Not only is the Dell XPS 13 one of Dell’s most well-known laptops, but it is one of the most well-known laptops, period. If you know anything about Windows Laptops, you’ve probably heard the name. It’s pretty much pretty much in every way, and it’s just getting better.
So it is forgivable to hear about a “Dell XPS 13 2-in-1” and assume that it is an unlimited XPS 13 that you can turn around. But the XPS 13 2-in-1 is very much its own laptop with a different set of compromises and considerations from its clamshell counterpart. In some areas (like graphics performance), the convertible is one step ahead of standard XPS; in others (like the keyboard) it compromises a bit. The best model for you depends on the type of tasks you want to perform.
This year’s 2-in-1 starts at $ 1,099.99 for a Core i3-1115G4 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. You can specify it all the way up to $ 2,249.99 (now listed at $ 1,999.99) for a 3840 x 2400 monitor, a Core i7-1165G7 CPU, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. You can also pay $ 50 extra for the white (“frost”) color instead of the silver and black model and $ 60 extra to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.
I have a model in the middle that contains 1165G7, 16 GB RAM, a 512 GB SSD and a 1920 x 1200 touchscreen. It costs $ 1,949.99 (but is currently listed at $ 1,749.99 on the Dell website). The standard XPS 13 with the same processor has only 8 GB of RAM and is said to cost $ 1,499.99, but it is currently listed at $ 1,349.99. That means you pay $ 400 extra for 8GB more memory and the other benefits of 2-in-1.
Before I get into that, I’ll give you a brief overview of what’s new from the latest XPS 13 2-in-1. There is mostly one thing: the processor. This 2-in-1 (9310) includes Intel’s latest 11th generation “Tiger Lake” mobile chips. The CPUs bring Intel’s best Iris Xe integrated graphics to the class, which has been the city’s talk since Tiger Lake’s launch, as well as the Thunderbolt 4 standard. This 9310 is actually certified through Intel’s Evo program (marked with a small sticker on the right palm rest), which is supposed to guarantee that a laptop meets the needs of an everyday home or office user, in categories from connectivity to battery life and performance.
Other than that, the new 2-in-1 has pretty much the same look as its predecessor and clamshell XPS, complete with a thin and sturdy aluminum frame, a 1920 x 1200 (16:10) Gorilla Glass display and four ports (two USB -C with Thunderbolt 4, DisplayPort and power supply, a headphone jack and a microSD card reader). Dell has also made a few tweaks: the webcam now supports Windows Hello, there is a new “frost” color option, RAM is bumped from 3733MHz to 4267MHz, the touchpad is quieter, and there is an updated microSD reader that Dell says will deliver better performance. It’s good and good, but the processor is the star of the show here – and it’s a star.
For overall performance, the 1165G7 handled my workload in the office, which includes a dozen Chrome tabs, a few other apps like Slack and Spotify, and some download, file copying, and other office-y stuff in the background without any issues. I never heard the fans spin up or feel any heat unless I was running an intense program. This is the experience you get with any machine with an i7, but you are certainly not sacrificing any performance for this convertible form factor.
Heavier media work is where this system begins to stand out. 2-in-1 took 10 minutes and 5 seconds to export our 5-minute, 33-second 4K video in Adobe Premiere Pro. It’s 38 seconds faster than the regular XPS 13 – effectively comparable. Both systems are faster than any 10th generation Ice Lake laptop with integrated graphics, and they beat the Asus ZenBook 14 with the same processor (which took 11 and a half minutes). They also lose both to the arm-powered MacBook Air (which does not even have a fan) and the MacBook Pro, which finished the job in 8:15 and 7:39, respectively.
Where 2-in-1 really differs from clamshell, however, is gaming performance. You can actually play a large number of games on this laptop without having to bump the resolution. 2-in-1 smoked mussel shell Rocket Leaguemaximum settings (an average of 120 fps, for the mussel shell’s 111 fps) and League of legends (226 fps to the mussel shell’s 205 fps). You can only see 60 fps on both XPS 13s, which is the maximum their screens can show, but these results show how much higher Dell has clocked 2-in-1 over standard XPS.
