Hardware Laptops Reviews

Dell XPS 15 or Dell XPS 15 2-in-1: which is best?

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
Do you go for the power of the clamshell XPS 15 or the flexibility of the 2-in-1 version?

First things first: both of these laptops are excellent. If you have literally two seconds to decide, buy either one and you’ll be happy. Got an extra few minutes to spare before you invest two grand in a computer? Then here’s how to pick between the Dell XPS 15 and Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, as we put them head to head.

In fact, we’re particularly lucky because we have both models sitting in front of us to test. This Core i5 Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and this Core i7 Dell XPS 15.

BTQ: Brief Tech Questions

What’s the difference?The plain XPS 15 is a “normal” clamshell laptop. The 2-in-1 can twist round to become a monster-sized tablet.
Is one faster than the other?Yes. The XPS 15 comes with faster processors, so that’s the one to choose if power is your thing.
What does XPS stand for?Nothing in particular, but it’s Dell’s name for its most premium models. Think X for luxury.
How new are these models?They were both released during the summer so you can buy with confidence – neither is about to be replaced.
Can you play games on them?Yes, but again the XPS 15 is a better choice if you’re after a real gaming system. 
How much?The XPS 15 2-in-1 starts at £1,699 and the XPS 15 at £1,399, but it’s always worth shopping around. Dell often provides deals on its website, and there are one-off deals on Amazon, Argos, Currys et al too.

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1: Speed

Put at its very simplest, the XPS 15 is a little fatter and has more room for cooling; this allows Dell to squeeze in faster, hotter-running chips. 

Dell provided me with a Core i5-8305G model of the XPS 15 2-in-1. It came with 8GB of memory, but even if it had sent a top-end machine with a Core i7-8705G and 16GB of memory then it wouldn’t have held a candle to the Dell XPS 15.

That’s because this included a Core i7-8750H chip. While the difference between G and H may not seem big, there is a leap in power between the two: it will slice through tough tasks such as 4K video encoding at a chunky 30% faster and is far better at multitasking.

In day-to-day use, both are snappy. But I did notice the plain XPS 15 jumped to attention that little bit faster.

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
There isn’t much difference in the single-core tests…
Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
…but that all changes in the demanding multicore Geekbench 4 benchmark

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1: Connections

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
The XPS 15’s thicker frame means it can hold more ports

The XPS 15’s chunkier dimensions help when it comes to connectivity. It has space for all these ports:

  • HDMI 2
  • Thunderbolt 3
  • 2 x USB-A 3.1 (the older type of USB port)
  • SD card slot

The slimmer XPS 15 2-in-1 has slimmer ports, but plenty of them:

  • 2 x Thunderbolt 3
  • 2 x USB-C 3.1 (the newer type of USB port)
  • microSD card slot
Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
The XPS 15 2-in-1 is a fraction slimmer, but still has room for USB-C ports

Now there’s a lot to be said in favour of Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C, but like everyone I still have printers, microphones, thumb drives and the like that use an old-style USB-A port. Dell provides a USB-C to USB-A adapter in the box, but it’s still a) more fiddly and b) more likely to get lost.

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1: Portability and battery life

There’s little difference between the two when being carried around. They both weigh around 2kg (although if you buy the non-touchscreen version of the XPS 15 then it drops to 1.8kg) and have similar dimensions.

Both have similar battery life, too, and it’s excellent. I played a looping video at medium screen brightness on both: the XPS 15 lasted for 9hrs 33mins, the XPS 15 2-in-1 for 10hrs 14mins. 

Note you can charge both via USB-C, although you’ll need a hefty power source. The XPS 15 can also be powered by a conventional charger, too. Frequent travellers may want to consider the Dell Power Bank Plus to keep it topped up, rather than carrying the large, lozenge-shaped power supplies with them.

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1: Why go convertible?

So here is perhaps the biggest question: why even consider going for the 2-in-1? What’s the real advantage of a convertible?

The answer lies with you. Do you have a particular need to draw on screen? If so, you’ll need to buy an active pen (one powered by batteries). Dell offers a more basic pen for around £50, but if you intend to draw on-screen then the question becomes: are you willing to spend another £130 on the Dell Premium Active Pen?

