With gorgeous exterior styling and the latest in mobile-grade CPU and graphics performance from Intel, the new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (starts at $979; $1,597 as tested) feels like the culmination of a long effort to design the perfect laptop. It’s not quite five-star flawless, an honor we bestowed on its conventional clamshell sibling that launched nearly a year ago, but it’s the best 2-in-1 convertible laptop you can buy right now. If you’re looking for a go-anywhere, head-turning ultraportable that will chew through productivity tasks and even handle light gaming or multimedia editing, the XPS 13 2-in-1 should be at the top of your list.
A Familiar XPS Look
The latest XPS 13 2-in-1, dubbed model 7390 by Dell to distinguish it from earlier iterations, looks very familiar, sharing external styling and many other features with its clamshell cousin, the XPS 13. Both are made from machined aluminum with carbon- and glass-fiber accents, and both are available in a sleek color combination: silver exteriors and snow-white interiors for the palm rest, keyboard, and touchpad.
Both are also extremely compact, fitting their 13-inch displays into an area that was once reserved for laptops with 11-inch or smaller screens. The resulting weight and size savings make both machines a cinch to cart to and from school and work. The XPS 13 2-in-1 weighs 2.9 pounds and measures 0.51 by 11.7 by 8.2 inches (HWD). The clamshell XPS 13 is, unsurprisingly, a bit smaller and lighter, since it doesn’t need to incorporate a complex 360-degree hinge that lets it transform into a tablet. It measures 0.46 by 11.9 by 7.8 inches and weighs 2.7 pounds.
The XPS 13 2-in-1’s dimensions compare favorably with those of its HP and Lenovo archrivals, the HP Spectre x360 13 (0.57 inch thick, 2.9 pounds) and the Lenovo Yoga C930 (0.57 inch thick, 3.1 pounds). The XPS 13 2-in-1 and the Yoga C930 both have larger screens than the 13.3-inch Spectre x360 13, which makes their dimensions even more competitive. The Yoga C930’s screen is 14 inches on the diagonal, while the XPS 13 2-in-1 has a 13.4-inch screen (an unusual size) in an uncommon 16:10 widescreen aspect ratio, instead of the more typical 16:9.
After using the XPS 13 2-in-1 every day for a week, I found that everything feels quite well-engineered. The 2.9-pound weight is on the heavy side for an ultraportable, but the body feels solid, not awkward and bulky. You need only one hand to open the display lid; on many laptops, you need two to pry open the stiff hinges. Whether you’re tapping on the touch screen or on the very comfortable touchpad, the laptop responds instantly. The screen bounces very little, and the touchpad doesn’t suffer from the sluggishness or cheap-feeling hinges that are common on many Windows laptops.
My favorite part about the styling, though, is that everything seems perfectly proportioned. With an 85 percent screen-to-body ratio, a large and comfortable touchpad, and even a diminutive 45-watt AC adapter clad in matching white, the XPS 13 2-in-1 doesn’t waste any space. That’s in contrast to the Apple MacBook Pro, which is also very well-engineered but has a lower screen-to-body ratio that results in additional space around the keyboard and display.
Really, I note only two potential downsides to the XPS 13 2-in-1’s physical design, both of them minor imperfections. The first is the power button, which has a built-in fingerprint reader that, too frequently, failed to recognize my print when I attempted to log in. Even after registering and re-registering multiple prints, the reader failed on the first try of each login attempt. It took several finger-repositioning maneuvers for it to recognize successfully.
It’s a minor problem, but fingerprint readers are convenient not only because they eliminate the need to type a password, but because the technology has become far more accurate over the past few years. It was especially disappointing to struggle with the XPS 13 2-in-1’s reader, because its webcam lacks the IR sensors needed for face-recognition logins.
The other minor downside is the shallow keyboard. Unlike Apple, which uses a butterfly-style switch for its polarizing MacBook Air and MacBook Pro keyboards, Dell decided to go with a magnetic switch. The main difference is that the XPS 13 2-in-1’s keys offer a bit more travel distance (0.7mm) than the MacBook Pro’s do, but they’re a bit less stable. The overall result is the same on both keyboards, however. It feels like you’re tapping, not typing. Some people hate the sensation, and I admit that it’s not ideal if you have to type all day long, but I’ve largely grown used to it.
