Dell puts a spin on mobile devices

- October 28th, 2012
XPS 12 (Supplied)

XPS 12. (Supplied)

If you’re in the market for a mobile device, but you haven’t drank the Apple Kool-Aid (which is a vile flavour of powdered drink) and you’ve never been much of a Phandroid, maybe you should take a look at Windows 8.

And Dell might be a good company to start with. Like many PC manufacturers, Dell is offering new products and updating old systems to fully take advantage of the operating system’s touchscreen capabilities.

The company now sells Windows 8 laptops, tablets and all-in-one computers with touchscreen as well as external touchscreen monitors for people with towers. But personally I’m more interested in some of their newer mobile options, namely the XPS 12  and XPS 10.

As Jonathan Gutell, of Dell’s global product marketing team, explained, the company has rebranded the XPS line as “thin and powerful” and these machines fit right in.

XPS 12

The XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook, which became available for pre-order a couple of weeks ago, is a convertible device that is essentially a cross between an Ultrabook and a tablet.

Made with the same base as the XPS 13, which is a standard Ultrabook, it is slightly heavier at 1.54 kilograms. Gutell said it is intended to be primarily used as a computer. But you can flip the screen around and fold it over itself to turn it into a tablet if you want to make it more mobile.

“It is made for somebody who does PC maybe 80% and maybe tablet 20%,” Gutell said.

Despite only having a 12.5-inch screen, it comes with a full-size keyboard, which feels reasonably responsive – at least based on the short time I was able to play with it during the interview.

The image looks sharp as well on the 1,920 pixel x 1,080 pixel Full HD display.

And if you don’t wish to use the touchscreen, Gutell, pointed out that it features, as do all of the company’s notebooks now, gestures on the trackpad, similar to that of an iPhone. (In other words, you can pinch and zoom etc.)

The base model is a dual-core 1.7 GHz (2.6 GHz with Boost Technology) Intel Core i5-3317U machine and comes with 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, an Intel HD 4000 graphics card, a 1.3 MP web cam and has a 8-hour battery life. It comes with two USB 3.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort and a combo headphone/microphone jack. It runs on the 64-bit version of Windows 8 and starts at $1,199.99.

XPS 10

Of course, that’s a little pricey if you’re not planning on this to be your main notebook. If you’re looking for a cheaper mobile option, there’s the XPS 10 Tablet which starts at $499.99.

XPS 10. (Supplied)

XPS 10. (Supplied)

As mobile devices go, the XPS 10 is a little more standard. It has a bright 1,366 pixel x 768 pixel 10.1-inch 10-point multitouch display with pen support. It uses a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5 GHz DC processor, which comes with either 32 GB or 64 GB of flash storage. It also comes with a microSD slot. It has two cameras, a front-facing 2 MP webcam that shoots in 720p and a rear 5 MP autofocus camera.

The XPS 10 is basically a tablet with an eight-hour battery life. And you can buy a keyboard dock for an additional $180, which adds another eight hours of power.

The device looks quite solid when docked.

“A lot of people thought it was a 10-inch notebook and were surprised it came apart,” Gutell said.

And I admit I was one of them. When the tablet was locked into the keyboard dock, it looked like a netbook.

Gutell said that although the XPS 10 is a “tablet first, and PC second,” Dell wanted to ensure the keyboard dock was a solid accessory.

“A lot of products, you see, that (are) convertible or detachable,” he said, “sacrifice the keyboard.”

The XPS 10′s keyboard dock is 92% the size of a regular laptop keyboard, so Gutell admitted, “ some of the stuff is scrunched in” but overall it’s a “healthy keyboard experience.”

And that does seem to be the case – once again, based on my brief time with it.

And it’s reasonably light – 635 g without the dock. It’s easy to hold in one hand and I could see being able to use it as an e-reader for several hours without strain.

Like many tablets, the XPS 10 is an ARM-based device (Advanced RISC Machine) and runs Windows RT, a Windows 8 variant designed for that architecture.

Pre-installed software

Gutell also promises Dell has scaled down the amount of bloatware it pre-installs on its systems.

“We’ve reduced software load significantly, by about 31%,” he said.

As someone who currently owns a Dell laptop, and rather quickly reinstalled Windows to get rid of that annoying software, I can appreciate that, but am somewhat skeptical.

XPS 10. (Supplied)

XPS 10 with keyboard dock. (Supplied)

Still, based on what Gutell showed me in the interview, it does seem rather light. There are Kindle, Amazon and Skype apps, which are likely easy to remove if you don’t want them and a Dell Shop app which is likely harder to remove, but may offer useful software peripherals. There’s a Dell Support Center, which basically just puts a bunch of diagnostics and maintenance together in a single app. And Dell has created a bunch of tutorial videos on using Windows 8, which are available from the desktop.

But if you find this too much software, you can always just do a clean install of Windows 8, which, at least for now, is available for a reasonable price.

Windows 8 vs. Windows RT

Obviously, I would have to be able fully test both devices to make an informed decision on which one is better value or, frankly, if either of them are worth buying. But based on my initial impressions, I am leaning towards the XPS 12, not simply because it’s obviously the more powerful (and expensive) device, but also because it’s an Intel machine running the full version of Windows 8.

This means it can run programs and games written for older incarnations of Windows.

Whereas the XPS 10, being ARM-based, can only run software written for Windows RT, which – as reviewers of Microsoft’s own Surface tablet have noted – is limited.

The software selection will improve over time but for now I would suggest staying away from an RT device if you want to be able to use it for more than just watching videos, reading books and surfing the web.

Ultimately, that isn’t really the point. As a PC user, I expect to be able use most, if not all, of the programs I’ve become accustomed to using in Windows over the years – whether it’s editing photos in PhotoShop, writing a screenplay in Final Draft or destroying the family unit in The Sims.

If I couldn’t, why would I bother buying a Windows device?

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3 comments

  1. Terry | October 31, 2012 at 11:05 am

    For the Dell XPS 12 the screen resolution is 1920 x1080, the 1280 x 1024 mentioned in the article is the camera. You cannot get 1080p on a 1024 screen.

  2. Adam Swimmer | October 31, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Sorry, yes. You’re absolutely correct, Terry. I put the wrong specs there. Thanks for pointing it out. I’ve made the change.

  3. John | November 27, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Nice little dig you got in against Apple at the beginning there.
    Love the way you writers seem to enjoy offending those who are avid fans of Apple products while promoting another Windows boat anchor.
    Sorry, but Windows sucks. It always has. It’s unstable and problematic consistently.
    At least Apple cares about putting out top quality and consistently excellent products. They may be pricey, but you know you are getting quality and reliability.
    MS only cares about getting Windows into as many households as possible. Quality and reliability be dammed.

    So please, review until your hearts content, but leave the snide Apple insults at home because some of your readers don’t appreciate it.

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