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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: A knockout blow to the Microsoft Surface Pro?

Is it a tablet or is it a computer? One thing’s for sure, though, that the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop is an everyday workhorse for the casual consumer

The keyboard case has magnets that prop up the display
The keyboard case has magnets that prop up the display

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It’s not often that a next-gen gadget gets a radical overhaul but it happened during the second half of 2022. Dell took the plunge with the XPS 13 2-in-1 (2022) and decided to make some major changes to the design. From being a traditional convertible (like the Lenovo Yoga 9i, which I recently reviewed) at its birth in 2017, the XPS 13 2-in-1 has transformed into a Surface Pro-esque form factor. 

It’s a Windows tablet with an attachable (using magnets) keyboard case. Unlike the Surface Pro, the XPS 13 2-in-1 is an all-in-one package, meaning that the keyboard case comes with the tablet and cannot be purchased separately. In the USA, it is possible to purchase both the Surface Pro and XPS 13 2-in-1 sans their keyboard attachments, but in India, only Microsoft gives you this option, not Dell. The XPS 13 2-in-1, unfortunately, is only available in a single colour configuration: Sky.

Having owned a Surface Pro 7+ for a few months last year, and currently rocking the Surface Pro 8 for over a year, I can safely say that I’m very familiar with this new(ish) form factor. Not many Surface Pro-esque competitors exist in the market and the XPS 13 2-in-1 is the first to challenge Microsoft’s market share head-on.

While the Surface Pro has a kickstand built into the back of the tablet, the XPS 13 2-in-1’s incorporates the kickstand into the attachable keyboard. This means that while the Surface Pro can stand on its own, the XPS 13 2-in-1 cannot. One advantage of the XPS 13 2-in-1 is that it is thinner (a couple of millimetres) and lighter (about 50g) when measuring just the tablets themselves.

The XPS 2-in-1 isn’t for gamers. Neither is it for professional content creators. Instead, it’s an everyday workhorse for the casual consumer. I’ve been using the XPS 13 2-in-1 model which comes with an Intel Core i5 12th-gen processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and retails for 1,39,990 (with the folio backlit keyboard included). 

Dare I say it, but this is a cheaper and equally good, if not a better model than the Surface Pro 8/Suface Pro 9. The Surface Pro 9 with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD is available on Amazon for 1,69,999 (without the Type Cover accessory). You get the drift.

An excellent design

Is it a tablet or is it a computer? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the duration of my time with the XPS 13 2-in-1. The design borrows a lot from Apple’s iPad Pro with sharper corners and uniform bezels. In landscape mode, the volume buttons are located on the top left while the power button is in the top right corner. Something smart from Dell is that the volume buttons will adjust depending on how the tablet is being used.

You’ll only find two Thunderbolt 4 ports on the left-hand side and that’s about it. Weighing in at under 3 pounds, this fanless design is lighter and quieter than the Surface Pro 9. It’s one of my favourite designs for a 2-in-1 laptop as it is versatile and can be used in many different iterations. The keyboard case has magnets that prop up the display. The magnets at the back of the tablet help the display prop up at three different angles. This is very limited, in my opinion, and one hopes that Dell goes with a kickstand for the next iteration of the 2-in-1 as that would be better suited for when using it on a lap.

It’s a tablet as it resembles the iPad Pro a lot, but it’s also a computer thanks to the folio keyboard case.

Display: The bright and luminous 13-inch 3:2 3K display

One of the highlights of the XPS 13 2-in-1 is the gorgeous 13-inch 3:2 3K display. It’s a 2880x1920 screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The correct aspect ratio is 16:10 or 3:2, and I’m glad a lot of tablets/laptops are using it these days. When held vertically, the screen is wider, which is better for reading. The display uses Gorilla Glass Victus and an anti-reflective property for better readability.

The display is bright (with a maximum brightness of 500nits) and has good colour accuracy. It’s great for viewing content, playing casual games, and scrolling through social media apps. It was useable even in outdoor environments which is always a plus point.

Performance: Breezes through day-to-day tasks

With a Core i5 and 16GB of RAM, the XPS 13 2-in-1 breezes through daily tasks. Whether it is browning over 30 tabs on Google Chrome or editing photos or even playing casual games such as Trackmania Nations Forever, the XPS 13 2-in-1 never stutters and neither does it heat up to any uncomfortable levels.

There’s a noticeable drop in performance when pushing the XPS 13 2-in-1 to its limits. If you’re editing videos or trying to play games like Battlefield 2042, then you can expect some throttling. It is due to the fanless design of the XPS 13 2-in-1. 

The dual speakers are well-tuned for media consumption and get pretty loud. With a 5MP webcam, making conference calls becomes a pleasure as call and video quality is the best of all XPS devices. It also supports Windows Hello for logging in.

Battery life was middling at best. With medium-usage pattern day-to-day, I noticed I was getting just five and a half hours out of the XPS 13 2-in-1. Nothing great, but also, not the worst I’ve seen in a laptop for 2022.

Keyboard: Could have been better

While Microsoft’s Surface Type Cover keyboard props up, Dell’s folio keyboard lies flat. This means that the former provides a much more comfortable typing experience than the latter. My fingers also glide over the keys of the Surface Type Cover more than the folio keyboard. The touchpad on the folio is quite good as it has solid button clicks.

Next generation XPS 13 2-in-1

For Gen 2 of the XPS 13 2-in-1, I have two wishes from the Dell research and development team and I hope they can learn from the competition around them. First, I’d like a built-in kickstand as that provides more flexibility concerning the angles I can prop the display at. Second, I’d like a non-flat keyboard, something which Microsoft learnt many years ago. A much better typing experience would go a long way, especially for writers like me. I’m hoping my hands won’t get as easily tired on Gen 2 as they currently do while typing a couple of articles back-to-back

Should you buy it?

Thanks to the included folio keyboard, the XPS 13 2-in-1 becomes a complete device. It’s perfect for those who want a portable tablet that doesn’t weigh the backpack down.

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a cheaper, and more well-rounded Surace Pro 2-in-1. It also doesn’t provide many reasons to pick it over the Surface Pro 9.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 has a fantastic display, great performance, a superb webcam, and decent battery life. It’s far cheaper than the Surface Pro 9 and provides better specs - 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD, and more. If you’re sold on the form factor, then the price might just sway you to pick this up over the Surface Pro 9.

Dell may have redesigned the 2-in-1 this year, making it more attractive and a better buy, but with just a few changes in Gen 2, this could end up outdoing the Microsoft Surface lineup in 2023.

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