Our XPS 13 2-in-1 review unit features a screen with 500 nits of brightness and a native resolution of 1,920 by 1,200 pixels, which is a bit higher than full HD (1,920 by 1,080 pixels) because of the laptop’s unique 16:10 aspect ratio. Picture quality seems better than most other full HD screens I’ve used, with more-vivid colors and a rated 1,800:1 contrast ratio.
When you’re viewing the screen up close, text can still be a bit pixelated, however, which is common to all full-HD screens. Dell does offer a 4K (3,840-by-2,400-pixel) display option, which should make everything appear much crisper, though the power required to light up four times as many pixels could affect battery life.
Our review unit also includes a 10th Generation Intel Core i7-1065G7 “Ice Lake” processor with Iris Plus graphics (much more on that later), a 512GB PCI Express-bus SSD, and 16GB of memory running at a blistering 3,733MHz clock speed to complement the Ice Lake chip. The fact that you get all of this for an additional $600 or so over the base model (which features an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD) is fairly impressive. Other configuration options include a Core i5 CPU, 8GB or 32GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD.
Room for an SD Card
On the XPS 13 2-in-1’s left edge, you’ll find a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support, as well as a microSD card reader. The latter is increasingly rare on laptops these days, and a welcome inclusion for photographers and videographers who frequently need to import footage. On the opposite edge, you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and a second USB Type-C port, which also supports Thunderbolt 3. Both USB ports can be used to charge the laptop, which took about two hours from empty to full in my testing. Dell doesn’t advertise a quick-charge capability for the XPS 13 2-in-1.
An Intel chipset with 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) and Bluetooth 5.0 handles wireless connections. It’s especially nice to see support for Wi-Fi 6, which is theoretically capable of multi-gigabit-per-second speeds. (See our primer, Should You Upgrade to Wi-Fi 6?) Few wireless routers support this standard yet, though, which means it might be a year or so before you can realize the full speeds. Wi-Fi 6 is backward-compatible with previous standards, so you’ll be fine with using existing routers and wireless connections until Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure gets more common.
Missing from the laptop’s connectivity options is any form of dedicated video output or any USB Type-A ports. Like SD card readers, these are increasingly falling away from ultraportable laptops. Neither the MacBook Pro nor the clamshell XPS 13 includes them, though the Spectre x360 13 does have a single USB Type-A port. I appreciate that Dell includes a USB Type-C-to-A adapter in the box with our review unit, although one may not be included with all retail configurations.
One consequence of the XPS 13 2-in-1’s diminutive chassis is a lack of space for the kind of upward-firing speakers on the keyboard deck you’ll find on the MacBook Pro. Although the XPS 13 2-in-1’s audio quality is rich and full, the position of its speakers on the bottom of the laptop means sound is a bit muffled when you’re using it as a laptop or a tablet.
When you’re propping it up as a tent (with the speakers facing you) or using it as an easel (with the speakers facing upward), the quality is better. The Waves MaxxAudio driver includes some nifty features, like the ability to track the position of your head using the camera so as to improve directional audio while wearing headphones, but I didn’t notice any difference while listening to audio tracks and movie trailers on YouTube.
Testing Our First ‘Ice Lake’ Retail PC
While all versions of the XPS 13 2-in-1 now come with Intel’s Ice Lake processors, only the Core i5- and Core i7-equipped models feature the versions of the chip with upgraded Iris Plus graphics. Previously found almost exclusively on Apple laptops, on-CPU integrated Iris Plus silicon is more powerful than the Intel UHD Graphics that power most Windows ultraportable laptops, if not quite as powerful as dedicated GPUs from AMD and Nvidia that you’ll find in workstations or gaming rigs. We’ve performed extensive benchmark testing on an Intel-provided reference laptop with the same CPU that’s in the XPS 13 2-in-1, and results were about what you’d expect: incrementally better general computing capabilities consistent with a new CPU generation, and dramatically improved graphics performance, thanks to the Iris Plus silicon and faster system memory.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 is the first Ice Lake machine we’ve seen that you can actually buy, and it largely matches up with the impressions we got from the Intel sample we previewed. You can see how its specs compare to some of its key competitors in the chart below.
The business-focused Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is included here as a stand-in for the Yoga C930 because we tested the latter using our old benchmark process, whose results aren’t comparable to the current one.
