We’ve seen hybrid laptops with screens that fold back 360 degrees before, but we’ve never seen one quite like the 11.6-inch Dell XPS 11, which includes an active stylus and a completely flat keyboard that offers adjustable haptic feedback. We had a chance to go hands-on with an early prototype of the XPS 11 here at Computex Taipei and came away impressed with its luxurious carbon-fiber design, sharp touch screen and unique keyboard.
The first thing we noticed about the Intel 4th-Generation Core i5-powered XPS 11 was its smooth, soft-touch chassis. From the lid to the sides and the deck, the entire chassis features an attractive dark gray carbon fiber weave, with a subtle weave pattern visible on the lid and bottom. Having this kind of soft-touch surface is not only pleasant to touch, it’s also good for resting your wrists on the palmrest as you type. Aluminum accents ring the lid and deck, offering the XPS 11 a premium look and feel.
When we picked up the XPS 11, we were surprised by just how light it felt. At under 2.5 pounds, the Dell hybrid weighs significantly less than Lenovo’s 3.1-pound IdeaPad Yoga 11. And at just 14.7mm thick (.57 inches), the Dell XPS 11 looks paper thin too. Of course, this means that the laptop doesn’t have too many ports, as it includes a card reader, 3 USB ports and headphone jack but no Ethernet. Dell has yet to disclose final specs, but we did not see a video out port.
Undoubtedly, the most unique and interesting aspect of the Dell XPS 11 is its flat keyboard, which reminded us a lot of the Touch Covers Microsoft sells for its Surface tablets. When we tried typing on the keys, they had no travel at all, but Dell says that the final model will provide an adjustable level of haptic and audio feedback in response to your keystrokes. So, if you’re like us and you want a lot of feedback, you can have a sharp response.
We’re eager to see whether Dell’s unique keyboard feels good in practice, but the idea of giving users control of tactile feedback is an intriguing one. Dell told us that it chose to go with a flat keyboard not only to save thickness, but also to make sure that you don’t feel yourself pressing down on keys when you hold the XPS 11 in tablet mode. Dell also includes a fairly large touch pad.
Like the IdeaPad Yoga series, the Dell XPS 11′s screen bends back a full 360 degrees, allowing you to use it in laptop mode, presentation mode (screen faces outward), tent mode and tablet mode. We were able to switch the demo model between modes easily, though the hinge design was not as tight as it will be on final production models.
Following a very-welcome trend toward higher-res displays, the Dell XPS 11 has a whopping 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, which made images appear pretty sharp on the few screens of content we were able to see during our brief hands-on. Colors were not particularly vibrant on the Windows 8 desktop we saw, but looked fairly accurate on a nature photo that we loaded. Dell says that the screen supports 10-point touch and uses scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass.
Unlike Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga, the Dell XPS 11 will come with an active stylus. Dell told us that the stylus will attach to the laptop’s Kensington lock slot so that you won’t have to carry it separately. Though the model we saw simply had stock Windows 8 installed, Dell told us that it will be including some pen-friendly software at launch.
Dell has yet to disclose full specs for the XPS 11, but we do know that it will be powerful enough to be your everyday mainstream laptop. In addition to its Intel 4th-generation Core i5 CPU, the notebook will have an SSD that makes booting and waking from sleep very responsive. There’s no word yet on estimated battery life, the resolution of the webcam or on the amount of RAM.
The XPS 11 is due out in time for Holiday 2013, but we don’t have estimated pricing yet. We look forward to giving this intriguing hybrid a full review when a final production model becomes available.