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Review + videos: 3 convertible Windows laptops try to be all devices to all people

Brian Nadel | March 12, 2014
We look at three Windows 8.1 convertibles that can transform into laptops, tablets or presentation devices, and try to discover how useful they really are.

None of them is low-cost — the extra design, engineering and manufacturing for the specialty hinges make these systems expensive compared to conventional laptops, with costs running between $800 and $1,829.

Still, if you like the idea of your laptop being a Swiss army knife that can change into a tablet, fold flat on a table or have its screen point away from the keyboard, a convertible is the best game in town.

Dell XPS 11

Dell's XPS 11 is a thin, lightweight system that has a beautiful ultra-high-resolution screen. However, some of its other features — such as the keyboard — don't quite live up to its promise.

The XPS 11 has four distinct computing personalities. In addition to being a laptop, it folds flat on a tabletop, can be opened like a tent or used as a tablet.

The simplest of the three convertibles here, the XPS 11 has a pair of hinges that can flip the display a full 360 degrees, so that it easily changes from a laptop to a tablet. The hinge action is smooth and the magnetic clasps are strong enough to hold the system closed in both its laptop and tablet configurations.

Made of stainless steel, the XPS 11's hinges have, according to Dell, survived testing that includes more than 20,000 rotation cycles. Based on an average of 10 rotations per day, that should translate into an estimated lifetime of at least five and a half years.

The XPS 11 is 0.5 in.-thick when used in laptop mode and 0.4 in.-thick in tablet mode. With a footprint of 11.8 x 7.9 in and a weight of 2.5 lb., the XPS 11 is both the smallest and the lightest of the three convertibles reviewed here, and was the easiest to hold and use for extended periods as a tablet. The case is constructed of a lightweight carbon fiber base with a comfortable, soft finish and a magnesium palm rest area.

The system's WQHD 2560 x 1440 display surpasses the displays used on the HP EliteBook Revolve G2 and the Sony Flip 11 in its ability to render detail. However, I didn't find it as bright as the Revolve G2's lower-resolution display.

Made of Gorilla Glass NBT, the display should be able to stand up to daily use; it responds well to 10 individual finger inputs. However, when used as a laptop, the screen noticeably wobbles. I found that I needed to brace the screen with my left hand while tapping or swiping with my right.

The XPS 11's biggest compromise, though, is its keyboard. Rather than the traditional mechanical setup that's used on the HP EliteBook Revolve and the Sony Flip 11, the XPS 11 has membrane-based keys that provide little or no tactile feedback. For a touch typist, it's better than using a screen-based keyboard, but not by much. The keys' sensitivity is adjustable, but to type accurately, I needed to slow down from about 40 to 45 words per minute to about 15 or 20 words per minute in order to deliberately strike the keys.


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