Review

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: The first Intel Ice Lake PC is a winner

Dell's XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible has never been a PC that I'd recommend. The XPS 13 clamshell is fantastic, but historically, Dell has used a Y-series processor in the convertible model. In a market where competitors are using real 15W CPUs in convertibles, I just wouldn't be able to recommend a convertible with a hobbled Y-series chip.

That all changes this year, and it changes in a big way. Announced back in May and available in August, the new XPS 13 2-in-1 not only uses a real U-series processor, but it's the first to use a chip from Intel's 10th-generation, 10nm Ice Lake family. If you go for the Core i7 model, it comes with Iris Plus graphics.

In short, the new model has a quad-core CPU instead of a dual-core chip, a 15W TDP instead of a 5W TDP, and Iris Plus graphics instead of UHD Graphics. The boost in performance is significant.

Specs

CPU Intel Core i7-1065G7 (8MB cache, up to 3.9GHz)
GPU Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Display 13.4-inch FHD+ (1920x1200) InfinityEdge touch display, 500-nit, 100% sRGB color gamut, 1800:1 contrast ratio, 170-degree viewing angle, Dolby Vision
Body 297x207x7-13mm (11.69x8.15x0.28-0.51in), 1.32kg (2.9lbs)
RAM 16GB LPDDR4x SDRAM at 3733MHz
Storage 512GB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
Battery 51WHr battery (Integrated), 45W AC adapter
Ports (2) Thunderbolt 3
3.5mm combo audio
MicroSD
Audio Stereo speakers professionally tuned with Waves MaxxAudio Pro; 2W x 2 = 4W total 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack
Dual array digital microphones; Far-field Cortana capable
Keyboard Full size, backlit MagLev keyboard; 0.7mm travel Precision touchpad, seamless glass integrated button
Windows Hello Windows Hello compliant fingerprint reader in power button
Material/color CNC machined aluminum in platinum silver with carbon fiber composite palm rest in black or with arctic white woven glass fiber palm rest (UV-resistant and stain resistant coating) Edge-to-edge Corning Gorilla Glass 5
OS Windows 10 Home
Price $1,597


While this PC starts at under a thousand dollars, that's with a Core i3-1005G1, 4GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. Also, it doesn't come with the pen, which is kind of a bummer for a premium convertible.

The three CPU options are the Core i3-1005G1, the Core i5-1035G1, and the Core i7-1065G7. Intel changed the way it numbers its parts with Ice Lake, and the 'G' is the level of graphics power. G4 and G7 models are Iris Plus, so keep that in mind; the Core i7 model is much more powerful in terms of graphics performance.

Day one

There's a lot of white coming out of the box here. There's a white box inside of the regular cardboard box, a white 45W USB Type-C charger, and of course, a white laptop. I was disappointed to see that the pen does not, in fact, come in white; that only comes in black. It actually stands out when it's magnetically attached to the PC.

Design

The design of the XPS 13 2-in-1 hasn't changed much; after all, there really isn't much to change. It's a 13-inch PC in a 12-inch PC's chassis. It's one of the smallest bodies around that you'll find on a 13-inch convertible. The dimensions are a bit different now, to compensate for having a 16:10 display instead of 16:9.

It's made out of CNC machined aluminum, with a color called Platinum Silver. It's a slightly darker color than the Frost color of the XPS 13 that I reviewed earlier this year. It goes rather nicely with the white carbon fiber weave interior.

It's no surprise, but Dell doesn't provide a lot of ports on the XPS 13 2-in-1. It never has. On the right side, you'll find just a Thunderbolt 3 port and a 3.5mm combo audio jack.

On the left, there's another Thunderbolt 3 port, and a microSD card slot. The nice thing about having a Thunderbolt 3 port on each side is that you can charge it from whichever side is more comfortable. Most PCs that I've seen with two USB Type-C ports put them on one side (Lenovo puts them on the left, HP puts them on the right), so the ability to choose either side is actually very convenient.

