Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) hands-on review

Dell's new XPS 13 2-in-1 is a refreshing headfirst dive into Intel's Ice Lake

Dell 2019 XPS 13 2 in 1 (2019) review

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019) hands-on

“Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 is first to dive into Ice Lake, but its design is the real revolution.”
  • First Intel Ice Lake laptop
  • Super sleek design
  • Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Taller 16:10 screen
  • Keyboard lacks travel
  • Base configuration is underpowered
MSRP $1,899.00

The original Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 never made the mark it should have. Despite following on the heels of the celebrated XPS 13, the 2-in-1 model always felt more like an awkward sibling than its own product.

All that has changed.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 has a new identity, marked by a redesign that takes steps in some very interesting directions. Not only has it received a striking redesign, it’s also the first device to use the long-awaited 10th-gen Ice Lake processors from Intel. With a starting price of $999, the XPS 13 2-in-1 looks and feels like a new chapter for Dell.

Starting from scratch

The new XPS 13 2-in-1 shares a design language with the XPS 13. Super-thin bezels. The same aluminum silver lid, along with either a black or white interior. That blueprint has influenced all the competition, and it’s still present here. However, Dell has made a handful of tweaks to ensure the XPS 13 2-in-1 is not just a minor revision.

The first noticeable change is the screen. It’s still a 1080p display, but the aspect ratio is now 16:10. That might not seem like a huge evolution over 16:9, but the slightly taller screen affords some extra screen real estate. It feels different, a bit more like a MacBook Pro. It’s not quite 3:2 like the Surface Laptop 2 or Huawei MateBook X Pro, but it’s a happy medium that most people will like.

Adding extra vertical screen provides a bit more space in the keyboard deck. Dell wisely provided a bit more height for the touchpad and stretched the keyboard right up to the edge. It’s reminiscent of the 12-inch MacBook, feeling like every inch of the keyboard deck is used. The taller touchpad, though, is where the design becomes practical. The touchpad on the XPS 13 was always on the verge of being too small, but this larger surface provides extra room for multi-finger gestures.

The actual typing experience on the keyboard is sure to be the most controversial aspect of the laptop. It uses the maglev keyboard first found in the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1. Magnets are used to mimic the feeling of a physical mechanism with minimal key travel. It’s a clickity-clackity typing experience, though Dell has managed to tone down the sound a bit. The low-travel keys still feel more like a MacBook keyboard than anything else, and that’s not a great look given how much criticism the MacBook’s keyboard has received.

A 16:10 display makes the XPS 13 2-in-1 feel more modern and more functional.

The layout of the keyboard isn’t anything out of the ordinary, though Dell has squeezed a new fingerprint scanner into the top right of the function row. To prevent accidental presses and differentiate it from other keys, Dell gave it a stiffer click mechanism. The laptop doesn’t include an infrared camera for facial authentication, mostly due to the size of that top bezel.

Dell’s revamp of the new XPS 13 2-in-1 is a wonderful new direction. I even like the decision to remove the Dell logo from the bottom bezel for an even cleaner look. It’s just as elegant as the prior model, but it’s now more enjoyable to use.

The first Ice Lake laptop

Performance was a weakness for the older XPS 13 2-in-1 because it used the power-sipping Intel Y-series. That meant you had to make do with a dual-core processor, even when you bumped up to the Core i7 model.

The redesigned XPS 13 2-in-1 features the first Ice Lake 10th-generation Intel Core processors. These 10-nanometer chips are years in the making, and supply of these chips will be relatively limited this year, so this laptop may be a unique preview of the future of Intel processors. The base level Core i3 model is still a dual-core processor, but you move up to quad-core with the Core i5 and Core i7.

Dell 2019 XPS 13 2 in 1 (2019) review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Switching to U-series processors means the XPS 13 2-in-1 is no longer fanless. Rather than just use the XPS 13’s thermal solution instead, Dell chose to try out something new: A vapor chamber cooling system. Essentially functioning as one large heatsink, Dell says the vapor chamber is a way of efficiently cooling the components in the thinner chassis. It’s a solution we’ve seen before in laptops like the Razer Blade.

Four vents line the back of the laptop, which is also where the speakers are located. We don’t expect great things from speakers with this location, but we didn’t get a chance to test them out quite yet.

All configurations come with fast M.2 solid state drives, as well DDR4 memory. As for ports, it’s simple but effective. There’s two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports — one on each side — as well as a microSD card slot.

Have next-gen graphics arrived?

There’s been a lot of talk about the integrated Gen11 graphics in these new Ice Lake processors. As it turns out, that’s both good and bad news. The good news can be found in more expensive configurations, as you’ll get an option for decent discrete graphics. It uses Gen11 Iris Plus graphics to provide some extra performance. It’s by no means equivalent to a discrete graphics card, but it should elevate both casual gaming and creative tools.

The change in processors means the XPS 13 2-in-1 is no longer fanless.

The bad news? It’s only available in the top configuration, and everyone else is stuck the Intel UHD graphics we know too well. These configurations start at $999, which includes a Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM. From there, options range on the XPS 13 2-in-1 all the way up to a Core i7, a 4K display, Iris graphics, and up to 32GB of RAM.

We don’t yet have a firm release date, but Dell says the device will be shipping by the end of the summer. That earlier than I thought we’d see the first Ice Lake laptops. If the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is any indication, Intel’s new chip will enable major upgrades in well-known flagship laptops.