Dell Does a Back Flip
Like the idea of a touch screen tablet, but can’t really give up the notion that a keyboard is a requirement for the job of classroom computing? You’re not alone. Fortunately, Dell’s XPS 12 Ultrabook provides the best of both worlds with a beautifully designed and crafted convertible that can assume two very different computing personalities at school.
It really is two systems in one. As a conventional Ultrabook it has a full-size keyboard, a large touchpad and hinged display. But, press the top of the screen forward until it clicks and the whole thing rotates as the display flips its orientation, facing away from the user. This is perfect for teaching to a small group of kids or fellow teachers while maintaining eye contact.
That’s just the start because the screen can be folded completely down, creating a finger-friendly tablet. The keyboard is hidden underneath the touch-screen and the XPS 12 feels solid and secure in either configuration.
It might take away from the lesson at hand, but the way it transforms from one genre of computing to another is nothing short of magic and could be a physics lesson on its own. From the machined aluminum screen frame to the carbon fiber display lid, the XPS 12 is one of the most thoughtfully designed and beautiful mobile computers ever made.
Its beauty is more than skin deep, though. The hinge has been tested for 20,000 cycles without damage. Plus, the screen is made of super-strong Gorilla glass, making the system tough enough for schools.
The XPS12’s touch response was reliable and accurate, although its touchpad sometimes lost contact and required a second to catch up. It can handle 10-independent finger inputs and worked with gestures, but the 12.5-inch touch screen is also a great way to show a lesson. It can display 1,920 by 1,080 HD resolution compared to 1,366 by 768 for most of the competition. It uses Intel’s HD Graphics.
With all that extra hardware, the XPS 12 is a bit on the heavy and thick side. It weighs in at 3.4-pounds and takes up 12.4 by 8.4-inches of desktop space, making more on a par with a 13.3-inch system. As a tablet, it measures 0.6-inches in the front, which rises to 0.8-inches in the back.
The model that I looked at costs $1,200, which is a lot for schools in this age of cutbacks and austerity. On the other hand, it comes well equipped, with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive storage system. Dell sells versions that have faster chips, more memory and larger drives for as much as $1,700.
Because it needs to function in the world of tablets as well as full notebooks, the XPS 12 has an eclectic mix of ports, including a pair of USB 3.0 connections as well as audio. Rather than the expected VGA or HDMI ports, the XPS 12 has a mini-DisplayPort connection for video. For driving a desktop monitor or projector, you’ll need an adapter, like the converters for HDMI ($20) or VGA ($33) that Dell sells.
In addition to 802.11n WiFi, the system has Bluetooth, but it’s too thin for a wired LAN connection. Once, again you’ll need an adapter.
The bad news is that all these small adapters are all too easy to lose, particularly if you spend the day going from room to room. The good news is that the XPS 12 can use WiDi to wirelessly connect the computer with a projector or TV. It stayed connected as far as 25-feet away.
There are three unexpected goodies that will help the XPS 12 fit into the school scene. To start, it has a backlit keyboard that is an excellent way to keep typing while the lights are out during a projector-based lesson. Plus, in addition to a small button on the system’s side that lights up LEDs to show you how much battery is left, the XPS 12 has a button at the bottom of the screen that returns the user to the Windows 8 Start screen
It all adds up to a system that performs well, but not at the expense of battery life. Its Passmark Performance 8.0 score of 1,255.8 puts it in the upper echelon of Ultrabooks. While playing YouTube videos continuously, the XPS 12 ran for 5 hours and 5 minutes on its battery. That’s quite good, but there’re two snags: the battery can’t be removed to swap for a fresh one and the AC adapter requires a three-prong outlet.
Despite its high price tag, the XPS 12 comes with a 1-year warranty; upping it to 3-years adds $200. I think that the Dell XPS 12 has a place in the classroom. It's for when a tablet isn’t enough and a traditional notebook is too much. The XPS 12 is just right.
+ Converts between a tablet and an Ultrabook
+ Excellent performance and battery life
+ Innovative design
+ HD screen
+ Gorilla Glass
- Lacks stylus
- Thick and heavy
- Projector and networking require adapters