2-in-1 puts up such impressive numbers that there are actually games where you can see better performance than you want on the seashell. It burst through Overwatch‘s Ultra settings, averaging 71 fps. It beats the standard XPS 13, which averaged 48 fps at the same preset – a difference you’ll notice in the gameplay. It also beats Lenovo’s IdeaPad Slim 7 with AMD’s eight-core Ryzen 7 4800U, which set 46 fps and is actually not far from a system I tested with the most powerful Tiger Lake processor (Core i7-1185G7), which averages 89fps .
The really exciting news is that you can actually play Shadow of the Tomb Raider on this machine at 1080p. 2-in-1 averaged 36fps on the game’s built-in benchmark (at the lowest possible settings). It’s only twice the latest MacBook Air with Apple’s M1 chip (38 fps), which has surpassed 1165G7 systems across the board. Now you may very well not want to play demanding titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 38 fps, but you able to Play them on this machine without feeling like you are watching a flipbook. It’s a great achievement for this integrated graphics, especially considering that the standard XPS 13 only averaged 22 fps on the same benchmark.
Similar to that of the clamshell XPS, the convertible’s cooling system (including two fans, hidden ventilation ducts in the hinge and what Dell calls “an ultra-thin steam chamber”) is pushed to its limit during these high-intensity tasks. During the Premiere Pro export and my gaming sessions, the CPU spent some time in the high 90s (Celsius) and even hit 100 a few times. This can cause problems with the XPS form factor down the line if Intel does not achieve significant efficiencies. On the plus side, the keyboard and touchpad did not get hot at all. (The keyboard became tasty on the seashell.)
So 2-in-1 gives you better graphics performance than standard XPS (as well as a convertible form factor) at just a slightly higher price. What is the catch? There are two worth considering.
The first is battery life. I averaged eight hours and 50 minutes using 2-in-1 as my primary work driver with the 200 nit brightness screen. It’s pretty good among the Tiger Lake systems we’ve seen so far, and that means you have to get a full working day from a charge. But it’s a little worse than standard XPS, where I usually saw nine hours and 15 minutes – a small difference, but one that could be important for students or frequent business travelers looking for every ounce of juice they can get.
The second compromise to consider is the keyboard. The standard XPS 13 has one of my favorite portable keyboards all the time; it is snappy, quiet and comfortable with a really nice structure. 2-in-1 has another keyboard that Dell calls the “Next Gen MagLev keyboard”. It has wider key pieces with only 0.7 mm drive. It feels like using the old low-profile butterfly keyboard on the 2019 MacBook Pro. Personally, I hate this. Writing on the convertible feels like slapping my fingers on flat plastic. But I reluctantly acknowledge that some people (including The edge Deputy Administrator Dan Seifert) prefers this kind of keys.
Overall, the XPS 13 2-in-1 9310 is an excellent Windows convertible. It maintains the sleek, rugged, premium build quality that makes the XPS line the best of the best, while delivering some of the best performance you can get from an ultraportable laptop. It’s a formidable competitor to Apple’s groundbreaking MacBooks, especially if you’re looking for a touch screen and a convertible form factor.
If you decide to buy XPS 13 or XPS 13 2-in-1, the differences are simple – but they are also important and worth thinking about. The convertible form factor is the most obvious difference, but I would argue that it is not the most important (unless your job requires tablet use). You spend a lot of time on the keyboard, so you want to find out which one you prefer (if you’ve used MacBook Butterfly keyboards and other MacBook keyboards, this is a rough approximation). You should also consider what kinds of tasks you want to put your system through, and whether a marked increase in graphics performance (especially with demanding games) is worth giving up some battery life. And of course there is the price difference of $ 400.
Anyone considering an XPS 13 and thinking they might prefer a convertible should definitely consider 2-in-1. Just do not assume that they are exactly the same package.
Photograph by Monica Chin / The Verge