When I found myself without power for four days in Manhattan, Dell's Windows 8 tablet was my main link to the outside world. See how it fared.
This was to have been a standard review of the Dell XPS 12 Windows 8 convertible, then Hurricane Sandy hit. I live in the part of Manhattan that went without power for four days, so I needed something light, easy on batteries and able to suck up Wi-Fi. The XPS 12 isn't perfect, but it came through on all those counts when it mattered.
Sandy's outer bands hit the tri-state area Monday afternoon, Oct. 29. By evening, winds were howling outside my high-rise on the East Side. Still, the power was hanging in and I thought I'd gotten off easy, compared to shore areas that were getting pummeled.
Then the sky lit up. The Con Edison substation on East 14th Street had been deluged with sea water, and a transformer blew up. The lights flickered, and then they were gone. Virtually all of lower Manhattan was in darkness. No building lights, street lights or traffic lights. And, for those of us on high floors, no running water. Even nearby NYU hospital blacked out as its generators failed.
I did about the only thing I could. I went to bed, hoping the power would be back with the dawn. It wasn't. That was Day 1 of what would turn out to be four days of living out of a backpack. I'm not complaining. Many parts of the area were, and still are, in far worse shape. (Click the following link for ways to help). So I schlepped uptown each morning to those neighborhoods that had juice. In the days that followed, there was lots of furtively slipping in and out of hotel lobbies, restaurants, pubs, gyms -- any place that had running water and, almost as important, Wi-Fi service.
That's where the XPS 12 came in. Dell had sent it up from Texas a few days earlier, and the timing couldn't have been better. My company-issued laptop, an aging Lenovo T-61 on Windows XP, weighs about 5.4 lbs, compared to 3.3 lbs for the XPS 12. Trust me, that makes a difference over 40 blocks.
Dell XPS 12 flips easily from notebook
to tablet configuration.
The old Lenovo's battery, which needs replacing, now uses about 20% of its power just booting up, and the laptop has trouble maintaining a constant Wi-Fi connection. By contrast, the Dell's lithium-ion battery gave me about six hours of constant, unplugged use. It's also a Wi-Fi magnet. Back home now, it detects several networks the Lenovo isn't even aware of.
Getting onto the Internet was invaluable during the blackout. I could let friends know I was okay, communicate with my employer and find out what was happening in the region. The XPS 12 takes full advantage of Windows 8's ability to restore a Wi-Fi connection from standby in about a second. It does this by prioritizing operations in the networking stack, saving network preferences and performing other time savers. Also key was the fact that the XPS 12 boots up from a fully off state in about 8 seconds. That's important when you've got impatient New Yorkers waiting for your hard-won space at Starbucks.
The Dell unit feels solid, and appears to be just that. It got nary a scuff or scratch despite constantly being shoved in and out of a backpack alongside various emergency supplies, including a transistor radio, water bottles, K-rations and a big, bulky emergency flashlight. And this is despite the fact that the display converts from notebook to tablet by doing a 180-degree flip around its axis within the bezel. It seems like a delicate maneuver, but it held up fine.
As I said, The XPS 12 is not perfect. The 1080p touchscreen is sharp and responsive, and the keyboard clicks satisfyingly. But I found the trackpad next to useless. Frequently the cursor would simply fail to follow my fingers across the pad, and the pressure points for left- and right-clicking are tough to hit consistently. I didn't find this too big a deal, however. The touchscreen obviates most of the need for a trackpad to begin with.
[Update 11/12/12: Our original test model was a preproduction unit. Dell provided us with an updated unit that appears to resolve the issues with the trackpad. And, although we found no real problems with the touchscreen on the first unit, the display on the new one feels especially snappy and responsive to the touch.]
Also, don't expect to just bring this or any other Windows 8 device to your office and plug right in. Once InformationWeek's office near Penn Station reopened it became my new base (I usually work from home). But getting onto our corporate network and connecting to various resources proved to be a challenge. For instance, there is not yet a Windows 8 driver for the Kyocera 8100 printer that I needed to access.
Other users have told me that SAP on Windows 8 remains problematic. These kinds of issues will be common in the enterprise until the Windows 8 platform matures. Legacy Microsoft applications, like Office 2010, installed without a problem, however.
Starting at $1,199, the Dell XPS 12 isn't cheap. Especially when you consider that competing devices, like Microsoft's $499 Surface tablet, can also get you online and onto your social media networks in a hurry. But the Dell XPS 12 runs Intel's proven Ivy Bridge architecture, can handle all of your legacy software, and is now officially storm tried and tested.
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