When the first completely retooled and restyled tablet computer, the iPad, was introduced by Apple in 2010, it should have provided the answer to those of us who dread dragging a heavy laptop across town to business meetings and through the airport on long trips.
And yet, despite three years of significant industry-wide product launches and feature improvements, including longer battery life, more storage and the all-important attachable keyboard, the tablet still hasn't made believers out of die-hard laptop users. We believe that our somewhat bulkier portable computers will still serve us better in more situations than a stripped down tablet ever could.
It was our ongoing skepticism that compelled us to road test Dell's convertible XPS 10 Tablet, which, when combined with its compact keyboard, effectively transforms into a fully functioning laptop. Together, the two component parts provide a mind-boggling 16 to 18 hours of battery life, and weigh in at just 2.89 pounds total. Still, since that's approximately the heft of our current lightweight laptop, we wanted to see if the XPS 10's flexibility and features outweighed our go-to device for business and pleasure travel.
After unloading the unit from its box, charging it up and turning it on, we expected that the XPS 10 would guide us through a series of steps designed to help us set up the tablet and get us connected to Wi-Fi. It didn't. Instead, we found ourselves on a start screen displaying Windows' signature "tiles" and we were required to hunt around for several minutes in order to finally get online (hit "Desktop" and the lower right hand corner icon to access wireless networks). While navigating through setup may be more clear for lifelong PC users, Apple-heads may chafe at the non-intuitive nature of using the device for the first time.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The trackpad is generously sized, but felt slightly under-responsive to our touch. Keep in mind (Apple users, we're again talking to you) that hitting the center with your thumb will result in a non-action by the XPS 10—the trackpad is two-sided, but not clearly marked to indicate that. Besides that PC-specific quirk, we found the 92 percent full-sized keyboard to be almost imperceptibly cramped, but otherwise comfortable. We could easily type without making errors. In fact, the laptop-like feel of the attached tablet and keyboard almost made us forget at times that we were using a tablet.
Operating System and Apps
The XPS 10 uses the Microsoft Windows RT operating system and comes pre-loaded with Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT, which allowed us to begin working almost as soon as we turned on the tablet. But as we moved from business to "fun," we were disappointed with the selection of apps available to us via the Windows Store—and the fact that other apps we wanted to download weren't compatible with the operating system. One we missed the most: Yahoo's Fantasy Sports, something we check daily (if not hourly) to see where we stand against our trash-talking competitors.
Product Testing: On the Road
We road-tested the XPS 10 by taking it on a 48-hour domestic trip, tossing it in our bag just before leaving the office. While the dimensions were smaller, the tablet-keyboard combo is actually far less delicate than our company-issued ultra-thin laptop. The exterior of the XPS 10 utilizes a rubberized finish that allows for easy gripping when reaching into a bag and pulling it out. The tablet portion is faced with Ashai Dragontail glass (a shatter-resistant competitor to Gorilla Glass) to ensure that an inadvertent slip and fall won't cause our days with the XPS 10 to crash to an end.
While the real-world performance of the device (flipping between apps, loading documents, etc) felt a little bit slow, it wasn't enough to hold us up from working, surfing or playing games. We found it handy to have two USB 2.0 ports and a mini-HDMI port (with included mini-to-full HDMI dongle) located on the keyboard, and discovered micro-SD and micro-SIM ports on the tablet itself. We're still SD card users, so we did miss the ability to transfer images from our camera's memory card directly to our computing device (something we do almost constantly on trips).
Watching a movie on the XPS 10 was a better than average entertainment experience—at least, as far as tablets are concerned. When attached, the tablet and keyboard's speakers work together to offer far better sound quality than the tablet ever could on its own.
The XPS 10 tablet and keyboard gave our current ultralight laptop a run for its money, its snap-on, snap-off component parts offering us a more flexible experience for work and play. While we weren't wowed by the thin library of apps, disappointing trackpad performance and somewhat sluggish operating system, the XPS delivers extraordinary battery life and all the essential programs we need for business. Those factors, plus its compact size, will make us seriously consider using it exclusively on our next extended getaway.
<p><strong>Operating System</strong>: Windows RT</p>
<p><strong>Software</strong>: Office Home & Student 2013 RT</p>
<p><strong>Display</strong>: 10.1" HD Display</p>
<p><strong>Battery: </strong>28Wh 2-Cell Lithium Ion (built-in); Up to 10 hours, 30 minutes battery life</p>
<p><strong>Dimensions: </strong>Tablet only: .36"h x 10.8"w x 6.98"d (Tablet + dock: .94"h x 10.8"w x 6.98"d)</p>
<p><strong>Weight: </strong>Tablet only: 1.4lbs (Tablet+dock: 2.89lbs)</p>
<p><strong>Storage</strong>: 32GB and 64 GB options</p>
<p><strong>Ports: </strong>Micro-USB, micro-SD, micro-SIM (with LTE configurations only), 3.5mm headset, 40-pin dock connector (supporting HDMI via adapter)</p>
<p><strong>Wireless Connectivity</strong>: Bluetooth, WiFi</p>