Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 9365

The XPS 13 2-in-1 is Dell’s, well, 2-in-1 version of their popular XPS 13 workstation ultrabook.

The concept of 2-in-1 is probably not alien to anyone and marries the laptop and tablet form-factors into a single package that leverages a 360 degree hinge so that the device can fold back over itself to transform from a laptop into a tablet.

I must lead with asserting that I’m not at all a fan of this concept. I don’t find much appeal in touchscreen laptops, and I don’t feel that even Windows 10 is so much as slightly tolerable as a tablet operating system. I’m in favour of, for the time being, a clear delineation between tablet and laptop form-factors because iPads excel so wonderfully at presenting a clean, intuitive tablet interface that knows its limits, and computers excel at productivity. I don’t believe there can’t be crossover, but I do believe Apple are making better inroads from the iOS tablet side of the fence than Microsoft are making from the Windows tablet and 2-in-1 side.

With that in mind you’ll understand that my opinion of the 2-in-1 and its place in this world is marred somewhat and thus you should expect some bias in this assessment. Alas, this is far from the only thing I take issue with in Dell’s 9365.

To lead with the downsides, the 2-in-1 9365 is far from being a direct 2-in-1 translation of the XPS 13. While it shares some of the platform’s DNA and clean aesthetic, it doesn’t quite meet the expectations that the workstation alternative- should you have encountered it- may have set.

While the hinge in the 2-in-1 is excellent, parking firmly no matter where you might position it, the lid suffers from a fatal flaw: it’s frustratingly difficult to open. Once the two halves of the laptop meet they are magnetically clasped together to keep the lid secure, but the upper and lower lid are missing any detent which could be used to open the laptop. Instead, fingernails must be engaged to laboriously pry the upper aknd lower sections apart. This design choice is utterly baffling and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this computer wormed its way through quality assurance and testing without a single person raising their hand and saying “I can’t open the damned thing!”

Also counting against the 2-in-1 is its comparitively low grunt when compared to the horsepower available throughout the XPS 13 range. The focus on the 2-in-1 is very much on a reduction in power requirements and thermal output. The i5 8200Y available in the current entry-level 2-in-1 is a 5 Watt CPU compared to the 15 Watt of the Core i5 and i3 CPUs currently available in the XPS 13 9370 range. The 2-in-1 felt sluggish to me, compared to an XPS 13 although it’s fair to say the models I tested were not close enough to produce a fair comparison.

The Intel HD 615 graphics in the 2-in-1 are also significantly weaker than the UHD 620 in the XPS 13, with the latter punching about 60% faster. It’s very telling that Dell list the Video Card of the 2-in-1 as simply “Intel HD Graphics” while the XPS 13 9370 gets the full “Intel® UHD Graphics 620.” Despite this, I *was* able to play Civiliation 5 with touch input enabled and very, very low graphics settings, so some very light casual gaming is still possible.

These weaknessess clearly delineate the XPS 13 2-in-1 as being a product for a wholly different market than the XPS 13, rather than a simple 2-in-1 translation of its workstation brethren. This isn’t a bad thing, but you must understand that if you’re opting for the tablet version for artistic persuits or hand-written lecture note-taking you are getting a product that is fundamentally different to the XPS 13 that’s so highly regarded. This actually came as a surprise to me, since it shares some of the same look and feel as its more powerful counterpart and, obviously, bears the same family name.

Another strike with the unit I was shipped was the 30W charger. I can see where Dell is going with this- the thing is tiny, and super portable, but unfortunately it’s also woefully underpowered and results in a painful 4-5 hour charge time. I also had trouble with pass-through-power on USB Type-C multiport adapters, and had to use an alternate USB Type-C power supply to actually get the laptop to charge. It seems that 30W leaves basically no overhead for other devices.

So what does the XPS 13 excel at? Well, it’s difficult to say. My review unit didn’t ship with a pen so I was unable to test the display for freehand sketching, notes or any of the things you might use a setup before. As I mentioned above, I loathe the use of Windows 10 as a touch operating system and don’t have a touchscreen in my own laptop.

The presence of a USB Type-C port is, of course, excellent and one of the reasons why I was interested in the 2-in-1 in the first place. I can confirm that it docks handily and will sit happily out of the way while you use it on a desk like a full-grown workstation.

What About Linux?

Ubuntu 18.04 took to the XPS 13 2-in-1 pretty well, but I had a whale of a time getting it to coexist with Windows. Ultimately the issue is that the system is configured in a RAID mode for accessing the signle SSD that Linux doesn’t understand and must be switched to AHCI in order to boot Ubuntu.

Unfortunately this switch to AHCI renders Windows unbootable. I had some curious adventures including the need to manually edit the BCD store (basically the magic registry database that handles Windows boot) from Linux in order to get Windows out of a Safe-Mode install loop. Fun times!

Thankfully I found an island of sanity and safety on Twitter where someone else had forged ahead of my path and found a working solution to switching Windows from RAID to AHCI mode without breaking it horrbly.

Once Linux is up and running you may be surprised by the things that work out of the box. I was. I picked up the 2-in-1 at one point from the corner, only to have the screen rotate suddenly into portait mode. Handy!

Overall

I feel I can’t really give a thorough and honest opinion of this computer because it’s simply not for me. Without the pen input to test it out, my coverage fell short, and admittedly I found the 2-in-1 so underwhelming that I didn’t integrate it into my workflow and attempt to use it as a daily-driver like I tend to do with other test laptops. Back in 2017 I tested the Latitude 5285 and was generally also underwhelmed, albeit thankful for a form-factor of Windows-based-tablet that doesn’t use a kickstand. Again, what I was really keen about was USB Type-C and Dell seem to be making a much bigger push with it than Microsoft at the moment. Coming from a world of palm-rejecting-by-default ultra sensitive Wacom tablets I was underwhelmed also by the pen input of the 5285 too- could the 2-in-1 really have caught up?

As much as I wanted to love this machine- bearing the XPS moniker as it does- I just couldn’t.