Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020) review

Dell’s premium 2-in-1 XPS is one of the best Windows laptops around

OUR VERDICT:
A beautifully built laptop with computing power that provides both general tasks and more intensive applications with a brilliant Windows environment, making this the best 2-in-1 currently available.

PROS

  • Great display
  • Superb build quality
  • Fantastic battery life

CONS

  • Less useful as a tablet
  • Expensive
  • Webcam just 720p

Two-minute Review Review
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020), also known as the Dell XPS 13 7390, is a significant upgrade to Dell’s high-end 2-in-1 range of performance and specifications, and may be the finest example of this common best-of-both-worlds form factor.

2-in-1 laptops typically work well as regular Windows laptops with touchscreens. But they also have a method for flipping the computer around and turning the laptop into a tablet, making it easier to hold and use while out and about.

However the experience of using one is nothing like an iPad or Android tablet at all and is much similar to the Surface Pro of Microsoft. After all it’s a Windows 10 laptop, and it runs standard PC software, with touch interactions and an on-screen keyboard that when communicating with standard PC software replaces the keyboard and mouse.

But despite starting this review by highlighting the tablet functionality of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020), that’s just one of its features, and we actually spent most of our time using it as a conventional laptop, albeit one that performs spectacularly and provides a Windows experience for general computing that is impressively fluid.

“The combination of Intel’s 10th generation “Ice Lake” quad-core Core i7 processor, beautiful high-resolution display, fast PCIe NVMe storage and 16 GB of memory from our review unit makes it a highly portable computer. But it is the inclusion of outstanding precision aluminum construction and solid build quality that enables it to truly stand out as an all-round dream machine for general Windows use and even for some design tasks as a nifty portable device.

 

The only glaring weakness when using the Dell XPS 13 7390 for video and photo editing is the lack of any kind of discrete graphics for gaming or performance acceleration. It depends on an integrated GPU from Intel’s Iris Plus.

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020) has just about every feature you might like on a laptop in all other respects. Completely stellar battery life, Wi-Fi 6, plenty of storage, quiet activity (but not silent) and excellent all-round efficiency render this a true window laptop champion and a benchmark by which to judge competing designs.

SPECS:

Here is the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020) configuration for review:

CPU: 1.3GHz Intel Core i7-1065G7 (quad-core, 8MB Intel Smart Cache, up to 3.9GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus
RAM: 16GB LPDDR4x (3,733MHz)
Screen: 13.4-inch Full HD+ (1920x 1200) touch
Storage: 512GB SSD (PCIe, NVMe, M.2)
Ports: 2x USB-C 3.1 with Thunderbolt 3, 1 x SD card reader, combi audio jack
Connectivity: Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650, 2 x 2, Bluetooth 5.1
Camera: 720p webcam
Weight: 2.9 pounds (1.33 kg)
Size: 11.67 x 8.17 x 0.51 inches (296 x 207 x 13 mm; W x D x H)

 

Price and accessibility

If you’re looking for the 7390 on Dell’s website, be aware that Dell has confusingly released a second 2-in-1 laptop named the 9310 as of late 2020, with a near-identical design that sits in the lineup alongside the 7390. We would recommend going for the 9310 model based on the superior 11th-generation Intel processors, as you would certainly get better performance from Intel processors of the 11th generation.

It has the latest Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics in particular, and it has the option of more customization options, including up to 32 GB of memory, and an Ultra HD+ HDR display with nice support for Dolby Vision. The two versions, however are similar in most other respects.The model we tested for the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020) came with a 512GB PCIe 3.0 NVME SSD, 16GB DDR4 memory and FHD+ display, with a 720p webcam.

The absolute entry level configuration has just 8 GB of memory, 256 GB SSD, an 11th generation Core i3 processor and a lower resolution FHD+ display for an enticing $ 1,099 (around £ 900, AU$ 1,400), if you want the cheapest Dell XPS 2-in-1 (2020) configuration.

However that’s not a lot of storage or memory, so we’d suggest going for 16 GB and a 512 GB SSD. Dell provides a variety of options and prices, as with most devices.

With 32GB of DDR4 memory, a 1TB SSD and UHD+ HDR 400 panel, the fully loaded Dell XPS 2-in-1 (2020) configuration costs $ 2,249 / £ 2,199 (around AU$ 3,000), which is obviously a lot of money but semi-reasonable value compared to competing laptops with similar high-end specifications.

Design

Any suggestion that Windows laptops lack the same chic or modern feel of Apple devices is cast off by Dell’s premium XPS design language. The XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020) both looks and feels like a top quality product in (nearly) all areas, and this goes a long way to justifying the price. With that slim style, we had more than a few people cooing. It is not as thin as a MacBook Air, but the same remarkably thin appearance is maintained. It feels powerful but extremely compact, making good use of every millimetre of chassis space.

Strangely, though, despite weighing just 1.3 kg, it still doesn’t feel too thin, and when holding it it gives the impression of some strong heft. However, due to the chunky solid feel of the metal lid, we believe this is purely psychological, but this slim nature does not really get in the way or make it less compact, but rather works in its favor somehow, reinforcing the notion that you possess a piece of well-built quality hardware.

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020) is 13 mm long at its thickest point with the lid closed and 7 mm high with the lid open at its smallest point with the lid closed. In fact, the overall dimensions of 296 x 207 x 13 mm (WxDxH) make it only slightly smaller in width and depth by a few millimeters than a MacBook Air, which will give you an idea of how lightweight and compact it really is.

