November 11, 2012, 8:45 PM — With the now-shipping Windows 8 fully controllable by touch as well as mouse and keyboard, you're bound to see some innovative portable designs such as the Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook that take advantage of touch. In the XPS 12's case you can rotate its 12.5-inch touchscreen to face outward when the laptop is closed, turning it into a tablet. Clever, though the company might have taken it a step further.
Overall, the XPS 12 works well in its dual roles. It's a fully functional laptop with no obvious compromises, and as a tablet it works as well as anything else. There's a dedicated Windows button that mimics the Windows key on the display itself so you can easily switch from the new Windows 8 UI Metro interface to the Windows 8 desktop when the physical keyboard is hidden.
Build quality and ergonomics
Materials specialists will have a field day perusing the XPS 12's physical specs. The display is covered with Gorilla Glass, the frame is aluminum, the base and top of the unit are carbon fiber, and the keyboard deck is magnesium. The only thing not mentioned in the literature is the unit's radar cross-section. Seriously though, it's a tough unit.
Notably, despite the space age materials, as a tablet alone the XPS 12 would be overly thick and heavy. Even as a smallish laptop, its 4-poundJ1 travel weight is considerably heavier than a normal 12.5-inch or even 13.3-inch laptop. Part of that is the touchscreen digitizer, though an ounce or two is certainly due to the sturdy aluminum frame necessitated by the swiveling display. Gorilla glass probably adds to the overall weight as well.
You also pay for the XPS 12's duality. Our low-end test unit is priced at a rather hefty $1200 with a 128GB SSD, Core i5-3317U CPU, 4GB of system memory and integrated HD 4000 graphics. You can up the memory to 8GB, the CPU to a Core i7-3517U, and the SSD to 256GB and pay a whopping $1700. Of course you're getting both a laptop and a tablet, though a cynic might point out that rotating a screen isn't really that difficult.
The input ergonomics on the XPS 12 are for the most part top notch. The keyboard is a back lit, Chiclet-style unit with a more travel then you'd expect; it types well. The touchpad is responsive but for me was a bit prone to registering inadvertent taps. The touchpad is also a one-piece rocking unit that you can press to click, and requires only a comfortable amount of force (the amount of travel is quite small).