Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review (Bluetooth, touchscreen, and WiFi failures)

I decided it was time to shed the weight of a 17-inch laptop and also enter the brave new world of 2-in-1 folding laptops. Enter the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which I have used on two trips so far.

The machine’s biggest weakness is an inability to stay connected to a Microsoft Bluetooth travel mouse. The mouse worked fine with the five-year-old 17-inch machine. I tried a second example of the same mouse and suffered from the same disconnections after a few seconds (snapping the mouse closed and open would restore connectivity).

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 also has a finicky WiFi system. It would disconnect from a friend’s home router after about every 30 minutes of use, requiring a manual “disconnect” and then “reconnect.” After a driver update the problem seemed to be gone but then I closed the machine and opened it up the next morning. There was no WiFi connection and the machine couldn’t see any of the 12 or so networks in the apartment complex where I was staying.

I thought “well, maybe it isn’t so bad if I have no mouse because I have a touchscreen.” A couple of days later, the touchscreen failed completely. Dell support suggested unplugging the machine and using the power switch to drain power off the motherboard. That restored the touchscreen, but I still miss having a mouse. Why not plug in a wired mouse, 1970s-style? Dell decided that there shouldn’t be any standard USB ports on the machine so it would have to be done via a dongle. There is no reputable brand of wired USB-C mouse because anyone up-to-date enough to have USB-C would of course have a computer with functional Bluetooth. Eventually I decided to try a Logitech m557 Bluetooth mouse and haven’t seen any disconnections so far, but there is about a one-second delay before the mouse begins to track after every period where the mouse isn’t moved. The touchpad doesn’t have any lag. A Logitech wireless mouse with proprietary dongle (plugged into the USB-C port with an intermediate dongle, of course) doesn’t have any lag. So there is definitely something screwy with the Bluetooth implementation.

I’m not a big TV-watcher and haven’t found a real use for the tent mode. Nor have I really used the machine as a tablet because if I want to read a Kindle book I just use the iPhone 7 Plus. Still, I like the mechanical design much better than the Microsoft Surface Book.

[June 2017: Multiple failures, many hours of phone support, Dell refuses to accept a return of this non-functional device, two trips to the “depot” (complete failure within a few minutes of being turned on after the first trip).]

6 thoughts on “Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review (Bluetooth, touchscreen, and WiFi failures)

  1. I’ve also noticed occasional troubling wifi incompatibilities in various devices, usually without even providing any useful errors or messages. The latest one was an HP laptop that couldn’t connect to a very ordinary router. That’s bad news for something that wants to be such a universal standard. (Really, by now I expect wifi to just work, no excuses.)

    What is lacking? Sufficient testing and certification? Engineers who can provide backwards compatibility?

  2. > What is lacking? Sufficient testing and certification?

    I suspect it’s about the low margins and driving costs down in the manufacturing process. The original CD player decks from the late eighties and early 90s are still amazing. They play almost any disk no matter how scratched. I have one. As prices came down over the 90s and 00s all the players started to suck and skip randomly on disks that look fine. It’s about shaving pennies off components that have become cheap and commodified. Consumer grade electronics always get worse and worse. It’s difficult to get a home modem and router that are very reliable even ignoring WiFi.

  3. A USB-C dongle is like 99 cents on ebay , shipped from China (you would think the postage would be all or most of 99 cents but it isn’t – there’s some quirk in the US-China postal treaty that makes it cheap). You could tape the dongle to the mouse’s USB plug to permanently convert it into a USB-C mouse. Buy a 2nd dongle so that you can hook up other USB devices. OTOH it’s stupid that they make you buy a dongle but OTOH it’s not the end of the world.

  4. Oh fer chrissakes, just use a macbook and don’t worry about random crappy hardware lossage and firmware incompatibilities.

  5. Bravo that you mention the MacBook, possessor of just a lone USB-C port. But I do actually mostly use Apple gear b/c too old to spend my dwindling hours on this sort of thing. Unfortunately, the relatives still use Windows.

  6. Uggh, I just don’t see the point of mangling wifi drivers for cost purposes, particularly backwards compatible ones. Once developed, marginal cost is zero, right?

    Even worse is the folly of some manufacturer using those chips, because how many pennies of profit are wiped out once Phil calls customer service and escalates to some poor engineer? Better to just have him stay satisfied with buying Dell.

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