The Dell XPS 11 is a hybrid ultraportable that can switch from tablet to laptop and back again with a simple rotation of the screen.
If this sounds familiar, it is because the Lenovo Yoga did it first.
But an inherent flaw of the Yoga is that when it is being used as a tablet, its keyboard will still clack around physically when it is being held, even if the keys are disabled.
Dell's solution is a touch keyboard that is almost completely flat. Each key is raised only fractionally and does not travel when struck. It is as if you are typing on a table. The keyboard is like the optional Touch Cover keyboard accessory for the Microsoft Surface tablet but without tactile feedback.
The only feedback is in the form of a clicking sound. But the sound lags behind the keystrokes and so ends up being more annoying than useful. I was loath to turn off the audio initially because that would mean zero feedback for my typing, but it got on my nerves so much that I muted it.
As a result, the keyboard was extremely frustrating to use, especially when I was trying to enter my Windows password.
This review was written almost entirely on the XPS 11 and I probably had more typographical errors than on a software keyboard. I had to type more slowly and deliberately than usual to ensure that the keystrokes were indeed registered.
While there are settings to adjust the sensitivity of the keyboard and the keys backlight can be switched on and off, the XPS 11 ultimately requires users to adjust to its keyboard.
Built with premium materials such as carbon fibre and aluminium, with a soft touch finish, the laptop conforms to the design template for XPS machines. At around 1.1kg, it is very light for a laptop, though overweight for a slate. It is a handsome device. The touch keyboard also means that the XPS 11 is thinner than the Lenovo Yoga.
The screen is a high-resolution, 2,560 x 1,440 pixel display that is thin for a touch panel. Viewing angles are good, though there is some colour shift when the screen is viewed from the extreme right or left.
With a Haswell Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, the XPS 11 has ultrabook-class specifications. It even has a fast 802.11ac wireless adaptor and a speedy 128GB solid-state drive.
At 5hr 22min, the battery life of the XPS 11 is very decent compared with the six hours managed by most ultrabooks; but considering that this hybrid PC is thinner and lighter than most, it is a fair trade-off.
Dell's attempt at a hybrid PC is excellent if you can adapt to its touch keyboard. However, for most users, I believe it would be a deal-breaker.
Processor: Intel Core i5-4210Y (1.5GHz)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4200
Screen size: 11.6 inches, 2,560 x 1,440 pixels
Connectivity: 2 x USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, SD card reader, headphone and microphone combo jack
Battery: 40 watt-hour
Value for money: 3
Battery life: 4
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