Productivity & Media Tests
On our PCMark tests, which simulate real-world productivity and content-creation workflows, nearly all of the laptops performed roughly equally on both the general PCMark 10 test and the Storage subtest in PCMark 8, which measures the speed of the SSDs.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 did perform the best on the PCMark 10 test, a small increase that’s consistent with the new CPU generation. (There is no macOS version of PCMark, so the MacBook Pro isn’t represented here.)
For a closer look at intensive computing tasks, we use multimedia benchmarks that both Windows and macOS can run. Whether it’s rendering a 3D image in Maxon Cinebench, encoding a video using Handbrake, or applying a series of filters and effects to an image in Adobe Photoshop, the XPS 13 2-in-1 offers consistently excellent performance, though it’s not the fastest in every case.
A Great Leap in Graphics Performance
Graphics rendering is one area where the XPS 13 2-in-1 is unquestionably the fastest in this test group. Our 3DMark and Superposition results show just how much better the Iris Plus graphics system is compared with the UHD Graphics silicon that is part of most previous-generation Intel mobile CPUs.
Let’s start with UL’s 3DMark. This benchmark suite measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting.
Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. Neither it nor 3DMark is macOS-compatible.
The results are encouraging, though they don’t suggest that the XPS 13 2-in-1 is a substitute for a gaming laptop with a discrete GPU. Still, given the promising results we saw with this same Core i7 Ice Lake CPU in Intel’s early test sample, I decided to dig further.
Some Real-World Gaming Tests
I ran a host of games at various settings on the XPS 13 2-in-1 to see what it could do. I started by running the demanding title Rise of the Tomb Raider at the Medium graphics quality preset and a 1080p resolution. The result? I witnessed frequent stuttering and an average of just 15 frames per second (fps). Turning quality down the game to the Lowest detail setting didn’t help much, boosting the score to an average of 23fps.
I next tried our staple AAA title Far Cry 5, but the game’s benchmark would not run, an anomaly I chalked up to the unusual 1,920-by-1,200-pixel native resolution. On the much less demanding World of Tanks enCore benchmark, at its Medium quality preset and 1080p resolution, I achieved a score of 6,260, short of the 10,000-point threshold that the game ranks as excellent performance.
Still, some graphics-intensive games are perfectly playable, such as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege. The XPS 13 2-in-1 achieved an average of 35fps on the in-game benchmark at Medium quality settings and a 1080p resolution, and 39fps on the Low quality setting. We consider anything above 30fps to be playable, and I noticed very little tearing, stuttering, or other annoying artifacts on this game’s bench run.
Encouraged, I ran Rise of the Tomb Raider again. If you’re willing to play at resolutions below 1080p, even that game becomes playable, with an average frame rate of 35fps on the Lowest setting at a 1,366-by-768-pixel resolution. It’s not true gaming-grade graphics, but it will do in a pinch, and for lesser/older games, you will be able to get playable frame rates with some compromises on settings.
Check out our extensive early performance tests to see how these results compare with those of the Intel Ice Lake reference design. (You’ll want to compare the results with those from the 15-watt reference design, since that’s what’s in the XPS 13 2-in-1.) What we saw there: The Iris Plus graphics is a huge improvement over the previous-generation graphics, thanks in part to the Ice Lake platform’s high memory clock speeds. Just don’t get your expectations too high: It’s still not enough to turn an ultraportable laptop like the XPS 13 2-in-1 into a potent gaming powerhouse with modern AAA titles.
Battery Rundown Test
One final benefit of the Ice Lake componentry in the XPS 13 2-in-1 is that it delivers class-leading (and class-beating, in the case of graphics) performance without a detrimental effect on battery life.
The XPS 13 2-in-1 achieved more than 13 hours in our battery rundown test, which involves running a locally stored 720p video file with Wi-Fi turned off until the laptop dies. This is even better than the XPS 13 clamshell’s result, though not quite as good as the class-leading MacBook Pro and Spectre x360 13, the latter of which is equipped with a special energy-saving display that consumes around 1 watt of power.
Not Flawless, But Still Excellent
The XPS 13 2-in-1 delivers everything a cutting-edge ultraportable laptop should: excellent design and build quality, proficient computing performance, and long battery life. Its minor keyboard and fingerprint reader flaws keep it from earning the outstanding five-star rating that its clamshell XPS 13 sibling did, but it’s nevertheless clearly the best convertible 2-in-1 laptop you can buy right now.