If you've been following my work, there's a good chance you've heard me mention Dell already. A year and a few months ago, I switched from editing in an OSX environment to exclusively using Dell computers. I had an awesome chat with the Dell team and they were able to deliver a system that handled all of my needs with my first XPS 15 and later the insane 32" 8K display. In that time, I feel like I've really been able to elevate my editing to the next level.
So, when the my friends at Dell asked if I would be interested in checking out the new Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, I was really excited. It has some awesome new features that I couldn't wait to put to the test.
Before we dive in, I want you to know this review will definitely touch on some technical stuff, but it's main focus will be how I feel the laptop will be of use to me (and in theory you). I really enjoy sharing real world impressions, experience, and impact from a piece of gear. If it's something I'm relying on, hopefully knowing why and how will help you determine if it's something you feel you could benefit from. If at the end, you have any questions at all, please feel free to shoot me a message. If you need help with specs, technical questions, or determining which model might be best, I'm more than happy to help!
Versatility and Power On the Road
There are a number of configurations available for the XPS 15 2-in-1 line. It's worth noting to save space and optimize the system, many of the components are part of the main board and can not be upgraded later on. Keep that in mind when building out your system and you shouldn't have a problem!
Here's what the system I'm using looks like:
- 15.6 UltraSharp 4K Ultra HD (3840x2160) InfinityEdge touch display
- 8th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-8705G Processor (8M Cache, up to 4.1 GHz, 4 cores)
- 16GB DDR4 RAM
- 1TB M.2 2280 PCIe Solid State Drive
- Radeon™ RX Vega M GL Graphics with 4GB HMB2 Graphics Memory
- Windows 10 Pro
- Full size, backlit keyboard
- Ports & Slots: 2x USB-C 3.1 with Power Delivery & DisplayPort | Headset jack | Noble lock slot | 2x Thunderbolt 3 with Power Delivery & DisplayPort (4 lanes of PCIe Gen 3) | MicroSD card reader | Battery gauge indicator
- Silver (There's also a Brushed Onyx version available that sounds pretty awesome)
It's a pretty awesome build that has been able to handle whatever I've thrown at it so far. I'm not sure of the exact timeline, but I do believe there will be an option for 32GB of RAM in the not so distant future.
"All the time and work that goes in to planning and taking a photo goes out the window if you can't rely on the display that you're editing on"
Infinity Edge 4K
Before I get in to any of the features & benefits of this XPS being part of the 2-in-1 line, I want to take a quick second to talk about the actual display. The beautiful thin bezel is back in all of it's 4K, 100% Adobe RGB goodness. Visually, it's not too different than the display on my XPS 15 and that is a wonderful thing. Almost a year later and I still try to keep my desktop clear of icons, so I can admire a full screen photo for a second after I log in to Windows 10.
The Infinity Edge bezel has allowed Dell to pack a 15.6 inch (diagonal) screen in to what pretty much works out to what would be a 14 inch laptop body. That means less weight and space in your bag.
There's also a bit of new technology that's been packed in to the laptop that's referred to as Dell Cinema. It's made up of three different elements and incorporates some newer Windows technology. Dell is one of the first manufacturers to develop BIOS and Drivers to enable Windows HD Color. So, no need to feel bad if you're unfamiliar. I'll break down the three elements without getting too deep in to detail.
- Increased color gamut
- Increased number of color gradients from 64 to 256
- Increased number of possible color tones from 262K to 16.8M (yea, that's a huge jump. I double checked before typing that out)
- Higher contrast between the brightest whites and the darkest black (Up to 40% more over than standard PC displays)
In short, you have a much wider range of colors and a higher level of color accuracy. Whether you're editing photos or video, that's going to be what's most important.
All the time and work that goes in to planning and taking a photo goes out the window if you can't rely on the display that you're editing on. You can check out this post over on my Instagram for some before and after comparisons. Being able to add a subtle edit to an image is largely thanks to the accuracy of the display itself.
CinemaSound - WavesMaxx Audio paired with the Dell hardware to make for clearer highs and lows at any volume. Laptops generally are not known for their quality sound, so I'm excited to listen to some of my favorite albums and see how they sound. (That link is a Spotify playlist to some music I drive and edit to!)
CimenaStream - This is basically software that can identify when and what type of content you're streaming so that it can be prioritized. The idea is that you'll have better quality video with less buffering. I haven't had time to really check this out, but I'm often in places with less than stellar internet trying to stream Real Madrid matches. So, it may not make my editing life any easier, but if it means I don't have to get antsy when my soccer streams buffer, I'm all for it! : )
"Using the Active Pen is hands down one of my favorite parts of using the XPS 15 2-in-1"
Editing in Tablet Mode with the Dell Active Pen
Up to this point, I had never used anything other than a mouse during my edits. I always thought that I was pretty accurate with my selections and I didn't think using something like the Active Pen would provide much improvement. To put it simply, I was wrong. Using the Active Pen is hands down one of my favorite parts of using the XPS 15 2-in-1.
