back to article Review: Dell XPS 12 Windows 8 tablet-cum-Ultrabook

Making a laptop with a screen that spins within its bezel isn’t a new idea. Early in 2011, Dell tried the trick with its Inspiron Duo netbook, but sadly that proved to be a woefully poor device. Now Dell is trying again, this with Ultrabook hardware and Windows 8 as the basic ingredients. It helps that, unlike the Duo, the new …

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  1. NogginTheNog
    Thumb Down

    Close but

    I'm in the market for a new laptop, and for a grand I was tempted... until I read about the (lack of) connectivity. Doh!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Close but

      Then buy a laptop. These half way house devices are exactly that and are always compromised one way or another. They were tried years ago and failed miserably, the only difference now is that they have win 8 and better touch support as such. Still a poor choice, buy a dedicated laptop or tablet depending on your needs.

      1. DrXym

        Re: Close but

        I think it's probably right to omit ethernet from the device but I'm sure Dell could have tossed a dongle in which offered it through USB or thunderbolt.

        1. big_D Silver badge
          Stop

          Re: Close but

          At home, I have an 802.11n wi-fi router and gigabit switch. In my office, 5M away, I get 12kbps from the router - old house! At work, I don't have any wi-fi.

          Wi-fi is fine, when I'm in the lounge, but when I'm actually working, it needs a cabled connection.

          I'm tempted by the XPS12 and with a USB->Ethernet adapter, it might be useful.

  2. The FunkeyGibbon
    Thumb Down

    The lack of Ethernet is a killer

    I'll accept that from my tablet but not a laptop of any description. It's one of the things that make the Air a bad idea, the only way to connect that by a hard wired connection is via a dongle and with that you get a less-than-stunning 10\100 connection. Whoop.

    It's a shame because otherwise this looks like a nice device.

    1. Gary Riches

      Re: The lack of Ethernet is a killer

      Not sure if you're talking about the Air or this Dell machine, but there is a gigabit ethernet adaptor for the Macbook line, but it has to have the new Thunderbolt port.

      1. Prof Denzil Dexter

        Re: The lack of Ethernet is a killer

        Carrying adapters everywhere kinda negates the point of having a portable device though.

        1. Steve Todd
          Stop

          Re: The lack of Ethernet is a killer

          So bulky, heavy and unwieldy aren't they? Not!

          1. Prof Denzil Dexter

            Re: The lack of Ethernet is a killer

            If thats your opinion, I take it you feel you may as well just have one on board USB port and make anything run through a USB hub?

            Personally, on a portable device I like it to be portable. The grief of having to carry unavoidable stuff (PSU/external HDD/optical drive/Mice, etc (delete as appropriate) doesn't need to be worsened, and the port is small and cheap enough that theres not a lot of reasoning to remove it.

            So, yeah, your opinion may vary, but not having an on board eth is a factor in my decision to buy. Ethernet is a pretty standard medium in an office environment so i wouldn't want it as an extra.

            1. Steve Todd
              Stop

              Re: The lack of Ethernet is a killer

              You're in a habit of dragging your laptop around without a case? If you've got a case then you've got space for both of the adaptor cables we're talking about. RJ45 connectors aren't tiny, and neither is HDMI. For compact use you need a compact connector, plus some sort of adaptor/cable to full size.

              Likewise optical media are dying out. For most people there is little need for an optical drive any more. If you're part of the limited set that still need it then there are still machines that suit your needs, but in a bigger, heavier package. You pays your money and you takes your chance, but don't assume that you're in the majority here.

              1. David Ward 1

                Re: The lack of Ethernet is a killer

                "You're in a habit of dragging your laptop around without a case?" for the last 2 years for my 10" baby laptop at least, yes. RJ45 and HDMI are tiny compared to this chassis, as is a clip to hold a removable battery, all could be integrated into this footprint. Agree the optical drive is not an option without compromising the design though.