Obviously, Thunderbolt 3 is quite a robust port. You can use a single one of them to power two 4K displays or a single 5K display, or you can use one to connect an external GPU. The port supports up to a 40Gbps data transfer speed. If you want, you can use one of them for an external GPU, the other for dual 4K monitors, and you can turn this thing into a powerhouse.

InfinityEdge Display and Waves MaxxAudio Pro

As usual, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 has an InfinityEdge display, meaning that it has incredibly narrow bezels on all sides for an 84.9% screen-to-body ratio. One thing that's changed this time around is that it's now a 13.4-inch 16:10 display, instead of a 13.3-inch 16.9 display. The larger aspect ratio is better for using the PC in portrait orientation, something that you're likely to do with a machine that can be used as a tablet.

As far as resolution is concerned, It comes in either 1920x1200 or 3840x2400, and Dell sent me the former. You can go for 4K UHD if you want the prettier screen, or you can go for FHD if you want better battery life. But Dell makes a great display either way. I noted in my review of this year's XPS 15 that even though that machine comes in OLED now, it almost doesn't make a difference, because the non-OLED panels are so good to begin with.

The brightness goes up to 500 nits, so it does great in direct sunlight. There isn't too much of a glare either, as you can see from the image above. It has a 170-degree viewing angle, so you can look at it from any side with no color distortion.

Dell also has something called Dell Cinema. This is a combination of CinemaColor, CinemaSound, and CinemaStream. CinemaColor is using HDR400 and Dolby Vision HDR standards, producing more vibrant colors, deeper blacks, and so on.

CinemaSound is using Waves MaxxAudio Pro, and it's pretty good. In fact, the clarity of the audio is excellent. Like many laptops, the speakers don't get particularly loud, but they get the job done. Just don't use the laptop to play music for a crowded room. The four speakers are placed underneath the body of the laptop, so it's actually a bit louder in tablet mode, with the speakers facing you.

Finally, CinemaStream uses Killer Wireless to prioritize your bandwidth for streaming video. It's similar to what's been done for games in gaming laptops.

All-in-all, Dell provides an excellent display/audio experience. It's a great machine for streaming media, with an immersive display and crystal clear audio. And of course, it makes for a pleasant experience to work on as well.

One thing that you'll notice is that the webcam is now placed above the screen, rather than below it. This is something that Dell started doing with the XPS 13 clamshell earlier this year. It shrunk down the webcam to fit it in the narrow top bezel. Unfortunately, this also means that there's no more IR camera for facial recognition, a feature that was only introduced last year.

MagLev keyboard and Precision trackpad

Last year when I reviewed the XPS 15 2-in-1, it had something called a MagLev keyboard, which uses magnets to provide key resistance in a shallow keyboard. I didn't like it. It took some getting used to, which was fine, but if I used a regular keyboard for a while, I'd have to get used to the MagLev keyboard all over again.

The new XPS 13 2-in-1 has a second-generation MagLev keyboard, and I actually love it. The keyboard is still shallow at 0.7mm, but it feels a lot better. Dell really nailed down the proper resistance for a shallow keyboard like this one. I've been using this PC for about two weeks now, and I've used it in all types of situations. I really love the typing experience.

Another thing I'll point out is that it's an edge-to-edge keyboard. It doesn't feel like it's too small, despite the smaller body size.

The Precision trackpad is clickable, which is nice for a laptop that comes in such a small chassis. It's also pretty large, with Dell making use of the available space below the keyboard. That's one thing that I love about the XPS lineup. Dell really makes use of all available real estate on these things.

The power button in in the top-right corner of the keyboard, and that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. The bad news is that you have to scan your finger after it boots up, unlike laptops from Huawei, LG, and Lenovo that scan your fingerprint before it boots up, automatically logging you in. Dell considers this a security risk, saying that you might walk away from your PC between when you press the button and when Windows loads.

Performance and battery life

The XPS 13 2-in-1 that Dell sent me includes an Intel Core i7-1065G7 processor and 16GB RAM, so let's break this down a bit. The CPU is from the Ice Lake family, which is part of Intel's 10th-generation lineup, built on a 10nm process. Intel has been pushing back its 10nm generation since 2015, so it's nice to have these things finally see the light of day.

