Dell XPS 12 Convertible “Work Productivity Tool”

Ain't she beautiful?
Ain’t she beautiful?

In February of 2013 I received an excellent little … work productivity tool: the Dell XPS 12, Convertible Tablet with Windows 8. I know it’ll be hard, but please hold your applause until the end! In short, I love this thing. I wish I had more opportunity to use it because, the things I don’t like about it are limited to the times in which I can use it, not the hardware itself. Let me explain – no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

The Dell XPS 12 is a solid piece of machinery. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t put this hardware anywhere near its capacity. I don’t develop three dimensional CAD drawings. I don’t game heavily. I don’t run virtual machines with application servers and databases. I’m a fairly “typical” user. I have twenty browser windows, two browsers (Chrome and IE), four or five Word documents, a couple of PowerPoint decks, and an Excel workbook or two with a few thousand entries. This is my typical work day; the only reason it’s not what things look like right now is because I just upgraded to Windows 8.1 and – well – it had to restart.

I’m not going to try and tell you how it compares to like machines – how well its Intel Third Generation Core i5 processor compares to the … uhhh … AMD … uhhh … well you get the point. It’s not my specialty and I simply don’t have the tools to compare it. However, I have no doubt if you wanted to you could find those reviews. No, this is just my feeling of how it worked for me.

Form Factor

The hardware is great. This is a convertible and it has to be able to handle the drops and bangs you’d expect out of a tablettop (that’s what you’d get if Dr. Frankenstein tried to combine a laptop with a tablet) – and yes, everyone has dropped a laptop or tablet once – or twice. Also, the convertible has to be able to change quickly between forms. One minute I’m sitting at my desk writing a blog, the next I’m walking to the kitchen to brew a new pot of coffee – may as well read what I’ve been writing and I don’t want to deal with a difficult task in making that happen.

Metal Hinges - REAL METAL
Metal Hinges – REAL METAL

The XPS performs admirably here. In fact – I just walked to the kitchen, brewed a fresh coffee, and fixed a few typos using nothing but tablet mode. I applaud Microsoft on the keyboard options it put in: from the split keyboard to the “pen” input (yes, third grade English teacher Mrs. Smith, curives is finally useful again!). The hinge on this tablettop (that’s tablet-top, not table-top) is fantastic! I expected a heavy-duty plastic hinge that wouldn’t last but instead got a metal hinge with real screws and software that autosenses when I switch from laptop to tablet with a gyrometer (is that right?) which turns the screen to wherever it needs to go – thank you Sir Isaac for helping us understand gravity.

The screen itself is fairly awesome. Yes, the border is a bit thick. Yes, the machine is a bit heavy. However, this screen is seamless, tough enough to handle my 15 month old’s dirty hands and “toys” she insists on “using” (a.k.a. banging mercilessly) against it. Yes, the screen is a bit too reflective, it can be hard to use in direct sunlight, but the brightness capability is equally fantastic and I rarely can’t use the machine – even in directly daylight.

Windows 8 (and now 8.1)

You can find a thousand reviews of Windows 8, so I’ll keep this short. Windows 8 is not awful – I don’t hate this – I even love certain things about this. However, if I was using a normal laptop or desktop without touchscreen – yeah, I’d be talking about how useless it was. As a touchscreen user, I actually enjoy it. The Modern UI (you know, with the tiles? The “Metro” screen, if Microsoft hadn’t been sued) is a great way to organize your thoughts. You can put files, programs, and live tiles on there, customizing it to your heart’s content! With the 8.1 upgrade that became public recently it gets better! Small tiles! A background to match your desktop background! Better search!  Swipe up for “all programs”! OK – these things get less exciting, but trust me, when you’ve been using without and they suddenly become “features” it’s exciting! Seriously though, using Microsoft Office in tablet mode with bigger buttons, built in gestures, and the ability to touch what you want to interact with, instead of having to use a mouse – this is pretty slick. I will never voluntarily go back to a non-touch screen machine again. This is how computing should be – more use, less thought providing “input”.

