Dell XPS 18: The desktop/tablet hybrid you'll probably buy
Now Dell has a battery-powered all-in-one, and it's the best looking of this relatively new bunch.
The Dell XPS 18 joins similar PCs from Sony, Lenovo, and Asus in this young category of all-in-one desktop/giant tablet hybrid devices. The screen size, components, and even number of operating systems vary among these new systems, but they all share the ability to transform from standard desktop to big screen tablet, thanks to the combination of an included battery, Windows 8, and a touch-screen display.
Compared to the existing models, the Dell hews closest to the Sony Vaio Tap 20, which came out last fall. The Dell has an 18.4-inch screen, as opposed to 20 inches on the Vaio, but like the Sony system, the XPS 18 is designed for simple mode-switching and relatively easy portability due to its small size.
With all of their computing components embedded behind the screen, you can simply lift them from their stands, unplug the power cable, and the Dell and Sony systems become big tablets running full-blown Windows 8.
In contrast, the complicated Asus Transformer AIO works as an Intel/Windows 8 PC connected to its base, and then an ARM/Android tablet when you free the screen. The forthcoming Lenovo Horizon 27 has only one operating system and CPU architecture like the Sony and Dell systems, but with more limited portability due to its 27-inch screen.
(Credit: Rich Brown/CNET)
And while Sony deserves credit for coming to market with the first all-in-one/tablet hybrid, the slim design of the XPS 18 makes Dell's system the most tablet-like of its class. At 4.8 pounds, the XPS 18 is still heavier than a 10-inch tablet, but it comes in at less than half the weight of the nearly 12-pound Tap 20. Unlike the Asus Transformer, the XPS 18 also runs full Windows 8 natively in tablet mode.
Dell promises 5 hours of battery life under moderate usage (around 3.5 hours of movie-watching time) for the XPS 18. Its size and weight prevent it from competing with tablets for true all-purpose portability. Having held the unit in a pre-announcement demonstration, it's hard to imagine taking the tablet on the subway.
It might work well is as presentation device though, or perhaps even a light-duty collaborative tool. If Dell's battery figures hold up under testing, it's not hard to imagine taking the XPS 18 on the road. Dell says it even intends to sell a carrying-case accessory.
The power of the Dell's core components suffers due to the unit's small size and stingy heat and power management requirements. That's the case with the Sony system, too.
The screen is at least a decent resolution at 1,920x1,080. It also supports 10-point touch input. For ports, Dell includes only two USB 3.0 jacks, a USB 2.0 port for the wireless mouse and keyboard receiver, and a headphone/microphone combo input. It also has a front-facing 720p Web cam, and support for 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, and Intel's Wireless Display technology, aka WiDi.Dell will offer the ultralow voltage of Intel's Core i3, i5, and i7 CPUs in the XPS 18, but the $899 base unit comes with only a low-powered Pentium 2117U chip (which yes, Intel still makes). Memory options fall along standard consumer 4GB and 8GB allotments, and hard drive choices consist of either a 500GB 3.5-inch mechanical drive, or solid state drives ranging from 32GB to 512GB.
Dell says it will begin selling the XPS 18 on April 16. If you're interested in a system like this but feeling patient, you might wait until Intel's forthcoming Haswell CPUs launch later this year, since they promise to bring better performance and more power efficiency to these new hybrid devices. You might even see a few new entrants in the field by then, too.