If the Dell XPS 12‘s design looks familiar, that’s because you’ve probably seen it before. Dell pioneered the unique swiveling screen in 2010 as the Inspiron Duo, a hybrid Windows 7 laptop and tablet. The twist: Rather than rotate horizontally through a monster hinge on the base, Dell’s hybrid screen is designed to flip 180 degrees vertically through a central axis within the frame of the lid, letting the LCD face either forward toward the keyboard or away from it. (At the risk of sounding glib, the photo makes this much clearer than words can explain it.)
The Duo was a flop, as most Windows 7 tablets of the era were, but the verdict never really came in on the practicality of the twisty-flippy screen design. Now that Windows 8 is here, Dell is giving this system a second go.
The swivel screen notwithstanding, as a laptop, the XPS 12 is unusual from the start. The 12.5-inch capacitive touchscreen LCD is fantastically bright, and the 1920 x 1080 resolution is unheard of in a screen of this size. Under the hood, specs are typical of an ultrabook: 1.7GHz Core i5, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD drive. Peripheral connectivity is limited to two USB 3.0 ports and a mini-DisplayPort jack. Performance on general apps is very good and in line with other SSD-equipped ultrabooks, but graphics capabilities are nonexistent, of course, given the machine’s integrated GPU.
This all sounds fine and good, and as a laptop the XPS 12 is largely a capable machine. My only complaint when using it in this mode relates to the touchpad. It tracks well but it doesn’t register taps appropriately. Double-tapping is (bizarrely) virtually nonfunctional on the device; 9 times out of 10, you’ll have to depress the pad fully to physically double-click. The keyboard, however, is quite well made. It’s backlit (though leaky), and the island-style keys have a gentle concavity to them, making touch typing fairly easy.