        2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: The lack of Ethernet is a killer

          A USB-Ethernet dongle in the office if you need that, leave it on your desk and use wireless when you're away from the office. I use wi-fi all the time at home, why wouldn't you? Or get a spare home dongle if you like.

          But I have an RSI-like keyboard disability so I'm lusting after a true tablet, whose lighter weight is a vast advantage for carry-around use. I also want a Wacom stylus. On the other hand, there's a lot to not like in Windows 8, and the Windows 7 tablet that I got has bad bugs; stylus is intermittent and the darned thing frequently freezes for a full minute. Maybe I got one bad one. But it's an expensive experiment.

          Hey, you know on some PCs you have to press a special key to boot from a USB device? Didja try that? Also, try SystemRescueCD. It's not great for apps but it usually takes you from "doesn't run Linux at all" to "doesn't run Linux well", at least. You can get a command line although you may not want that.

          1. RICHTO
            Linux

            Re: The lack of Ethernet is a killer

            "But I have an RSI-like keyboard disability"

            Long term Linux user then?

  3. hitmouse

    Acer Travelmate

    I had an Acer Travelmate tablet/laptop in 2005 that wasn't so different. The C204TMi, which I bought in the UK and used for several years had a screen that slid forward over the keyboard to get into tablet mode.

    It probably would have last a bit longer if Acer's sales & support weren't so rubbish.

  4. Prof Denzil Dexter

    No Eth, No HDMI, No sale

    Fancy enough looking but these hybrids still feel like a jack of all trades gimmick.

    No HDMI means no discerning media whore is gonna get it. And no ethernet port is gonna seriously affect its use as a business tool.

    I'll have to stick to my £200 notebook for now...

    1. mm0zct
      Facepalm

      Re: No Eth, No HDMI, No sale

      displayport -> hdmi/dvi/vga adapters are cheap enough, in the order of £10-15. If you're spending £1000 on a laptop you can afford £10 for a display adapter, and yes displayport -> hdmi will support the audio component also, so no need to get your panties in a twist over the laptop being no good for media.

      Similarly a usb->ethernet adapter is ~£5-15 if you need it. Personally I'm a big fan of wired ethernet too, but ti's not the end of the world to have to use a usb one, at least both the ports are usb 3.0.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who wants to ....

    Run spyware like Ubuntu on a machine of this class. If you're going to buy quality hardware like this, run a proper OS - the fantastic Windows 8 all the way. Thus freetards need not apply.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who wants to ....

      Lolz at 'fantastic' and 'Windows 8'.

    2. Matthew 25
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Who wants to ....

      "the fantastic Windows 8 all the way"

      Thanks! New keyboard please.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who wants to ....

      Seriously though, what do you replace the crapware a semi-decent portable comes with with? Windows 7? Bet you can't get all the drivers you need. Wait for someone to port OSX to it? No ta. So some Linux distro is the only realistic alternative for the time being.

      1. Martin
        Happy

        The fantastic Windows 8 all the way....

        fan·tas·tic

        /fanˈtastik/ Adjective

        1.Imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality.

        2.Of extraordinary size or degree.

        Synonyms

        fantastical - fanciful - fancy - bizarre

        Sounds about right to me....

      2. keithpeter Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Who wants to ....

        @AC 1424

        Alas, it has started... the chap tried booting off the Ubuntu stick and no boot. UEFI? Just change a BIOS setting?

  6. Steve Todd
    Stop

    What's with this "it must have a Gigabit Ethernet port" fetish?

    You can now buy perfectly good USB 3 gigabit dongles, and Apple do their own Thunderbolt -> gigabit adaptor. Both of these are no more bulky than an adaptor cable that you'd need to put a physical port on a compact machine. Hardly a show stopper.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: What's with this "it must have a Gigabit Ethernet port" fetish?

      Oh, and while I'm at it, DisplayPort is a superset of HDMI, you can buy cheap and simple adaptors that will let you plug it in to HDMI devices.

