When the Lenovo Yoga first came out, the laptop/tablet hybrid turned people’s heads due to the cool 360 degree hinge that gave it the ability to bend over backwards. The main problem with the design is that in tablet and tent modes the keyboard sat exposed.

Pressing on the keys wouldn’t do anything since the keyboard turned off once it detected that the screen was past the 180 degree mark. Still, it was weird to hold a tablet with keys on the back. Plus, they popped off more easily than they should have.

When Dell decided to make the XPS 11 laptop/tablet hybrid with a similar hinge it faced a similar problem: what to do about the keys? The solution: make the keyboard a touch keyboard with no mechanical keys at all.

Dell XPS 11

That way they can’t pop off, you won’t have to worry about spilling liquid on it, and the overall machine stays thin. It’s a clever solution for sure. Too bad it results in a typing experience that’s… less than good.

The Dell XPS 11 has so many good things going for it. It’s light for an 11.6-inch laptop, has an elegant design, and sports a really high quad HD resolution (2560 x 1440). I like the matte, rubberized coating the graces the lid, bottom, and deck. And flipping it around from tablet mode to ten mode to laptop mode is pretty fun.

The hinge feels sturdy and like it can take a few thousand flips. It has decent ports for an ultrabook this size: two USB 3.0, full HDMI, full SD card slot.

All of that is great. But how much does any of it matter when one of the key functions of the device is so very sub-par?

If you’ve ever used or played with one of the Microsoft Surface’s Touch Covers then you know what it feels like to type on the XPS 11. It’s the same principle, except here it’s not a slim add-on, it’s the only keyboard option.

Dell XPS 11

This type of touch keyboard can work reasonably well if the physical experience of using it doesn’t put you off. If you don’t have fingernails. If you do, then forget it. Not that the touch sensitivity won’t work–it does–just that tapping the keys doesn’t feel right or comfortable.

Typing on this requires a more deliberate touch than a normal keyboard, and even then I dropped more letters than I normally do. Over time I might get used to it. I wouldn’t want to.

This experience is fine for a tablet’s keyboard cover, especially if it’s optional. It’s not a good solution for a machine that looks and acts like a laptop. Not even for one that changes into a tablet.

Dell XPS 11

Big props to Dell for the concept. On paper, it seems like an innovative and interesting solution. It’s clear that no one who conceived of or tested this product has fingernails. You might not think that’s a big deal… if you don’t have them, either. And even then, you may still balk at typing on this type of keyboard all the time.

The XPS 11 will be out in November and will start at $1,000 for the Intel Core i3 (4th gen) version. No other pricing is available right now, though we do know that it will come with two other Core i5 options and a range of SSDs.

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7 replies on “Hands-on: the Dell XPS 11 is a sweet convertible ultrabook with a terrible keyboard”

  1. The starting price for the i3 is $1099, not $1000.

    Right now, other than the stylus, the Yoga 2 Pro is a far better value.

  2. The keys will have haptic feedback along with .5 mm travel so it is far better than a pure touch keyboard.

  3. The microsoft store has it available for pre-order now with a
    release date:12/06/2013
    Intel Core i5-4200Y
    4 GB memory
    128 GB SSD

  4. I thought this was one of those concepts that never actually go on sale. Well, Dell could still cancel it I guess. The whole 360 degree lid idea just isn’t good.

    1. Why? I find it perfect and so much better for lap use than a normal tablet.

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