Back in 2012 I got my first Dell XPS 13 and it was the best laptop I’d ever had. It was svelte, fast, and just what I needed in a mobile computer. I used it for years before I got a Chromebook Pixel which was (and still is) a better device.
Since then Alona has taken over ownership of the 2012 XPS 13 and has used it daily. While it’s still a solid device, it’s starting to show its age. Windows 10 never worked perfectly on it (neither did Windows 8), with a number of minor nagging issues and a serious bug with the display driver that we were never able to resolve.
So, it was time for an upgrade. Alona needs a Windows laptop because she has to run Windows-only apps, so that meant no Chromebooks. In the end, we opted for the brand new Dell XPS 9365 2-in-1. Although the name leaves a lot to be desired, the device itself is dripping with sex appeal. It’s fanless, thinner than ever, and has a beautiful screen. Windows 10 feels right on it, and the build quality is almost uniformly high.
It’s not without problems. Some of them are minor, but a few are inexcusable given Dell’s long history with notebook design and the Windows operating system.
Here are a few things that drive me nuts about the XPS 13 2-in-1 that you may want to consider before buying:
- Tent mode doesn’t work out of the box. To fix this, you need to open Display Settings, tent the device, and toggle “Lock rotation of this display” off. It’s frustrating because this is a core feature of any 2-in-1 device and Dell didn’t even think to modify this setting by default so it would work. Moreover, any time you update the graphics drivers the setting is reset, so you’ll have to go back and toggle it off again. It sometimes just resets itself, too. This issue isn’t limited to Dell, either. It happens on Lenovo Yoga devices as well. Maybe this points to an issue Microsoft needs to address, but either way, it’s really annoying.
- One of the problems with the first Dell XPS 13 back in 2012 was the touchpad; it just wasn’t up to snuff. The touchpad in the latest version is better, but it still leaves room for improvement. It doesn’t always detect touches or clicks properly and sometimes stops working altogether. This feels like a hardware issue as there are significant dead zones on the touchpad surface, but I suppose it’s possible a patch could be issued to resolve those issues.
- It’s a small thing, literally, but the power button is difficult to access. It’s so thin that it can be hard to activate. There is an indicator light but your finger covers it when you press and because the laptop takes a few seconds to start or show any indication of life, it’s difficult to know if you’ve pushed it fully.
- The Dell Update software sucks. It doesn’t have a GUI and never seems to know that an update is available. If you go to the website you’ll find that there are updates available that the Dell Update software doesn’t detect at all. Another annoyance is that the Dell site often lists drivers as “updated” but when you download them you find that they are older versions – some several years old – for a brand new laptop. Maybe this explains some of the odd behavior of the hardware.
- If one account is logged in with a few programs active – simple things like Skype and Chrome – logging into another account can take over a minute for no apparent reason. When you finally do get logged in, things can sometimes crawl like the computer is running a CPU benchmark in the background. If the account you switch to was in laptop mode when you switch, it won’t recognize that the position you’re in and will stay in tablet mode until you switch it manually. This resets the mode properly, but there are graphical glitches like the Windows button isn’t visible in the task bar and other anomalies that aren’t fully resolved until you log off and back on.
- Sometimes when you log in to a second account it’ll be in tablet mode for no reason. It wasn’t in tablet mode the last time I used it, and the device was in laptop mode when I logged in, so I can’t understand why this happens.
I reached out to Dell regarding a number of these issues and the response was either “It’s a Windows issue” or “maybe we’ll put out an update in the future to address that”. There was no troubleshooting and the only other recommendation was to send in the laptop so a tech could look at it and possibly replace hardware (the touchpad) if they deem it necessary. That takes at least five days, however, and since there is no certainty that they will replace it or that the replacement will be an improvement, I’m not inclined to try.
Despite all of these issues, we decided to keep it. I don’t know of a better laptop on the market, and Alona really loves how light and thin it is. I think it’s well built and surprisingly fast considering the low voltage processor inside, and although it isn’t perfect, I think it’s worth the money.
Update March, 2017: After less than two months, the XPS 9365 has died completely.
At first, there was an issue with the battery (Error code 2000-0132 – Validation 90052 in Dell’s BIOS-based diagnostics tool). It wouldn’t charge and the XPS wouldn’t stay on unless it was plugged in. This prompted a chat with Dell in which they initially offered to send a tech out to replace the battery and the faulty touchpad or we could send the unit in to their service center for a more thorough once-over and parts replacement. The latter would take around a week and I don’t have a ton of confidence in a Dell on-site tech’s ability to swap out a touchpad, so I pushed for a complete replacement. I’m happy to report that Dell agreed to this, though if you’re considering requesting a replacement you should do so within 30 days as that appears to be the normal window.
We kept using the XPS throughout the week but yesterday it would no longer turn on at all and there was a strange nail polish remover-like smell. There were no beep codes; the power button LED would illuminate for a second or two and then go dark. The LED on the front continues to flash amber, which it has done since the battery failed, and the only other indicator I could find is that if I press the battery status button the #1, #3, and #5 lights flash four times. That’s it.
I went looking for answers on Dell’s site but come up frustratingly empty. Not only did the documentation not cover my issues, but in one case it seems to be written for an entirely different model; one with a fan and different button configurations (click here, then “Troubleshooting Hardware…”, and finally the “Computer Fails to Start…” tab). I found another troubleshooting document but it wasn’t right, either.
I’m waiting on a response from Dell and will update.
Update to Update – March, 2017 – Well, good news! The replacement unit Dell sent seems to be working perfectly thus far. It runs noticeably warmer than the first one did, making me think something was amiss with a heatsink or something. The touchpad on the new laptop is better as well; it feels properly installed and doesn’t have any significant dead zones. Here’s hoping it lasts!