If you aren’t, then I’d go for the plain XPS 15 with a touchscreen: both respond well to touch, and if all you need to do is annotate things or scrawl the occasional note then folding the screen all the way back is handy but not a killer feature.

With an Active Pen – note I haven’t tried Dell’s in particular, so can’t comment on its quality – the experience is completely different. Put the screen in easel position and you have a superb drawing workspace. 

Likewise students may end up preferring to capture all their lecture notes digitally (becoming searchable in the process) rather than relying on pen and paper.

Another area where the 2-in-1 has an advantage is when travelling on planes. Twist the screen through 270 degrees and you have a beautiful movie-watching device, whereas you probably won’t have room to push the plain XPS 15’s screen back in Economy.

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 2-in-1: Screen and keyboard

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
The screen on both laptops is a beauty

Both these screens are excellent. Dell supplied me with a 4K touchscreen on the XPS 15 that soared through our technical tests and looked beautiful when watching videos. 

And the same is true for the 1,920 x 1,080 screen of the supplied XPS 2-in-1. It isn’t quite as good in terms of covering the colour gamuts, but remains an excellent, bright display.

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
The XPS 15 2-in-1’s keyboard just isn’t as nice to type on

Where it falls down is the keyboard, which is rattly. I admit that I’m fussy about such things, but look elsewhere if you’re someone who types thousands of words per week.

The XPS 15 has a much better keyboard, albeit with a hint of rattle too. Where it wins is that there’s resistance as you press down on the keys, giving it a higher-quality feel.

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 2-in-1: Gaming quality

It’s unusual for a 2-in-1 machine to be good at playing games, but Dell succeeds here. That’s because it doesn’t rely on the Intel graphics integrated into the processor, instead supplying a Radeon RX Vega M GL chip.

The Dell XPS 15 again benefits from having extra room in its chassis for a more powerful graphics processor, namely the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti. Partnered with its powerful CPU, we fully expected it to be faster in gaming benchmarks – and it was:

Dell XPS 15 vs Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

It’s notable that the XPS 15’s lead was much more obvious in the synthetic GFXBench tests compared to the “real-world” tests in Metro: Last Light.

However, whichever way you look at it, the XPS 15 is the superior gaming machine.

One caveat though: if you hate fan noise then don’t buy the XPS 15. When it gets going in games, it roars. The XPS 15 2-in-1 has a much more discreet hum.

Which Dell XPS 15 should you buy?

The first thing to say is look for the model name 9570. That indicates you’re buying this year’s Dell XPS 15, not last year’s (the 9560).

At any one time Dell offers different versions of the XPS on its website, so it’s always worth checking to see its deals here.

I’ve also taken a look at what’s on offer at Amazon right now (5 October 2018) to give you an idea of their strengths and weaknesses:

Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 1TB hard disk, GeForce GTX 1050, 1080p non-touch

The cheapest at £1,299, but there’s only 8GB of RAM and there’s no touchscreen. A great value buy. 

Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce 1050 Ti, 1080p non-touch

A step up in power with a larger SSD, twice the RAM, a superior graphics card and significantly faster processor. At £1,830 inc delivery you must be sure you’ll take advantage – and note it’s still no touchscreen.

Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce 1050 Ti, 4K touchscreen

This is the machine we tested and, if we had the money in our pockets, is the one we’d buy. A shade over £2,000 once you add delivery, but it’s lovely.

Which Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 should you buy?

Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Radeon Vega, 1080p touchscreen

Again the lowest priced option is probably the best value. At £1,699, it’s fast enough (this is the model we tested) and we’re happy with a 1080p rather than 4K screen. After all, you need to pay for that Active Pen still…

Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Radeon Vega, 4K touchscreen

You have to pay an extra £500 for this model, but it has a great specification – that 512GB SSD will be a big boon after a year or two’s use. Still good value at £2,199, which isn’t a phrase we write often.

Now read this: what are the best laptops for students heading to uni?

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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