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Dell XPS 10 review:

A serviceable if unremarkable tablet

The good: The Dell XPS 10 includes expandable storage and a depressible Windows button, and its $180 keyboard features plenty of useful ports as well as an extra battery.

The bad: There are a few annoying performance bugs. The base tablet doesn’t have as many ports as the Surface RT. It lacks a kickstand and its keyboard isn’t as comfortable to type on.

The bottom line: The Dell XPS 10 is a valiant effort at a Windows RT tablet but doesn’t pack enough value into its base package to favorably compete with the Surface RT.

If you’re reading this review of the Dell XPS 10, you either have already considered or will in the very near future consider the Microsoft Surface RT first. It’s simply an overall better tablet value, thanks to its slightly wider screen, better build quality, more comfortable keyboard accessory, built-in full USB, and Micro-HDMI. Yes, this is a review of the XPS 10, but I think it’s important to know what sets these tablets apart. The XPS 10 does feel more like a laptop when paired with its keyboard and gets a battery life advantage thanks to the keyboard’s built-in battery; however, to get the complete package it’ll also cost you more than the Surface RT.

The XPS 10 is a fine effort, but once compared with what the Surface RT offers, it comes up a bit short. And while the Surface RT holds its own even without its keyboard, the XPS 10 feels stunted without its keyboard accessory.

The Dell XPS 10 looks like a laptop, feels like a tablet (pictures)

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That old tablet feel
Like many recent tablets, the Dell XPS 10 is mostly black in color and highlighted by silver trim along its edges. Its corners are smoothly rounded and as 10-inch tablets go, it’s fairly light, weighing about as much as a current-generation iPad. The tablet feels quite plasticky compared with the Surface RT and doesn’t take much pressure to bend; there’s a slight bit of screen warping when you apply pressure to the back of the tablet.

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Measuring about an inch in width, its bezel is wider than most tablets’, giving it a bit more thumb room when held. In the top bezel is an ambient light sensor with a 2-megapixel front-facing camera sitting less than an inch away. Directly below the camera on the bottom of the bezel is a depressible Windows home button.

Dell XPS 10 Asus VivoTab RT Microsoft Surface RT
Weight in pounds 1.38 1.18 1.5
Width in inches (landscape) 10.8 10.37 10.8
Height in inches 6.98 6.7 6.8
Depth in inches 0.36 0.37 0.43
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 1 0.81 0.81

Along the left edge from the top are a headphone jack and a volume rocker. The power/sleep button sits on the top edge, while a noticeably oversized door lies next to it, hiding the comparatively small microSD card slot. The bottom edge houses dual speakers, a Micro-USB port, and a charging/connection port. On the back, near the top middle, sits a 5-megapixel glass-covered rear-facing camera.

The 32GB version of the XPS 10 starts at $499, and for another $180, you can get this here fine keyboard accessory. The keyboard features a similar black-and-silver design motif to the tablet and includes two full USB ports, a Mini-HDMI port, and an additional charging port. The keys are a bit small and to my big hands the keyboard feels a bit cramped when typing. However, compared with the Surface RT, the XPS 10 is much more compatible with typing on your lap thanks to its much more laptoplike design.

RT back atcha
It’s been a few months since we’ve seen a Windows RT tablet, and other than some performance improvements, not much has changed. Windows RT is the “lite” version of Windows 8; if you’re interested in the details of its operating system, check out the Windows RT section of our Surface RT review.

Three months following the debut of Windows 8/RT, I’m still a fan of its touch interface and still believe that both Apple and Google can learn a thing or two from Microsoft in this respect. For those of us intimately familiar with those other touch interfaces, getting accustomed to Windows touch may take some time — I hated it at first — but if you’re new to touch interfaces, you’ll likely pick it up quickly. Just to be safe, Dell includes a few video tutorials covering the basics of the interface and a written FAQ for those completely new to the Windows RT experience.

My feelings about Windows RT haven’t changed much. It’s not perfect — certain features that would be helpful on tablets are still missing, but the overall experience is still impressive. Search is still extremely powerful and the split-screen feature is still one of the coolest on any tablet.

Hardware features
The Dell XPS 10 houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1.5GHz. The tablet comes in both 32GB and 64GB varieties, with or without the keyboard, and its microSD slot will support cards of up to 128GB. The tablet has 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 4.0, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a built-in compass, but no GPS.

Performance
Since the Surface RT’s release last October, its performance and, by extension, the performance of Windows RT have seen noticeable improvements that are mirrored on the Dell XPS 10. Apps open more quickly now than they did a few months ago; however, the performance of the Internet Explorer browser still noticeably lags behind how it performs on both the iPad and the Nexus 10. And by noticeably, I mean about 3 to 5 seconds on average.

The Dell XPS 10’s screen features a 1,366×768-pixel resolution stretched over a 10.1-inch space. While it looks just as sharp as the Surface RT’s screen, the screen displays a slight yellow tint and its brightness doesn’t reach the same heights. However, it’s just as responsive to swipes and taps.

I did encounter quite a few bugs in my time with the XPS 10. A couple of times after connecting the keyboard, the screen would freeze and I’d need to disconnect, then reconnect it to get it working again. Also, the screen’s brightness would dim if I bent the tablet in a certain position, regardless of changes to the light the ambient light sensor was receiving.

Tested spec Dell XPS 10 Asus VivoTab RT Microsoft Surface
Maximum brightness 335 cd/m2 495 cd/m2 391 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.76 cd/m2 0.45 cd/m2 0.27 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 443:1 1,100:1 1,448:1

The XPS 10 houses a Snapdragon S4 CPU with an Adreno 225 GPU. I used both Riptide GP and Hydro Thunder Hurricane to test the GPU’s mettle. The XPS 10 delivered frame rates slightly higher than the Surface RT — which houses a Tegra 3 processor — managed, translating into decent, but not impressive performance compared with the silky-smooth frame rates Riptide GP delivers on the fourth-generation iPad and the Nexus 10. Also, unfortunately, in neither game on Windows RT can you configure the resolution.

The Microsoft Surface RT on the left and the XPS 10 on the right.

I used the XPS 10 disconnected from its keyboard for a few hours, watching video, surfing the Web, and playing games, and still had battery life to spare, and my purely anecdotal findings were that its battery seemed to drain slower than the Surface RT tablet performing similar tasks. While the XPS 10’s keyboard accessory houses its own battery, it doesn’t appear to have a battery life warning, so presumably it will just suddenly stop working in miduse.

Also, unlike the Asus VivoTab, the battery in the XPS 10’s keyboard doesn’t “feed” the tablet’s battery and, unfortunately, the tablet’s battery drains before the keyboard’s. Look for an official battery life rating once GNz Labs has a chance to run it through its paces.

Conclusion
The Dell XPS 10 starts at $500 for just the tablet and runs you $680 for the tablet and keyboard with 32GB of storage. While it’s a fine alternative, at those prices it can’t match the value that Surface RT offers. However, those looking for a more laptoplike experience may find the XPS 10 a worthy purchase.

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