In general, Photoshop does a great job when using the built-in tools for mask selection. If this is something you're unfamiliar with, you're basically picking very specific parts of a photo where you want to apply an adjustment.
Where Photoshop often has a very difficult time is areas like treelines on a horizon or with a lot of photos taken at night. Because the required camera settings often produce a lot of digital noise, the masking tools have problems determining where differnt parts of the image start and end. This is where the 2-in-1 touchscreen and Active Pen shine.
Editing with the Dell Active Pen
If you take a look at the video above, I selected an image with a pretty noisy foreground. Using the built in masking tools was resulting in parts of the dock and reflection of the mountain being included.
I was able to use the Active Pen and then with my left hand Pinch to Zoom to continue selecting the area I wanted to edit with a high level of precision. This is huge. It's easy to make mistakes or spend an insane amount of time trying not to make mistakes in areas like this.
Editing in tablet mode was also a huge help while I was flying, too. The person in front of me kicked their seat back (ugh!) which normally makes using a laptop a little more difficult, if not impossible. In this case, I flipped the screen over and continued my edit in tablet mode. Oh, that's another awesome feature! There's a built in gyroscope that knows when you flip the screen over to enter in to tablet mode.
One initial drawback to tablet mode is a pretty obvious one - the loss of keyboard functionality and shortcuts. Thankfully there are two pretty easy and useful solutions to that. The first is simply using the on-screen keyboard and the second is a program called Tablet Pro.
Right: This screenshot shows the interface for Tablet Pro while using Photoshop. It lets you create on-screen shortcuts for anything you might need quick and easy access to when editing. I still need to customize a bit, but I've been loving it so far.
Below: The finished image from the Active Pen video and Tablet Pro screenshot from Vermillion Lakes in Banff National Park.
Unlocking Your Machine & Keyboard
Wondering why I'm starting this off with something like "Unlocking Your Machine "? Well, I loved that the power button on my old XPS has a little half light in it. The 2-in-1 doesn''t have that, but what it has is even cooler. It has a built in finger print reader! I didn't realize it right away, but I love that it's there. It can be an easy thing to overlook, but it's pretty awesome. So, that's the first way you can unlock your machine.
The second is using the built-in infrared camera and Windows Hello. Your 2-in-1 will recognize you and log you right in to Windows. I haven't set this up yet, but it will be nice to have both options available to make things that much easier when I'm ready to go.
On to the keyboard! The 2-in-1 is the first computer to use something called MagLev. This technology uses magnets instead of little clips under the keys. It reduces the size of the keyboard and increase long term reliability. The first time you use the keyboard on the 2-in-1 it might feel a little different, but it takes no time to feel comfortable.
Battery Life Rolls On
As with any laptop, battery life is always going to vary depending on your usage. Are you on wifi? Are you just surfing the web? Streaming? Heavy editing? Screen brightness all the way up? All of these things will impact your potential battery life.
According to MobileMark2014, an XPS 15 2-in-1 tested with 8th Gen Intel Core i7 8705G, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD and FHD display had an expected battery life of up to 15 hours and 53 minutes! That sounds insane and I imagine in most situations not near what you'll get, but it's not a bad starting point. I'm not sure what my actual battery life is, but between the editing on the road that I've done so far, I haven't once run in to battery issues. Not scientific by any means, but I'd say a pretty good indication that the battery is pretty solid.
For extended use or travel away from power, there's an available Hybrid Adapter & Power Bank. I have one, that I'm excited to have, but because of the built-in battery life, I haven't had a chance to use it yet!
Eco Friendly Packaging
This doesn't really impact performance at all, but it's definitely worth mentioning. 100% of the packaging the XPS comes in is made from recyclable material with 25% coming from ocean plastics.
In addition to being Energy Star compliant , 90% of the laptops parts can be recycled or reused.
Just one of the reasons that I'm happy working with a company like Dell.
I've said it before, but so much of an image happens after it's taken. You need to be able to rely on the gear you're editing on as much as the gear you're using to take the images you're editing. That's exactly where this laptop has fallen for me. A powerful core, an accurate display, and adding tablet mode editing has placed the XPS 15 2-in-1 firmly in to my workflow. I'm already thinking about how I can add the Active Pen for when I'm editing at home.
I'll be back on the road in a few days and I can't wait for the next edit. I'm not sure it's normal to be excited about editing, but that's definitely a good sign if you ask me!
About the Photos
Just when you thought I was done, I have more to tell you! The photos on this post were taken during a trip to Banff National Park with the Dell family and 6 photographers I am now thankful to call friends. I honestly don't think I've had that much fun on a trip before. I wanted to take a second to share links to their pages so you can check them out!
Thanks to each of these awesome people and my friends at Dell and BMF for an amazing time that I won't soon forget!