost to buy a top spec model. We also don’t know if the UK can expect an April launch too, but we’ll update this when we have a better idea.

Design and build

The first thing you notice about the XPS 15 2-in-1 is that it’s impressively light and slim for its size. Dell claims it’s the smallest and thinnest 15.6-inch 2-in-1 around, and while we haven’t personally measured them all to check, we can believe it (not least because there aren’t all that many 2-in-1s at this size, but there you go).

Still, make no mistake, this is not an ultraportable machine. It’s light for its size, but still weighs a good chunk more than than its smaller XPS 13 2-in-1 sibling, and this isn’t the sort of device you’d want to carry around with you everywhere you go.

Part of the reduced form factor is down to the bezel-less InfinityEdge touchscreen display, which leaves as little wasted space as possible (except a chunk at the bottom), but the biggest changes are to the main chassis, where Dell has saved space thanks to a combination of the Intel-AMD chip, and a new ‘maglev’ keyboard design.

The mechanism uses opposing magnets underneath the keys, rather than switches or membranes, with the intention of making the keys feel deeper than their 0.7mm travel really suggests.

It’s a design destined to prove divisive, feeling not too dissimilar to Apple’s butterfly keyboard. It’s far from the worst keyboard around, but it’s not the best either – it suffers from a direct comparison to the keys on the new XPS 13, which boasts one of the better keyboards around, leaving us wondering if the fractional reduction in weight and depth really justifies the maglev mechanism.

Finally, ports – as you’d expect with a slimmed down design in 2018, this is USB Type-C only, but you get four of them (including two with Thunderbolt 3 support), along with a headphone jack and microSD card slot.

The model we tested boasted a silver aluminium casing with a black carbon fibre interior, and Dell hasn’t announced plans for any other colour options. Still, the one available finish looks slick and modern, and will feel familiar to anyone who’s used any recent XPS laptop.

Specs and features

If the maglev keyboard is one half of the XPS 15 2-in-1’s compact body, the other is the brand-new Intel Core Kaby Lake chip with a built-in Radeon Vega GPU.

The chip – the first partnership between Intel and AMD in decades – promises the sort of performance you’d normally expect from a discrete graphics card without having to take up all that space. That means thinner, lighter laptops that still have the necessary power for gaming or, more likely in the case, demanding creative work.

The chips are just 1.7mm thin, leaving a lot more space in the chassis, and also include 4GB of HBM2 RAM and power optimisations – though Dell hasn’t announced any estimates for the XPS 15 2-in-1’s battery life.

We didn’t get the chance to put the chip through its paces on the show floor, but we’re expecting good things, and will test it thoroughly when we get a device in for a full review.

Configuration options include a Core i5 or i7, 8GB or 16GB RAM, 128GB to 1TB SSD storage, and the option of either a 1080p or 4K display.

The model we tested included the 4K option, which seemed crisp and bright, with a great range of colour reproduction – even coping pretty well under the garish lights of CES.

There’s also support for Dell’s Active Pen stylus (though that’s sold separately) cementing that this is a device that has professional creatives in mind, who might benefit most from the combination of processing power, convertible form factor and (relatively) portable design.

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