Dell XPS 12 Duo

Dell XPS 12 Duo
   Update: Check my follow-up article "Why I Will Never Buy Dell Again"

   In the past year my old laptop which is more than four years old manifested some serious problem. While the internals were still usable (Core 2 Duo 2.13 GHz, 4GB RAM, nVidia 8600M) the machine was almost literally falling apart. This is why I was eagerly awaiting Windows 8's release and the hardware that comes with it.

The Use Cases

   My new machine would be used in the following ways:

   - A machine for work (.NET development including Windows Phone and Windows 8 development). When in this role the machine would have regular keyboard, mouse and monitor attached to it.
   - A portable machine that I can carry around when travelling, use on conferences or just move to another room without much effort.

   Note that gaming is not a requirement. I have a desktop computer with powerful hardware used for gaming and work at home.

The Requirements

   The use cases dictated the following requirements:

   - 8GB of RAM.
   - Size between 11" and 15". Ideally 13". Slim and light in ultrabook form factor.
   - SSD 128GB. No hybrid bullshit.
   - Ships with Windows 8.

   I thought these requirements were pretty reasonable for the end of 2012 but it turns out PC OEMs did not agree. In the whole of November on the Bulgarian market there were ZERO machines that fulfilled these requirements. The US market was only slightly better. Companies like Lenovo listed their machines as coming in mid December. The only company that provided a computer like this with the latest version of their respective OS was Apple with MacBook Air. The stupidity of the PC OEMs was in line with their declining market position and influence. The PC is supposed to be flexible, have a lot of competition, etc. but still the only company that had what I wanted was Apple and I was in a complete rage wishing all PC OEMs go out of business.

   There were many laptops and ultrabooks with no SSD or with 24GB SSD + HDD that cost serious amount of money. Obviously they opted for the size of the HDD. Others were selling machines for 1500 EUR with 4GB of unupgradeable RAM (I am looking at you Asus) despite the fact that 4GB of RAM cost 30EUR. Yet others were selling OK machines... with WIndows 7. WTF?!?!? Three months after Windows 8 RTM and one month after general availability the idiot PC manufacturers cannot bring worthy Windows 8 machines to market. Keep in mind that they are big companies that have access to Windows long before the general public is even shown the OS.

The Dell XPS 12 Duo

   In the first week of December machines that fulfill my totally obvious and reasonable requirements finally began emerging on the Bulgarian market. One of the first ultrabooks that I spotted was Dell XPS 12 Duo. It wasn't long before I ordered it on a promotional (-300 lv) price from an online store I had never heard before. The first issue I had was that it was not possible to upgrade the i5/128GB SSD model with 8GB of RAM despite the fact that the website listed it as upgradeable. It turns out that the RAM is not upgradeable but Dell provides different versions from their website. Sadly the machines available in Bulgaria were either i7/8GB RAM/256GB SSD or i5/4GB RAM/128GB SSD. I just swallowed the damage and bought the more expensive version (still cheaper than MacBook Air with the same internals and no touch screen).

The picture I shamelessly stole from because I am too lazy to take photos of my real machine

   The main feature of this ultrabook is that the screen can turn around and it becomes a tablet. If you are looking for something to use as a tablet do NOT buy this machine. Machines that are both tablets and ultrabooks make compromises. The XPS Duo aims to be a perfect ultrabook and makes all its compromises on the tablet side. If you are buying one you are advised to erase all your tablet expectations and treat all tablet usage as an extra to your ultrabook. The machine is just too heavy and bulky to be used as a regular tablet. However there are a couple of sweet spots where it can reasonably be used as a tablet. If you are travelling on a plane, bus, train you can put it in your lap and use it that way. Same goes for conferences. I am often using it as tablet when lying on the couch. Basically you need to put it somewhere or have really strong arms.

   I will focus on the negative sides of the machine not because it is a bad machine but because this is what people care about when buying.

   The first issue is the screen resolution. The screen in itself is gorgeous and after using it for a while I am seeing huge pixels on all other low DPI displays I use. However the 1920x1080 resolution is too big for 12" display and you need to zoom everything from Windows. However Windows does a bad job at it and on 150% fonts start looking bad for me and artefacts (buttons off the edges of the forms, texts off the edges of the buttons, etc.) appear. On 125% I see no problems though I know people who knew the scaling at first sight. The bad news is that 125% is still too small to read. The good news is that IE (if you are using IE) automatically picks the Windows setting and scales web pages to 125%. Due to the way IE renders fonts there is no loss of quality of text in the browser like there is in Windows. I ended up bumping the fonts in Visual Studio and the various chat programs and using everything else at 125% which seems reasonable compromise.

   Currently the machine has some driver issues. For about ten days of usage I had the touch screen stop accepting touch commands three times. The fix is to put the computer to sleep and wake it up. There is a thread on the Dell forums about the issue and a Dell representative says they are working on a fix. Depending on the severity of the issue and if Dell provides a fix this could be a reason for me to return the machine. The trackpad is just sad. Sometimes it stops working for a second and misses clicks. Some of the issues are fixed by tweaking with the settings but there are definitely driver issues. I turned off the zoom gesture because I was constantly zooming while trying to scroll. Not everything is doom and gloom though. As we will see later there are features that mitigate the bad trackpad. The keyboard is one of the best you will find in ultrabook. I cannot think of anything negative to say about it. The layout and the feel are perfect.

   I will not comment on the number of ports and battery life since I do not care too much about these. I will link a couple of good reviews that cover these. I just like to point out that the XPS Duo comes with no adapters so you have to buy the ones you need. I bought LAN to USB, Display Port to HDMI and Display Port to DVI adapters.

   It is worth noting that the machine is in fact beautiful. For some reason it looks better in practice than on the pictures probably because the pictures always show it in the process of rotating the screen. It is not Macbook Air beautiful but it is elegant and makes a good impression.

I Can't Resist Your Touch of Evil

   What makes this ultrabook so great was a bit unexpected for me. It turns out having touch display on an ultrabook is GREAT. This can be a thing that really saves the PC. A true innovation. Sometimes I forget that I have a trackpad at all. I only use keyboard shortcuts and touch stuff on the screen. Zooming and scrolling are especially cool. They are smoother and better than their mouse equivalents. I am almost grateful for the bad trackpad because it pushed me to use touch more. When you are using an ultrabook your hand is already close to the screen so there is no overhead. It is the same as moving your hand to the trackpad but the gesture is more accurate and fluid. When browsing the size of the text is not an issue because it is so easy to zoom.


   The build quality seems good but with such strange construction for the display one never knows. If this machine does not break and Dell fixes at least some of the driver issues I will be convinced that it is worth the premium price I paid for it. If you can somehow get the cheaper i5 version with 8GB of RAM I think it is worth the money even if the trackpad remains in its current state forever. Also note that this whole review is based entirely on using Windows 8 as if it was Windows 7. The don't-call-it-Metro ecosystem is currently weak and the apps are bad quality (Except Armed! Armed is great!). If the Windows 8 ecosystem becomes better this will only increase the value of this ultrabook.
Tags:   english tech 
Last edited by:   Stilgar
on   07:17 24.03.2013
Posted by:   Stilgar
20:03 18.12.2012


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