Hands-on with the Dell XPS 11: meet Dell's answer to the Lenovo Yoga (video)

Updated ·4 min read

Just a short while ago we brought word that Dell had quietly announced the Dell XPS 11, an 11.6-inch Ultrabook with a hinge that folds all the way back into tablet mode, with the keyboard disabled after it passes 180 degrees. Yep, it is what it sounds like: a direct strike at Lenovo's Yoga convertibles. As we said in our earlier report, it won't actually be available until the holiday season, but fortunately we just had a chance to get hands-on with a prototype unit here at Computex. So, we're prepared to share a few first impressions, even though certain minor details like price and specs have yet to be finalized. Meet us past the break for the full preview.%Gallery-190109%

At this early stage, Dell can't comment on certain particulars, like what processors the XPS 11 will have, or how much RAM will come standard. But it has committed to this: the system will come standard with a 2,560 x 1,440 IPS display, something we've never actually seen on a Dell laptop until now. In fact, it's not something we're used to seeing on 11-inch machines, period, and that's saying a lot: extra-high-res displays are all anyone wants to talk about at Computex this week. As you'd expect, the screen looks absolutely brilliant in person, not just due to its pixel density, but because its colors look almost as vibrant from near-180-degree angles as they do head-on. Additionally, the screen will come with an active digitizer for pressure-sensitive pen input, and there will eventually be a slot on the device for stowing it. However, Dell isn't saying whether Wacom provided the digitizer, nor did we get a chance to try out this feature today.

The chassis itself will measure less than 15mm thick in its final form, and weigh in at less than 2.5 pounds. Regardless of what the final dimensions are, the XPS 11 doesn't tread much new ground in terms of design: it has the same attractive carbon fiber weave already used on the XPS 12 and XPS 13. Certain luxury details, like the metal plate on back covering the FCC info, have also made a return. To each his own, of course, but you won't hear us complaining: we always thought Dell had a good thing going with its recent XPS designs.

There is one area where Dell's taken a gamble, and that's the keyboard. You can tell Dell was not only inspired by the Lenovo Yoga series, but also listened carefully as reviewers like us complained about how the keys got in the way of the tablet experience. The Yoga's is a great keyboard, by the way -- at least as far as typing goes. But when you flip that machine into tablet mode, you're left with your fingers pressing against loose buttons on the back side. It's an odd sensation, and knowing that the keyboard's disabled doesn't really make up for it. Anyway, enter Dell. For the XPS 11, the company went with a flat, Surface-style keyboard with no travel. Unlike the Surface, to be fair, the keys will give some feedback -- audio feedback, mainly, though we felt some haptic sensations too when we tapped it. We're still waiting for more details there, but for now Dell is saying the feedback will be adjustable, as will the sensitivity levels.

It's difficult to say whether Dell made a foolish decision here, compromising on the PC's main input device. After all, this was a prototype unit we handled and we were explicitly forbidden from playing with the keyboard, in particular. That said, it would seem that Dell introduced a user experience problem even as it solved another one. Surely, it'll be nice to fold the XPS 11 back into tablet mode and be greeted with a smooth surface on the back, just as if this were any other tablet.

At the same time, we're intensely curious about what it's like to type on a keyboard like this, particularly when the machine in question is powerful and expensive enough to be one's primary computer. It's not like a Surface tablet where it was intended as more of a companion device to begin with; this could be the keyboard you pound on 40 hours a week. Plus, one of the reasons we like the XPS 12 and XPS 13 so much is on account of their cushy, tactile keyboards, so it's a bold move indeed for Dell to ax that feature. All that said, we're ready to be surprised, just as we were with the Surface's Touch Cover. Ready when you are, Dell.

Zach Honig and Mat Smith contributed to this report.