Review: Dell XPS 11 Ultrabook A Mixed Bag


The screen doesn't swivel like others, but the XPS 11 2-in-1 Ultrabook is Dell's thinnest and lightest to date. It's also among its best equipped. Despite a few flaws, not the least of which is price and uncool screen movement, the verdict on Dell's latest hybrid is mostly good.

Even though the XPS 11 lacks the ultra-cool horizontally flipping panel of its slightly larger cousin, the XPS 12, this one delivers a more impressive resolution, a full-sized (and dongle-free) HDMI port, plus an SD card reader. The 2,560-x-1,140 pixels calculates to 253 pixels per inch and dazzling graphics. And while its 11.6-inch Gorilla Glass-protected IPS panel provides a wide range of viewing angles with no color distortion, there's a noticeable drop-off in color saturation at any angle other than straight-on.

The XPS 11 can be operated in four modes: open as a traditional laptop; propped up like a teepee; opened further like an inverted clamshell; and opened all the way for tablet mode. In the two latter modes, the keyboard lies face down on the table or lap and is inoperable. Unfortunately, it's also disabled when standing like a teepee, which takes controlling it from behind for presentations off the table.

The "tablet-first" philosophy behind the XPS 11 meant that thinner was better and typing was a secondary consideration. Hence the decision to include a flat-membrane keyboard, for which Dell has taken a beating from critics. Expecting the worst, our testers found that the keyboard wasn't nearly as ridiculous to use as has been reported.

A dedicated function key brings up a panel for controlling backlight level and its ambient light sensor, keyboard key-click sounds and five levels of press sensitivity. We favored settings on the lighter side, and got used to the keyboard rather quickly. The keyboard settings panel also (finally) has a selector for toggling between multimedia control and traditional "function-key" mode for the top row of the keyboard.

The tested unit was built around an Intel Core i5-4210Y 1.5GHz, dual-core processor running 64-bit Windows 8.1 on 4 GB of RAM, Intel HD Graphics 4200 and a 128-GB SSD. The system turned in a peak Geekbench score of 5,563, well below what was needed to get it onto CRN's Top 10 Laptops list. Battery life also was a disappointment. With a video looping continuously and the screen at full brightness, the XPS 11 played for just three hours and 28 minutes. This was far less than we've come to expect from Haswell-based systems, particularly following Dell's stellar performance in our XPS 13 review earlier this month.

As for look and feel, the XPS 11 did not disappoint. The XPS 11 measures 11.8 inches long by 7.9 inches wide, and is just 0.4 to 0.6 inches thick at the widest side of its taper. It weighs a scant 2.5 pounds -- heavy for a tablet but light for a laptop. Dell's signature carbon-fiber top and bottom panels give it a grippy feel and match the palm rest, which is comfortable to the touch. Dell's TouchPad is a super-large 4 inches across by 2.5 inches up and down. Side-firing stereo speakers were surprisingly loud and completely free of distortion.

A 45-watt power supply includes a 32-inch AC cable and an 8-foot DC cable with lighted power tip, but there's no external indicator of battery charge status. A cordless AC connector swivels to allow the power brick to stand upright or sit flush against a wall outlet. The XPS 11 2-in-1 Ultrabook also includes Bluetooth 4.0, Wireless Display (Wi-Di) 3.0 and dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac. Pricing starts at $999; the unit as tested would cost $1,249.

PUBLISHED MARCH 4, 2014