      1. Danny 14

        Re: What's with this "it must have a Gigabit Ethernet port" fetish?

        indeed, I have an XPS 15 with DP and that displays to HDMI (and VGA projectors) just fine. The adapters are not too unreasonably sized. It should be noted that the XPS15 only has 2 USB ports too.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's with this "it must have a Gigabit Ethernet port" fetish?

      Because it is another level of crappy adaptors you need to have. And also it ties you to OS choice/versions for which your USB/Thunderbolt/whatever to Ethernet bridge actually works well (if at all) on.

      Come on, a RJ45 socket is not *that* big!

      1. Steve Todd
        Stop

        Re: What's with this "it must have a Gigabit Ethernet port" fetish?

        RJ45's aren't big? You're kidding right? You need at least 14mm, plus some space for the board and the case. You can fit 2 USB ports into the same height. Did there look to be space for two USB ports (one on top of the other, not edge to edge) on the Dell?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What's with this "it must have a Gigabit Ethernet port" fetish?

          Dell say "Height 8-20mm" so it is not impossible, given the total size, to have something RJ45-ish in there.

          Is it really so important to have a few mm off a thing you wont ever slide in to a tight hole anyway, compared to supporting standard connectors?

    3. Kwac

      Re: What's with this "it must have a Gigabit Ethernet port" fetish?

      Yet another bloody dongle to misplace/lose.

    4. elaar

      Re: What's with this "it must have a Gigabit Ethernet port" fetish?

      It's not a show stopper, just incredibly irritating when a lot of folk (which surprises you even though people keep commenting on the fact) use ethernet constantly. I use my Ethernet port more often than a USB port, hence why it bugs me when I see numerous new laptops with no ethernet port and yet numerous USB ports.

      So it's not a show stopper, but can you not see why it irritates people when a) They need to buy extra gear to use a popular connectivity method, and b) remember to carry this adapter/dongle (no matter how small) around with them.

  7. AceRimmer
    Paris Hilton

    I really hope

    That isn't a pube stuck to the keyboard in the in photo

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are other Linux distros besides Ubuntu...

    ...as long as there weren't any real show-stoppers on the hardware front, I wouldn't mind seeing Arch running on this fella. It even makes my venerable Eee 701SD run smoothly, so I bet Arch would go like the proverbial off a clean shovel on an XPS 12.

    Wonder if anyone's managed to install it on one of these yet?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There are other Linux distros besides Ubuntu...

      True, but in my experience Ubuntu has been one of the better ones for installing without hassle. Well done for the reviewer to point this out - for me a laptop that can't have alternative OS installed on is just not an option (add to the the lack of gigabit Ethernet). No sale for me Dell!

      1. Tim Walker

        Re: There are other Linux distros besides Ubuntu...

        ["Arch guy" again] I agree - Ubuntu makes a lot of effort on the easy-to-install/use front, and Arch isn't recommended for the "newbie" (nor does it claim to be). On the other hand, I was writing "off" this sentence in the review:

        "Trying to boot Ubuntu off a USB stick proved equally fruitless. In short, this is not a machine for the home tinkerer or the more casual Linux buff."

        Arch is a great distro for customising a lean and fast installation (especially on more limited hardware), but you do really need at least some idea of the "nuts and bolts" of Linux to get the best out of it.

        1. Cameron Colley

          Re: There are other Linux distros besides Ubuntu...

          I suspect the inability to boot Ubuntu is due to UEFI and/or Secure Boot (more likely the latter) as mandated by Microsoft for Windows 8.

          AFAIK it's not yet possible to boot Linux without disabling Secure Boot, which then prevents Windows 8 from installing.

          I dare say someone has done it, but until Canonical, RedHat, the Linux foundation et. al. get around to adding it to the installers "normal" users are out of luck.

  9. the-it-slayer
    Thumb Down

    Stuff the lack of connectivity... a swivel screen? WHAT?

    Seriously, anyone who thinks that swivel screen is a good idea is silly. Regardless of the materials used, they're rubbish and break easy. Especially with latches that will snap off with any excessive force. It's just another thing to go wrong and makes the tablet mode pointless being really heavy and bulky to use.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stuff the lack of connectivity... a swivel screen? WHAT?

