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Dell XPS 18 review: A near-perfect hybrid of Windows tablet and all-in-one desktop

Michael Brown | Oct. 7, 2014
The XPS 18 is expensive (in this configuration, that is), but it's the best midsized portable all-in-one we've seen.

Remove the display from the stand, and you can use it as a conventional tablet (with a magnesium frame and an aluminum backplate, the XPS feels lighter than its five pounds), or you can flip out a pair of feet on the back and use it like a conventional all-in-one. You can also lay it flat for playing two-player games on its touchscreen, or flip it around so its feet are at the top and lay it almost completely flat. The strong flipper feet are how Dell gets away with selling the lower-end model without the charging stand. 

Dell XPS 18
You don't need to drag the charging stand with you to use the XPS 18 in desktop mode. 

The XPS 18 lasted an impressive 3 hours and 37 minutes on battery power. That's plenty long enough for a movie or even a gaming session. Note that our battery run-down test is quite punishing, so your mileage may vary. Dell, for its part, says you should be able to squeeze 5+ hours out of it if you leave its ambient light sensor turned on. We turned it off for our benchmark and tested with brightness fixed at 200 nits as measured by a light meter.

The 18.4-inch WVA display looks great and delivers excellent off-axis viewing. It also responds quickly and accurately to touch, including pinch-to-zoom gestures. Movies looked good, especially when streaming from the hard drive or attached storage, but reliance on Wi-Fi led to occasional stuttering while watching YouTube videos. That probably won't be an issue with an 802.11ac router (I tested the machine at the office, which is outfitted with 802.11n access points).

Dell XPS 18
Tablet or desktop? Since the XPS 18 is mobile and can run on battery power, we compared it to several laptops with detachable displays. 

The XPS 18's ultra-thin form factor (it's just 0.7 inches thick) doesn't leave much room for speakers, and the tiny drivers Dell was able to build in sound as thin as the tablet looks. Listening to Peter Gabriel's cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" (from Gabriel's high-definition Scratch My Back release), the opening bass strings sounded more like cellos, and the cellos resembled violas.Gabriel's voice, meanwhile, was hollowed out, with an unpleasant sibilance.

The speakers are mounted on the left and right sides of the display, but sound also emanates from grills on the back. You'll want to use headphones if you want good sound, or plug in a set of self-powered speakers if you want to fill up a room.

The XPS 18 is capable of playing lightweight games (and less-demanding AAA titles, such as BioShock Infinite, if you're willing to dial down the resolution and image quality). Hardcore gamers won't like this computer, but that's clearly not Dell's target audience. This machine is designed for families that want a PC that can stay in the kitchen (or den, or living room, or bedroom) most of the time, but be quickly redeployed to another room--with or without its keyboard, mouse, and power supply--for fun and games.

Expensive? Yes, if you want the best configuration. Worth it? Definitely.

 

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