But don't confuse this with Comet Lake, another lineup of CPUs from Intel also under the 10th-generation umbrella. These are still 14nm, and to make things more confusing, they're 15W U-series chips just like Ice Lake (there are Y-series variants of both as well, but we won't get into that). Comet Lake chips can be identified by the fact that they still use the old naming scheme, so the products end with a 'U' instead of a 'G' and a number. These are actually being used in the new XPS 13 clamshell laptops.

Aside from finally being 10nm, the other big benefit to Ice Lake is Iris Plus Graphics. Intel's been boasting the performance boosts from its Gen11 graphics for some time, and it delivers. However, keep in mind that Dell isn't using the Core i5-1035G4 or Core i5-1035G7 in the XPS 13 2-in-1. The only model with Iris Plus Graphics is the Core i7 one.

The performance is great, and it's better than that of eighth-generation Whiskey Lake processors. That's pretty much what you need to know. Graphics performance is much improved as well, and I actually did some video editing in Adobe Premiere Pro, something which the XPS handled pretty well. It's not as good as dedicated graphics, but still much better than UHD Graphics.

Of note is the fact that the previous XPS 13 2-in-1 didn't even use Whiskey Lake; it used Amber Lake, a 5W dual-core chip family. Y-series processors are designed for fanless, thin PCs, but they're lacking in the power department. Both the Y-series and U-series are designed for productivity tasks, but with the U-series, you have the option of doing things that require more power, such as video editing. Don't even think about launching anything from Adobe's Creative Cloud suite with a Y-series processor.

As far as battery life goes, I got eight hours streaming Stranger Things on Netflix. Of course, that number goes up if you're watching local video, and it goes down if you're doing resource-intensive tasks like playing games. As far as real-world performance goes though, I found that it was pretty much the same as streaming video on Netflix. When I say "real-world", I mean working in Chrome with about a dozen tabs open, while apps like Skype, Slack, OneNote, and To Do are open as well. That also includes some occasional light Photoshop work.

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8 and PCMark 10. PCMark 8 has three tests: Home, Creative, and Work. Home checks common tasks like casual gaming, video chat, and web browsing. Creative tests more GPU-intensive tasks like video editing and mainstream gaming. Work tests productivity-related tasks like writing and spreadsheets. And finally, PCMark 10 has an all-in-one test.

PCMark 8: Home PCMark 8: Creative

PCMark 8: Work PCMark 10


For comparison, the XPS 13 that I reviewed earlier this year, which had a Whiskey Lake Core i7-8565U, got 3,155 on Home, 3,618 on Creative, 3,209 on Work, and 4,047 on PCMark 10. Obviously, there are meaningful improvements across the board.

Conclusion

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is possibly the best 13-inch convertible on the market, hands down. It solves some major pain points of previous generations, mainly having to do with performance. Of course, the webcam finally being above the display instead of beneath it is a big plus.

My two biggest complaints are that it doesn't ship with the pen, and that there's no IR camera. For the pen, it's a real shame that a premium PC like this doesn't come with it. I'd expect that kind of cost-cutting from an Inspiron, but not an XPS. Of course, Microsoft sells the pen separately on Surface PCs too, so I guess this is acceptable. The bit about the IR camera isn't a big deal to me. It has a fingerprint sensor, and frankly, I'm only logging into the PC once per session.

Here's what's great about the XPS 13 2-in-1. Dell provides a great all-around experience, with a phenomenal display, crystal-clear audio quality, an excellent MagLev keyboard, and a high screen-to-body ratio. It's a PC that just feels good to use.

The convertible form factor adds a dimension to that, because you can use it as a tablet. With the pen, you can use it to take handwritten notes, to draw, to mark up photos, to draw routes in Maps, and so on. Or, you can use it in Tent mode to watch movies or to present.

I love convertibles, but Dell's previous choices of Y-series processors made them a non-starter for me. Now, the XPS 13 2-in-1 not only uses a U-series processor, but it uses a really good one, with a 10nm CPU and Iris Plus Graphics. This PC is absolutely a buy.

You can check out the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 on Dell.com here, and you can grab the pen here.

 

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