      Yeah I wonder what it's going to be like after being swivelled 500-1000 times - or just outside warranty... seems a compromise - either get a Macbook Air (or similar ultra notebook ) and save some weight / bulk or get a tablet.

      1. Dave 126

        Re: Stuff the lack of connectivity... a swivel screen? WHAT?

        Yeah, that swivel... my gut instinct is that I prefer the Lenovo Yoga form-factor... nice and simple, fewer moving parts. I have no reason to think that this Dell will fail, though.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How retro

    I spy Eurostile typeface for the key legends.

    Meh, its too heavy for a tablet and not enough ports for a proper laptop. no doubt battery life will suck balls too once Win 8 has attracted all the barnacles it needs to make it function adequately.

    I'm waiting for a laptop the screen just comes right off with a wireless link to the body which can thus still have a sensible spec.

    1. Steve Foster

      Re: How retro

      "I'm waiting for a laptop the screen just comes right off with a wireless link to the body which can thus still have a sensible spec."

      Depending on whether the new Atoms are anything useful or not, and providing you are looking for a tablet(ish) sized screen, the HP Envy X2 might be an interesting option.

    2. Mark 65

      Re: How retro

      Yep, I saw this

      "the Dell machine is certainly light enough for prolonged two-handed use in tablet form."

      and laughed. 1.45kg light enough for prolonged use. I think not. Great if you're into weight training.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How retro

        I know that geeks don't exactly have a reputation for physical prowess, but ISTM that a trip to the gym (or failing that, being a parent) would solve your lack of arm or shoulder strength if you struggle to hold a 3lb device for any length of time.

  11. Lamont Cranston

    I've no use for this,

    but the keyboard looking like it was borrowed from an old, scientific calculator, has cheered me up no end. Now, can someone please install Win8 on Major Morgan, or a Speak'n'Spell?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: I've no use for this,

      I quite like the retro font.

      The keyboard on the Thinkpad reminds me a little of the old BBC Micro leyboards.

      Then I did get a C64x case.

      Though for this, I'll stick to my Asus Transformer for my tablet to notebook needs.

      1. Lamont Cranston
        Happy

        Re: I've no use for this,

        Retro all the way! If I had my old Amiga lying around, I'd happily rip the innards out and hide my RPi inside - having a keyboard sitting under my telly is already making me smile, having an ugly, beige keyboard, with a large backside, could only make my smile wider.

  12. JDX Gold badge

    Looks cool but...

    ... like looking cool is pretty much it. Like it would be great to see someone using it in a TV show but rather pointless to own.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      Re: Looks cool but...

      Tablets on TV shows are so 2 years ago.

      They'll be portable 3D holographic transparent displays that can upscale a grainy CCTV image to catch a numberplate (lisence plate) from the reflection on a window.

  13. K
    Thumb Down

    Docking Station...

    Could have resolved all the connectivity problems that people are bitching about!

    I doubt Dell though of that and its a great shame really, I'm yet to see a true "Business class". I work with a laptop and have docking stations at the office and home, so I get the benefit of every connectivity you can think of, along with portability when I need it.

    1. AceRimmer

      Re: Docking Station...

      It has USB 3.0 so you can use a port replicater stuffed into one of the two USB 3.0 ports

      Most manufacturers seem to be going this way, rather than the propriety docking stations.

      1. AceRimmer

        Re: Docking Station...

        Thumbs down for stating a fact...

        is that because you disagree with the USB3.0 port replicators?

        or

        was I wrong?

        or

        Did I deliver the message in a less than pleasing manner?

        1. Dave 126

          Re: Docking Station...

          Dunno, maybe someone hit the wrong button.

          My laptop has 6 USB 2.0 ports... but sometimes I still want a little hub. Why? Because memory sticks stick out too much, and are easily knocked. The 'nano' receiver is okay, but its predecessor was too big, and had to be removed (and usually mislaid) between home and work.