The “WOW”

Yes, people think this thing is cool. Walking into meetings, plugging my Mini-Display adapter into a projector, and running presentations using touch screen – these are wow-worthy moments. Flipping between notebooks in One Note, sliding around in a PowerPoint deck, scrolling the internet with the flip of your finger – these are things people want to see in a new platform and be it a client or a coworker they all want to play with my new … work productivity tool. In fact, when I was working out of my employer’s office I completely stopped using my company-issued laptop and used this instead. I only switched back to the ThinkPad when my client site location didn’t allow for wireless connectivity; then the company shut down access for non-official hardware to connect to Outlook – it just became too painful to use it. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed because as much value as I COULD get out of this if more places adopted Bring-Your-Own-Device the most my beautiful tablettop is doing right now is streaming Dallas Stars hockey games via NHL Game Center Live through the Mini Display onto my plasma screen. It’s awesome, but not quite realizing its full potential.

If I ran R&D I would …

There are some things I’m not in love with, but they are minor compared to how much I like this little machine.

  • Great keyboard - decent touchpad
    Great keyboard – decent touchpad

    The keyboard is practically full size, which is great for Mr. Sausage Fingers over here. However, there are no Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down dedicated buttons. Sure, a little Fn fix helps work around the issue, but it’s inconvenient. Not a deal killer by any means. I love the keyboard in general! It’s the right sensitivity – the buttons are the right size – IT GLOWS (yes, there is backlighting on the keys, and I love it!). I just wish there was a way to dedicate the space to these four buttons. Maybe Page Up and Page Down are less important with the use of a touch screen, but end/home? Trust me, I need those!

  • The keyboard based touchpad is REALLY good – it’s HUGE – it’s (again) the right sensitivity – it has multi-touch software and the buttons work great! However, Mr. Sausage Fingers also has rather big – uhhh – you know, the fatty part of your palm where the thumb connects to the hand – that. I have a big fatty one of those and my arms get heavy and damn it if I didn’t just delete HALF my blog by somehow touching that while typing and … thank god for “undo” and “autosave”.
  • That screen – can we build in some anti-glare capability?
  • Potential weak spot - warranty covers it, but it's still a pain.
    Potential weak spot – warranty covers it, but it’s still a pain.

    Those solder points on that mother board need a little strengthening. About six months in I had to send the entire machine back to Dell for a warranty repair because the Mini-Display and power charger stopped working. Turns out the way the machine sits in my lap causes them to bend the solder point and eventually that snapped – at least, that’s my unprofessional opinion of what happened. Because of the hinge you can’t move those to the back but there’s got to be a way to strengthen that.

  • I wish it were a little lighter. I’m torn on this, actually. As a work tool this is the right size. I can easily travel with it, I can use it for presentations, during meetings, at my desk. I can do everything work related I would like to do. I can not, however, use this during my commute. I am usually packed like a sardine on the bus and train during my commute.  I can’t pull out a 13” laptop that is DEFINITELY going to tire my hands and forearms from holding to read the 12th book in the Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy (the only reason I really love my commute – me “reading” time). I can’t work on a PowerPoint deck for a client. I can’t read a draft white paper that I need to provide feedback on. It’s just too heavy for this. I honestly can’t decide if the fix is a smaller device or different expectations – but hey, this is MY wish list J
  • Microsoft – between the Dell XPS 12 and my Nokia 822 Windows Phone 8 I have learned one thing: APPS MATTER! I need access to better apps, and you need to make that happen. Things are slowly getting better but being an early adopter sucks when the apps simply aren’t there – and they simply aren’t there.

Worth it?

Totally worth every penny!
Totally worth every penny!

In one word, yes! If I had to go out and buy a new laptop today this is what I’d buy. Maybe wait until the next generation came out so I can get a full day instead of a half day on that battery, but in a heartbeat yes! This is a great laptop, the hardware is great (other than that one little hiccup, but no worries thanks to the warranty).

Sorry, that was one word: Yes!

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