Dell’s XPS 18 is the latest ‘big tablet’ innovation

by Charles King

March 14 2013

Charles King is president and principal analyst of IT consulting firm Pund-IT.


With this week’s announcement of the XPS 18, Dell says it now offers the world’s thinnest, lightest and most portable all-in-one (AIO) PC.

At just 5 pounds the XPS 18 is less than half the weight of other currently available portable AIOs and has nearly double the battery life of those products, offering up to five hours of run time between charges.

The 18.4-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080-pixels) touchscreen is nearly twice the diagonal screen size of an Apple iPad and lends itself to new ways of sharing a computer and collaborating on a single device. The XPS 18 is light enough to hand back and forth, but the screen is large and vibrant enough for multiple people to watch videos, share content or enjoy dual-player games on the same screen from a variety of angles.

The XPS 18 models are based on third-generation Intel Core processors and run Windows 8. Availability is set for April 16, starting at $899.00.

Analyzing Dell’s AIO pitch

Dell expects the XPS 18 to offer consumers and even businesses an ideal blend of tablet and all-in-one benefits.

From the first day of the tablet computing revolution—April 3, 2010 when Apple’s iPad first became publicly available to customers—users have willingly traded limitations in device form/function for innovations in access/interface.

In part, this was due to Apple maintaining a careful line between the iPad and its traditional Macbook notebook and iMac desktop products. But it also reflected the general inability of competitors, both PC and smartphone vendors, to come up with truly compelling alternatives to the iPad. 

(PHOTO: Dell's new All-In-One XPS 18 desktop and tablet is lighter and lower-priced than its competitors)

That was largely because of the immaturity of competitive platforms and technologies. Despite the rapid uptake and popularity of Android-based smartphones, vendors had trouble creating truly able, attractive and affordable tablets. Traditional PC vendors were even more bereft, lacking operating systems, hardware and applications that could support touch-enabled features and applications, or the notable battery life of smaller, lighter tablets.

That situation fundamentally changed last fall with the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8 and the first touch-enabled notebooks (or Ultrabooks, in Intel’s parlance) and all-in-ones based on the new OS.

However, the results to date have been anything but revolutionary. Windows 8’s learning curve—not at all surprising for such a wholly revised and redefined product—inhibited and/or irritated many PC users.

Plus, the high cost of many systems made them a tough sell in markets still recovering from the worst financial meltdown in 80 years.

Are things any different today? They could well be. In the U.S., at least, the economy is showing signs of steady progress. Plus, businesses and consumers are beginning to realize that the impressive features/performance of new generation Ultrabook and AIO solutions make them attractive propositions despite Windows 8’s peculiarities.

Rethinking the PC with tablet technology

Most importantly, a few vendors have been using these new capabilities to rethink the PC in terms of its base functionality and usage, which brings us to Dell’s new XPS18 all-in-one tablet.

Dell isn’t the first vendor to enter the portable AIO (or mega-tablet) market. ASUS, Sony and Panasonic have already announced/demoed products with similarly sized displays but all offer a significantly different approach than Dell:

  • The ASUS Transformer AIO is about the same size as Dell’s XPS 18 (with a full HD 18.4” touchscreen, though a bit heavier) and offers similar battery life, but it’s a hybrid system that runs Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) in tablet mode and Windows 8 when docked. Pricing starts at $1,299.00 with availability in early Q2.
  • Though Sony’s VAIO Tap 20 offers the same pure Windows 8 experiences as the XPS 18, it’s a considerably heftier kettle of fish, clocking in at 11 pounds 7 ounces, offering just 2 hours and 45 minutes of battery life and a less than full HD display (1600 X 900 pixels). Pricing starts at $1,999.
  • Like its Toughbook notebooks, the 20 inch 4K Tablet Panasonic demoed at CES in January is mainly designed for business use. The 3840 X 2560 pixel (hence 4K) display obviously targets high end graphics applications and use cases, but also results in an estimated 2 hour battery life in tablet mode. Availability and pricing are unknown.

Despite their various highlights and shortcomings, it’s good to remember that none of these products—literally—could have come to market a year or so ago in their current forms/cost.

The rapid evolution of x86-based technologies, the improved cost/efficiency of related components (including large touchscreens) and the appearance of Windows 8 set the stage for portable AIOs. In fact, the current paucity of vendors and solutions suggests a market in its infancy—one that could and should grow over time.

So where does that leave Dell’s new XPS 18?

As an attractively priced solution that offers the full features of a Windows 8 AIO PC, the portable ease of a tablet and enough size and graphics performance for highly enjoyable gaming and media consumption alone or with a small group of family/friends.

Is Dell’s XPS 18 something you’d want to lug to work or pack along on a cross-country trip? Probably not. But can it provide a better and far more satisfying graphics and entertainment experience than 10-inch tablets like the iPad that are less than half its size? Probably so.

Overall, the XPS 18 is a platform that will allow people to reconsider the meaning and use of a home PC.

Innovation with business appeal

Additionally, we can see how small companies and other organizations could find the XPS 18 an attractive portable solution for group presentations and other business functions.

But more than anything, the XPS 18 is a graphic representation of what a vendor can achieve when it essentially ignores expectations and uses new, innovative technologies to re-imagine itself. In other words, while the tablet revolution is certainly alive and well, Dell’s XPS 18 suggests that vendors other than Apple may be leading the charge. 

(This article is reprinted with the permission of Charles King and Pund-IT).

Charles King is president and principal analyst of IT consulting firm Pund-IT.
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