          What I envisaged at the time was a little USB hub within a pouch, that could be tethered to the Kensington lock socket, so my dongles and the like were kept safe and near, yet couldn't damage my USB ports in transit.

          Next up: Modify my dummy ExpressCard so that it becomes a safe place to store SD cards. Who needs a 3D printer when you have glue and Duck tape?

          (Heck, this laptop has such an abundance of ports and sockets... it must be nearly obsolete!)

  14. ukgnome
    Joke

    about as useful as......

    I hear that they are also embedding a touch screen into a slab of chocolate. Apparently it's good for 90 seconds before you're covered in the sticky stuff.

  15. IGnatius T Foobar
    Thumb Down

    It runs Windows 8 and therefore is crap

    Windows 8 is a non starter. If you want a device that is equally capable with or without a keyboard, buy an Asus Transformer.

    1. Danny 14

      Re: It runs Windows 8 and therefore is crap

      Whilst I cannot stand windows 8 in non-touchscreen mode your comment is just foolish.

      An asus transformer connects to a domain just brilliantly doesnt it? It also prints to lots of different printers too. Scanning a document into an asus transformer is childs play. Photoshop runs great on an asus transformer (full fat photoshop that is) Oh wait a minute.

      Like most things, it is a tool, use it how you will but android/ios or W8 wont do everything you want.

    2. SpitefulGOD

      Re: It runs Windows 8 and therefore is crap

      Read what you said back to yourself... now... hang your head in shame... "Equally capable" I suppose this sort of idiocy was inevitable after opening the internet up to every Tom, Dick and Harry..

  16. Steve Foster
    WTF?

    Typical!

    Finally, a PC manufacturer gets a sensible resolution in a device, and promptly (mostly) stuffs up the rest of it...

  17. Danny 14

    bargain not.

    a grand? Ouch! For that sort of money you could buy a galaxy tab 2 7", an ipad AND an acer i5 laptop.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: bargain not.

      Macbook with "retina" screen please.

      1. Danny 14

        Re: bargain not.

        can you even get those for a grand?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: bargain not.

          List price is £1449 for the 13" retina macbook but this Dell (as tested) was £1299 and Amazon UK themselves (not a marketplace vendor) are currently selling the Macbook 13" retina for £1299.

  18. Dana W
    Thumb Down

    By all means blame Apple for the modern trend of no optical drives and un-removable batteries. But NOT for "compromise" Devices like this. They have the sense to not try and force feed a tablet solution to a desktop market. Apple at least understands the reason for separate devices and OS.

    Tablets and laptops. Two good things that go bad together.

    Tablet laptop hybrids are the worst of both worlds. The thinness and lightness requirements of a tablet tend to make for a high cost, poorly featured laptop And the folding and spinning screens required to cover the keyboard make for a device that is far too fragile for really heavy, robust laptop use. And of course, the less said about the Metro/Modern interface, the better.

  19. Paul Anderson

    Atom Clovertrail

    Why are they not building these hybrids with the Atom Clovertrail SoC ? Come on Dell! Lighter, quieter and more battery time.

  20. Blitterbug
    Unhappy

    Too many pubes

    Would it have been too much to ask for you to clean the pubes & grease off before taking the snaps? It's something they do all the time over at Ars; lovingly-taken high def piccies that really show off every grungy chunk that fell from the reviewer's spoinky fingers. Ugh!

    First principle of product shots: clean the feckin' thing first!

    1. NumptyScrub

      Re: Too many pubes

      quote: "Would it have been too much to ask for you to clean the pubes & grease off before taking the snaps?"

      Since the point of the photo (according to the photo tagline) was to highlight the fingerprint-magnet qualities of the matt finish around the keyboard, I can only agree with you on the pube part. The grease was apparently deliberate x.x

      1. Blitterbug
        Unhappy

        Re: Too many pubes

        Fairy nuff. Didn't actually read the tagline but tbh most kit these days is a grease magnet, specially ultrabooks. I have to keep a cloth in the bag and use it pretty much every day. Which makes me a bit OCD I suppose... I jumped on the pic mainly because of the unsightly hair, which I *hope* is an eyebrow hair or eye lash!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Arguments over the Transformer aside.....