The display is undoubtedly the next high quality feature that you can find on the Dell XPS 13 7390, in addition to the striking physical appearance. With vibrant and sharp colors, even the Windows desktop and device icons stand out along with Full HD+ (1920x 1200) resolution imagery and movies.
This will be known by the eagle eyed among you as a slightly wider 16:10 aspect ratio than regular HD. There are small bezels, vivid colors and dark blacks. It’s fine, although this version of its newer 9310 sibling lacks the HDR400 compliance option (see above).

To have power and charge the Dell XPS 13 7390, you can use a modern monitor, so a very good configuration is to use a single cable to dock the laptop with a display and that allows charging, keyboard, mouse and probably even external storage instantly, all with a single cable.

Some eGPU enclosures, including Razer’s Core X Chroma, which can charge the Dell XPS 7390 via Thunderbolt, add a monitor and discrete graphics capability and peripherals via USB-A ports, offer a similar thing.

Dell’s own WD19TB Thunderbolt dock, along with 130w fast charging and wired Ethernet, gives you support for up to three external 4K displays over HDMI and DisplayPort.

But the included charging cable and battery pack is fantastically small without that costly addition and won’t get in the way under a desk, with a white LED on the charging cable that lights up when attached.

With the lid open, the interior is coated with a large trackpad with a smooth high-quality silicone and recessed, backlit keys with the power button at the top right. You choose either black or white depending on the external color scheme, with the silver edition we’re testing coming in black (which is actually very dark grey).

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020) is just falling down slightly here. The recessed keys just make typing a tad uncomfortable, but it’s only a slight niggling point and maybe you may not find anything. However the trackpad is pleasantly big, occupying a third of the lower section of the laptop and leaving plenty of room, so for that, full marks to Dell.

However the methodology for translating it into the tablet mode relates to another particular critique.

There are two types of hinges that allow 2-in-1 laptops to turn the screen around either rotate the entire top section 180 degrees so that the screen is on top of the keyboard, keep it firmly concealed within the clamshell, or fold all the way in a single movement so that the keys are directly exposed to the table surface while the tablet is sitting on a desk

Dell has chosen the latter which risks the keyboard getting dirt and muck, or probably scratching the keys and surface.

Although the mechanism for doing so is smooth and the metal hinges are as high quality as the outside, we were as good as the outside table when taking the photos you see for this analysis.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2020) performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Cinebench:  1,621 points
3DMark Time Spy: 973; Fire Strike: 2,769; Night Raid: 10,459
GeekBench 5: 1,281 (single-core); 4,460 (multi-core)
PCMark 10 (Home Test): 4,180 points
PCMark 10 Battery Life: 6 hours 58 minutes
Battery Life (movie test): 14 hours 14 minutes

Performance

The Dell XPS 13 7390 offers performance with a new 10nm Intel processor that is equal to and even beats most Windows quad-core laptops.Intel’s Core i7-1065G7 processor has hyper threading, so it appears in Windows 10 as eight logical cores, idling at 1.5 GHz, but we tested it running at 2.9 GHz over prolonged periods during tests on this laptop.

That is pretty good, particularly because when throttled down, the 10nm processor drives great battery life. The Cinebench score of 1,621 and Geekbench scores placed it well inside the Windows results top-end range. The top Intel and AMD desktop chips manage better Geekbench ratings, but make no mistake, this laptop is more than capable of video editing, running complex audio applications and photo editing with 16 GB of DDR4 memory to boot.

 

The fans audibly speed up to a sort of hiss rather than a whine while running heavy applications that put the processor under stress. On most laptops, this is true and was not a notable problem here. The 7390 is mostly quiet while the job is less intense.

Gaming is not really an option with Intel’s Iris Plus graphics, as suggested above, unless you play vintage titles, browser games or special games with very low graphics requirements.

 

But with an eGPU enclosure, this all moves, which we tested for unexpectedly great results with the Dell XPS 13 7390. We used the Dell XPS 13 with an eGPU enclosure and an AMD Radeon 5700 graphics card hooked up to one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports, and gaming instantly became feasible. However, eGPU enclosures cost quite a bit of money, and on top of that you need to buy a graphics card, making this a relatively pricey way to run games on a non-gaming laptop. It’s not anything for everyone that we suggest.

Battery life

If the design and display are the first two true stand-out features of the Dell XPS 2-in-1 (2020), designed on strong foundations of performance, then what makes it a hat-trick for Dell is the battery life.

In our test, in Windows 10, we activated the low power Battery Saver option, set the screen brightness to 50 percent and repeat the 1080p movie test. 14 hours later, with over 10 percent of the battery left, it was still running. That’s very impressive, enough on a single charge to last a traditional long-haul flight and still provide entertainment for your hotel’s taxi ride.

Considering the competition, it’s particularly impressive. On Apple’s 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro powered by the latest energy-sipping M1 processor, we recently ran a similar test, praising its battery life as one of the big benefits of the new architecture, and recording 13 hours 21 minutes.

Intel has come under a lot of flack from some commentators for its processors running hot and draining battery life in laptops, but these criticisms may not be quite so accurate on modern Window laptops based on the combination of the newer 10nm processors and Windows 10’s energy saving feature in the Dell XPS 13 7390. The obvious caveat is that not every usage situation will offer up this long battery life, and the energy saving feature seriously throttles application performance, so you might not want to leave it on if you’re encoding video, for example.