It’s been about seven months since the debut of Windows 8, and now that Microsoft has finally given us a viable touch-enabled operating system, the new Windows has brought with it a lot of interesting (if not sometimes a little bizarre) twists on the whole personal computing scene. Prior to Win 8, the differences between stationary desktop PCs and portable laptops and tablets were reasonably clear. Now, though, after only half a year of a truly touchable Windows, nearly every distinction between stationary and portable has been blurred.
One of the more promising product types to come out of this flurry of experimentation has been the portable all-in-one (AIO) PC, the first iteration of which, Sony’s VAIO Tap 20, passed through our labs back in October 2012. AIO PCs themselves—desktop machines with the computing hardware and display built into the same chassis—have been around for a while. But the Tap 20 was the first one we’d seen with a battery inside, which allowed you to detach it from its stand and use it unplugged.
In this way, the VAIO, much like the $1,349 Dell XPS 18 we’re reviewing here today, essentially doubles as a huge Windows 8 mega-tablet. And we do mean huge. With the Sony, for instance, we’re talking about an 11.5-pound slate with a 20-inch screen—not exactly the kind of device you would hold in one hand and operate with the other.
At a hair over five pounds, the 18.4-inch XPS 18 is smaller and much lighter than the VAIO Tap 20, but it’s still a far cry from the typical 1- to 2-pound, 10- to 11-inch slates we’re used to. While the XPS 18 looks and behaves much like a tablet, it, too, is far too big and unruly to hold onto with one hand or balance on your lap. Nor would you want to tote it along with you as a substitute for your laptop or a more traditionally sized Windows slate. In fact, if you tried to deploy it in either of these scenarios, we’re sure you’d find it sorely wanting and disappointing. It’s just too big.
Above all, the XPS 18 is a desktop AIO computer. It’s portable in the sense that you can, at any time, snatch it out of its docking stand and tote it from room to room in your home, or from office to office in your place of business. If you’re like us, at first, this seemingly limited portability doesn’t sound like much—where’s the value in a tablet that you can’t easily pack up and take with you, or lay across your lap or airline tray table when traveling?
Read on, and we’ll show you. As was the case with the Tap 20, after spending several days with this well-built and highly attractive PC, when we stopped trying to compare the XPS 18 to a typical Windows slate, we began to see its potential. The convenience and productivity gains from the ability to simply unplug your desktop PC and carry it from the living room to the bedroom, or, perhaps, from your desk to the boss’s office or the conference room, are huge.
You can buy the XPS on Dell’s Web site in one of three configurations, featuring a choice of third-generation Intel Core i3 ($999), Core i5 ($1,349), or Core i7 ($1,449) processors. The base model has 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive; the upper two come with 8GB of memory, the 500GB hard drive plus a 32GB SSD cache, and the convenient docking stand shown in the images above and below. We tested the middle model.
The XPS 18 on its built-in kickstand feet (left) and the metal docking stand (right).
As desktop AIO PCs go, the XPS 18 is a mid-range machine. By today’s standards, the 18.4-inch screen is a little small. However, as you’ll see, we were quite impressed with its 1080p HD display quality. Overall system performance was satisfactory as an all-around home or small-office solution, though the Dell won’t serve you speedily as a media processing workstation or high-end gaming PC. And, as mentioned, we found ourselves especially fond of the XPS 18’s ability to double as a tablet—a tablet on steroids, to be sure, but a highly convenient one just the same.
See the entire review at Computer Shopper.