Dell hasn't been sending the best signs to consumers lately: the company has continued to reiterate that it is focusing on enterprise after years of falling behind to HP and Lenovo. Consumer sales dropped 22 percent last quarter. Despite all of this, it looks like the upcoming release of Windows 8 has given the company some energy: here at IFA Dell has unveiled its primary converged devices for the new operating system: the XPS Duo 12 and the XPS 10. The latter is another entry in what's quickly becoming a crowded category of tablet / keyboard dock combos, but the former gives a surprising peek at a Dell that can innovate and remain relevant in the consumer space.
The XPS Duo 12 ignores docking and instead opts for a floating display that can flip within its bezel to transform into a tablet. It's quite a rare design, but in reality it's cribbed from Dell's extremely bold Inspiron Duo convertible netbook (circa 2010), which featured the same rotating screen design. Faced with the pressure to create devices that could take advantage of Windows 8's start screen and touch controls, Dell went back to take what was good about a quirky device that never should have seen the light of day.
It's fortunate that Dell saw the potential: combined with a switch from the company's budget Inspiron line to its premium level XPS series, the XPS Duo 12 makes a very strong case for this unusual form factor over that of the tablet / keyboard dock combo. We've had a chance to use a pre-production unit of the machine here at IFA 2012, and while Dell doesn't want to reveal specs beyond its 12.5-inch "Full HD" screen and up to Core i7 processor, it's clear that the company has put together a good option here.
Dell seizes an opportunity
The machine borrows heavily from the quite excellent XPS 13 ultrabook, with a carbon fibre top and bottom, sturdy magnesium alloy chassis, and a strong aluminum bezel around the floating display. That all factors into some weight savings, but unfortunately the XPS Duo 12 is still thicker and heavier than we would have hoped — this is primarily a table tablet that you won't want to tote like an iPad.
The swiveling screen itself looks excellent, and the mechanism is thankfully of high quality like the rest of the machine's build quality. There's a reassuring click when you pop out the display, and another when you snap it into place. The hinge itself doesn't have consistent resistance, and at certain points it's too loose — a problem we suspect will be squashed before the hardware becomes final. Beyond the screen, the system ran Windows 8 smoothly, and the keyboard is reminiscent of the quality keys on the XPS 13, even if not quite the same size. Dell has fortunately paid attention to the trackpad, and uses a smooth glass surface that's suitably clicky — even if a bit loosely seated in this pre-production model.
That's all not to ignore Dell's decidedly less-inspired 10mm-thick XPS 10 keyboard docking Windows RT tablet. The 10-inch tablet isn't adorned with such luxurious materials as the Duo 12, but it's a fairly solid, if expected, design. The hinge features an automatic locking mechanism that we struggled with on this pre-production model, and the trackpad and keyboard are both lacking, but such things do seem to happen at this form factor — its a matter of compromises. Performance from the machine's Snapdragon S4 was suitably speedy in Windows RT.
We'll be looking to spend some more time with these PCs down the road, but for now, the Inspiron Duo's once-wacky rotating screen looks like it might have finally found its home with Windows 8. We can't call this a success just yet — we still don't know what's in the Duo 12 — but if Dell pays attention to what it puts inside the company could be taking its first step towards a better Dell.