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

At a Glance
  • Dell XPS 18

    PCWorld Rating

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

I’ve taken to calling oversized tablet/all-in-one PC hybrids such as Dell’s XPS 18 “tabletop tablets,” and the XPS is the crème de la crème of that category. It’s just the right size and weight to move easily around the house, it’s equipped with a gorgeous 18.4-inch touchscreen display, and it comes with a charging stand for those times you want it to remain stationary.

But as much as I like the XPS 18, it’s not perfect. The configuration I prefer—with a nimble Intel Core i74510U processor, 8MB of DDR3L/1600 memory, and a speedy 256GB SSD—costs a pretty penny: $1500, to be exact. Dell offers three less-expensive models (same display, but with slower processors, less memory, mechanical hard drives—and in one case—no charging stand), but I’m sure they don’t deliver the same kick.

Dell XPS 18

Dell’s XPS 18 comes with a very good wireless keyboard and a pretty good wireless mouse (although the latter shuts off completely after a few hours' idle time, so you must flip it over and push a button to bring it back to life). 

I’m also sad to report that none of the four models has an HDMI input (so you can’t use them as a display for a gaming console or a set-top box), and none of them provides the option of a hardwired network connection. The model reviewed here does come with an integrated 2x2 Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 Wi-Fi adapter. Finally, the XPS 18’s speakers are nothing to write home about (more on that later).

By now, you’re probably taking a second look at my 4-star rating and wondering what I’m going on about. No worries. I just wanted to get the bulk of my negative observations out of the way early: For me, the XPS 18 remains the epitome of the mid-sized tabletop tablet.

The heavily weighted, articulated charging stand lets you angle the display over a wide arc, so you can use it while seated at a desk or while standing over it. You must position it just so to make the proper electrical contact to charge its battery, but I’ll take that minor dance over fumbling with a mechanical latch any day. Besides, an LED on the stand helpfully lights up when you’ve achieved success.

The tablet can also be charged independently of the charging stand. If I were to buy an XPS 18, I’d buy a second power brick to avoid the awkward reach-around that’s required to unplug the power supply from the stand. But if Dell’s engineers are reading this, how about adding a gigabit ethernet jack to the stand next time? I dig 802.11ac, but a wired connection will always be faster. That and an HDMI input on the tablet (not to beat a dead horse) would be Nirvana.

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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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

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

    Pros

    • Powerful components
    • Highly versatile
    • Great display

    Cons

    • No HDMI input or wired Ethernet
    • Mediocre speakers
    • Button press needed to wake mouse
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