    I do think the Transformer form factor is the way forward for tablet/notebook hybrids. Whether the technology is up to putting everything but the keyboard and ports into something the size of the Dell's screen is another matter.

  22. Fuzz

    tiles

    So on the windows 8 TIFKAM start screen vetically do you get...

    3 tiles like you can see on the Dell video

    4 tiles as shown on your photos

    or 5 tiles as you would expect on a 1080p screen

    I'm tempted by this device but I don't really want or need the tablet part. If Dell made this device for a bit less money just as a laptop and with a matte screen I'd take it, but paying for the "flipping screen" (this is what you'll call it in 2 years time when the connection wears out) which I can only see myself using for the first week seems stupid.

    1. Fuzz

      Re: tiles

      To answer my own question I went to Techradar who have some pictures they took themselves. 2 things are immediately obvious

      1. it's 5 tiles vertically as would be expected for a 1080p screen

      2. That screen is very, very glossy

      the vertical tiles thing is a dead give away that images have been stuck on afterwards.

    2. SpitefulGOD

      Re: tiles

      Buy a vivobook then

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No SD slot

    Thats more of an annoyance for me than lack of ethernet... If imagine for others who own cameras too...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No SD slot

      There are USB adapters - it's not really a big deal. Or get a Macbook Air 13" as that has one.

  24. dave 76

    remember the pcmcia ethernet cards

    all those PCMCIA ethernet cards had dongles for connection but there was a couple that had popout connectors. You had to be careful not to snap it off but it shouldn't be beyond the skill of the manufacturers to bring the concept up to date. I guess they feel that there isn't enough demand for it.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not fussed about lack of ethernet. FTR my IdeaPad Yoga came with a free Wifi bridge thingie....designed for plumbing into archaic hotels that only provide wired internet. Works fine.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's say I'm trying to roll these out in a work environment. How do I image lots of them at once? Can it PXE over WiFi or a USB adapter?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    New Ethernet port needed

    The comments about lack of Ethernet are valid, but the problem is the ancient RJ45 connector standard; its too big and too fragile (the plug side anyway).

    RJ connectors weren't designed to be plugged and unplugged daily; they were intended for fixed telephone apparatus (how often did you move your desk telephone in the 1960s?)

    A new Ethernet connector with smaller form factor and greater resilience is needed; ideally using an "any way round" connector like Apple's "lightning" port (as this greatly reduces the chances of damage during insertion).

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    seriously...

    ..some people sat around a table and agreed the world needs this utter shite?

  29. splatt
    Thumb Up

    70+ negative comments, 0 positive comments, no-one claiming to have actually used it.

    I initially dismissed this, thinking the frame would be way too flimsy. I was quite, quite wrong.

    Having played around with it myself for a few hours, I really like it.

    It's not too heavy to hold in your lap and watch movies and it's easy to browse the 'net with chrome/FF for an hour or two. (if you need to browse the net on a touchscreen for MORE than 2hours, re-examine your life...)

    Although I can't say if the latch'd stand up to 1k+ rotations, the few hours I used it for was completely fine, and the frame was exactly 1.27 bajillion times more sturdy than I expected it to be.

    Lots of people here say it's ugly. Again, I disagree, I think the carbonbibre+aluminium look is gorgeous.

    The HD 4000 graphics can run FarCry3 @ 1024*768 at all-low settings, which means it'll handle KSP + Borderlands perfectly fine and that's all the gaming I do outside of LAN parties.

    And to all the whingers about the ethernet / display dongles... for crying out loud, it's an ultraportable. What do you fucking want?! If you want to be able to plug it in all the time, you ARE going to be carrying around a case for it, and then it already begins to lose the ultraportability.

    If it wasn't for the fact that I'm in the market for a gaming laptop + NAS to replace my ageing rig I use for LAN parties, I'd snaffle this up quick smart.

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