Tablets that convert into laptops are all the rage right now, with all the major companies offering some kind of transforming device. Dell's XPS 12 was the company's first Windows 8 hybrid device, offering a screen that flips over.
The XPS 10 meanwhile is fundamentally a tablet first and foremost. It can be used with a keyboard dock as well though, which turns it into something resembling a netbook. It's running on Windows RT, rather than full-fat Windows 8, meaning you can't install regular desktop software.
The range starts at £339 for the 32GB tablet. If you want the keyboard dock with it -- which you almost certainly will -- you'll have to shell out £459. The top 64GB model with the keyboard comes in at the peppery price £524.
Should I buy the Dell XPS 10?
No. Its outward design, though dull, is inoffensive enough, but it's ruined by appalling build quality. The back panel came away from the frame so much that I thought it was removable (it's not). The screen is acceptable but is dwarfed by an enormous bezel that makes it look squashed in and cheap.
Its saving grace is the keyboard dock, which allows for more comfortable typing while providing extra battery life. Unfortunately, it's an optional extra that'll add an extra £120 onto the price. That pushes the XPS 10 into the lower end of the mid-range laptop arena, putting it in direct competition with more powerful machines running full-fat Windows 8. This version of the software allows you to install desktop software -- something you can't do on Windows RT.
At £400, Microsoft's 32GB Surface tablet is a little more expensive than the £340 demanded for the same capacity XPS 10, but for that you get a considerably better quality -- and better looking -- machine.
Design and build quality
If you didn't guess from the numbers in the name, the XPS 10 is a 10-inch slate. It measures 274mm wide and 177mm deep, making it slightly narrower than Apple's iPad. It's not difficult to hold and weighs in at 635g, meaning you won't feel too bogged down by it.
If you attach the keyboard base, it becomes 1.3kg and measures 24mm thick at its fattest end. That definitely keeps it portable enough to hurl into a backpack and whisk off on a trip. The dock will also help protect the screen from stray keys if you don't have it in a sleeve.
Design wise, it's really not something to write home about. The back consists of a large piece of matte black plastic, broken in the middle by the shiny Dell logo. It's bordered the whole way round by a silver strip. It's inoffensive enough but it doesn't look anything like as lush as the iPad's all-metal back.
Nor does it feel anything like as expensive. The tablet's casing is extremely creaky when you poke and squeeze it and it's possible to distort the screen's image when give it a little bend. Worse still, that silver edging actually comes away from the body in places -- so much so in fact that I thought at first that it was removable. I eventually realised that it isn't -- I was just breaking it.
Build quality seems extremely poor. I have no faith that it will be able to put up with much abuse and I certainly wouldn't want to invest the £400 in something that I doubt would be in one piece down the line. It's possible that this is an isolated build quality issue but it doesn't fill me with confidence. By comparison, Microsoft's Surface tablet felt exceedingly well put together, with no unpleasant creaking and no loose panelling.
It doesn't get much better when you pop it in the keyboard dock. For a start, you have to be quite accurate in where you're placing the tablet to make sure the points line up -- it's easy to get the clips to slot into the wrong part of the tablet. It also doesn't hold the screen in place as firmly as I'd like, resulting in a lot more creaking from the tablet when you open and close it.
Around the edges of the tablet you'll find a micro-USB port, a microSD card slot, a 35mm headphone jack, a power button and volume rocker. Attach the dock and you'll get an extra two full-sized USB 2.0 ports and a mini-HDMI port.
The keyboard on the dock is slightly smaller than the ones you'll find on Dell's full-sized XPS laptops, but it's still fairly comfortable and easy to type on unless you have particularly giant hands. The trackpad is reasonable, but you'll find it much more comfortable to poke and swipe your way around Windows 8, switching to the dock only when you need to type something.
Although the screen measures 10.1 inches on the diagonal, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's smaller. For some reason, Dell has given it a whopping bezel the whole way around making the actual display area look incredibly boxed in.
It has a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, which is standard for a display of this size -- the Surface has the same resolution. It's sharp enough to do small text in Web pages justice and it's bright and bold enough to enjoy the odd movie or TV show on the go.
If screen quality is a huge issue for you then you might want to look at the XPS 12. Its 12-inch display has a Full HD resolution and is extremely bold -- although you'll have to hand over significantly more cash for it. For the money, the XPS 10's screen is at least adequate.
Windows 8 RT software
The XPS 10 runs on the tablet-specific version of Windows 8 known as Windows RT. It's a stripped down version of what you'd find on a normal laptop or desktop, although at first look you won't be able to tell the difference.
Both the full-fat and RT versions feature the large, vibrant live tiles scattered across the homescreen for you to swipe through, with the People and Me hubs combining your friends' social networks in one handy place. The difference, however, is that the RT version is designed to run on low-powered mobile processors in tablets, rather than on laptop or desktop hardware.
Crucially, this means that you're not able to install regular desktop software like Adobe Photoshop, VLC Media Player or iTunes on RT devices like the XPS 10. Instead, you'll be doing your app shopping in the Windows 8 store, which if you're something of an app addict isn't going to suit you.
Although there are some gems like Netflix, Skype and of course our own excellent CNET app, the store is still woefully understocked. Apps like Spotify aren't available, for example, and as you can't install your own software, you aren't able to manually download it from the site.
Windows RT does, however, come with Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 as standard. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, letting you get on with your busy work right out of the box. Of course, if you're going to be doing a lot of typing, you're really going to need that keyboard dock.
Power and performance
Inside the XPS 10 you'll find a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor clocked at 1.5GHz. It's not the quad-core processor you'll find in the Surface, but it's slightly faster, so there's no need to expect lesser performance.
For navigating your way around Windows 8, the XPS 10 provides plenty of juice. Swiping across the live tiles is nippy and opening apps and switching between them using the multi-tasking swipes from the left is free of any irritating delay. It handled multi-tabbed Web browsing fairly well up to a point. It was able to happily switch between six or so regular tabs, but when I had a few of those tabs streaming HD video from YouTube, things became noticeably more sluggish.
Similarly, it was able to import and edit photos in Fhotoroom, but performing each task was subject to a pause while it figured out what I was asking of it. If you have one or two phone snaps you want to apply a filter too then it'll be fine, but trying to work your way through a large batch of files from a dSLR-quality camera is laggy enough to cause night terrors.
There's enough juice to handle the main things though. It won't struggle with normal Web browsing and it dealt with the Office apps perfectly well. Without being able to use my normal benchmarks to compare, I'd tentatively say its performance is on a par with the Surface.
Dell pegs the XPS 10 tablet's battery at around 10 hours which is an impressive number. I'd say that's a very generous estimate though. The battery is certainly quite good, but you'd have to be doing only very lightweight work to get that kind of time. If you're streaming video over wireless networks don't expect to get anything like that.
If battery life is of critical importance to you, then consider snagging the keyboard dock. Dell reckons it bumps the battery time up to 18 hours. I wasn't able to do a full battery drain on it, but I'd certainly say that even in normal use, you'll easily get a whole day's use out of it.
Tablets with keyboard docks are certainly a handy way of combining the touch interaction of a tablet with the ease of typing of a keyboard. Unfortunately, the XPS 10 fails to impress. Its poor build quality, uninspiring design, average performance and high price means your money will definitely be better spent elsewhere.