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Dell XPS 18 review

A huge tablet that's also an all-in-one PC

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Our Verdict

For

  • Stunning screen, Nice design, Feels responsive, Great for entertainment

Against

  • Disappointing battery life, Not very powerful, Needs a more flexible stand, Lack of ports as an all-in-one

The Dell XPS 18 is a bit of an odd one to categorise. It's essentially an 18-inch Windows 8 tablet, as if someone has stuffed one of the 'Eat me' sweets from Alice in Wonderland into the Surface Pro's USB port.

But at that size, surely it's not really a tablet, and is more like a massive Ultrabook - the Dell XPS 13's body-building brother? But, it also sits on an angled stand as a perfectly normal, super-thin all-in-one PC, like a touch-enabled Windows-touting iMac.

Actually, the Dell XPS 18 isn't alone in this world, and it's even one of the most portable of its kind. The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is a similar beast with a larger screen, and the HP Envy Rove 20 is much like the Sony. 'Portable all-in-one' seems to be the chosen name from the companies for this new class of hybrid, so that's what we'll go with.

So yes, the Dell XPS 18 is a portable all-in-one, meaning that you can use it in a charging stand with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard like a traditional desktop computer, or anywhere else thanks to its internal battery and two little legs that flick out of the back. It's touchscreen, so the traditional controls are optional when taking it around the house.

Dell XPS 18 review

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Sadly, and perhaps surprisingly, it doesn't come with a pen to make use of its vast canvas for drawing, nor is there a digitizer for turning it into a big drawing tablet by adding your own stylus.

The Dell XPS 18 unit itself pretty impressively svelte, packing that 18-inch 1080p display, an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive with 32GB SSD for speedy boot times into a chassis that's just 18mm (0.7 inches) at its thickest point.

At 2.3kg (5lbs), it certainly isn't light compared to most Ultrabooks, and something we'd want to carry in our (presumably massive) backpack, but it's fine for carrying from room to room in the house.

Dell XPS 18 review

The front is glossy glass, with a plastic edge around it that's a little like the chamfered design used in the iPad mini and iPhone 5, but it's all plastic on the back - no aluminium here.

It's really smart-looking from the front, we have to say, and the dock is similarly simple but pleasant, It's made from die-cast zinc and it holds the XPS 18 solidly. It's easy to fit the main unit's little power dock onto the contact on the stand, which immediately starts giving it juice, since it's the stand you plug into the wall (you can plug the mains charger into the XPS 18 instead of its stand, but that's only really for travelling).

The keyboard and mouse are both standard Dell fare - idols to the gods of black plastic. We'll go into more detail on how well they work in the Performance section.

Dell XPS 18 review

The version of the Dell XPS 18 we've got here costs £999 / US$1,349.99, but there's also an £899 / US$999.99 version available with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and no SSD at all, which seems like a much worse deal to us. There's also a version that's identical to the one we've got here but with a Core i7 processor for £1,099 / US$1,449.99.

Specifications

The Dell XPS 18 is pretty much an Ultrabook in disguise, offering modest specs to keep it a thin, sharp machine. The Intel Core i5-3337U processor in our review unit is a very recent chip, running at 1.8GHz normally, but is capable of hitting 2.7GHz in Turbo mode.

It's a dual-core chip, but features Hyper-Threading, meaning that it can appear as four virtual cores. It's designed to be a fairly capable chip, but it's not exactly designed for professionals.

Dell XPS 18 review

This is a weaker chip than the one supplied in the high-end Sony Vaio Tap 20, which comes with an Intel Core i7-3517U, though we doubt the difference would be particularly noticeable. The Vaio Tap 20 also comes with 8GB of RAM, just like the Dell XPS 18, but offers a much larger 1TB hard drive (albeit with no SSD). So where's the extra money going in the Dell?

When it comes to graphics, it's integrated all the way, so there's no difference there. Intel's HD 4000 graphics are fairly capable, and we were able to play the latest SimCity game at full 1080p resolution smoothly on the Dell XPS 18, provided we turned down all the graphical wizardry.

It's not for serious gamers, but then that's inevitable with integrated graphics. Still, Intel's GPU is good enough most casual games. That said, the HP Envy Rove 20 will have much improved graphics over either the Sony Vaio Tap 20 or the Dell XPS 18 when it's released, because it will use Intel's forthcoming Haswell processors, which offer significantly improved gaming performance (and much better battery life).

Dell XPS 18 review

The screen is where the difference between the Sony Vaio Tap 20 and the Dell XPS 18 comes into play. The Dell's smaller 18-inch screen is actually a Full HD, 1920 x 1080 resolution panel, while Sony offers a mere 1600 x 900 in a larger panel. The Dell's is therefore much crisper and sharper, and should make for a more pleasant experience.

As we mentioned, the Dell XPS 18 offers 8GB of RAM, which should be more than enough for any home use. Those who like to do a bit of photo or video editing will no doubt be grateful for the extra headroom, but for most people 8GB is overkill, if anything - but certainly nice to have.

The 500GB hard drive is of the slower, smaller laptop kind, but is paired with a fast 32GB solid-state drive that contains Windows, which should help to keep speeds down when booting the computer or waking it from sleep.

Dell XPS 18 review

When it comes to ports, you're rather limited, with just two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card slot, along with an audio jack. There's also the power port here, along with a power dock on the bottom, for where it connects to the charging base. We were hoping that the base would offer a wider range of ports, so that you could leave things connected there and just dock into the base to have the Dell XPS 18 access them, but that's not the case - it's just for power.

This strikes us as a massive missed trick. On its stand, the Dell XPS 18 is actually a really smart all-in-one PC, but having just two USB ports and no video-out ports really holds it back compared to the connectivity in something like the Apple iMac.

There's no optical drive, either, but we understand why not. It means that watching Blu-rays on that lovely screen is a bit awkward, but there are options. We don't blame Dell for omitting it at all.