Monday, 10 February 2014 10:35

Dell XPS 12 Convertible: oh, if only it had worked Featured


Dell's XPS 12 Convertible Ultrabook is a neat device, one which any nerd would covet, even if one goes merely by its appearance. It looks good and the insides are good too; it has power to burn. But, alas, the device also demonstrates why Dell has fallen from its perch in the computer industry.

 The QA at the company seems to have deteriorated badly; one instance from my own experience is detailed below.

I bought a Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 Ultrabook from a JB Hi-Fi outlet on January 10. It was a top-end system with an i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state drive. The device can also be used as a tablet if one continues to use the Windows 8 operating system that it comes with.

My intentions were different: as I had a play with it in the showroom, I was salivating as I thought of how Linux would fly on such hardware. I planned to replace Windows with Debian GNU/Linux and use the laptop for my work; my existing laptop, an IBM Thinkpad, is entering its 10th year of service and its age is showing.

I had noticed the same item priced at $1898 in December, hence I asked the retailer why the price had been lowered - it was marked for sale at $1633 - and was told that this was because it was the last piece in the showroom and they wanted to clear the shelf to make way for new stock.

When I decided to buy it and informed the saleswoman about it, she said she could drop the price by a further $100 if I was taking the unit that was on display. Else, if I wanted a packed piece, she said the price would be as marked - $1633 - and that she would get in one from another JB Hi-Fi outlet. I opted to take the unit that was on display - after all, the warranty was the same, one year.

I started setting it up a few days later and then discovered that one of the USB ports - there are two - was not functioning. Additionally, the trackpad appeared to have a mind of its own; on occasion it would work, on others the cursor would be missing. And finally, the machine would never wake from sleep if it did enter this state; else it would not enter this state when the lid was shut.

The machine was running Windows 8; I applied all the pending security fixes and upgraded it to Windows 8.1. However, this did not make any difference to the operation of the trackpad or the sleep feature.

Given this, I took it back to JB Hi-Fi; the salesman was extremely professional and said that they would give me a replacement. But they had none in stock and so he said that if I was willing to go to another outlet, I could pick up a replacement right away. Else, the salesman advised me, it would take a few days for them to get in a replacement. I asked them to get one in.

On January 28, I was informed that the replacement laptop had arrived. I went by the next day to pick it up.

But once again, when I settled down to trying to set it up, I found similar issues: one USB port, the same one as on the first unit, was not working.

The same issues with the trackpad were also present. So too the problem with the laptop not going to sleep or not waking up.

I looked for a solution on the web and found a discussion thread in which it was suggested that a update for the mainboard would solve the trackpad problem; there was a link to a page on the Dell website for obtaining this firmware.

But no sooner had I started downloading this fix, when the laptop crashed. And it wouldn't start up again. On depressing the start button, there was a whirring sound, the keyboard lit up and nothing further happened.

I had no choice but to take it back to JB Hi-Fi on February 3. After checking that my claims were genuine the saleswoman offered to get me another XPS 12. But by now I had had enough and told her that I would accept another make - anything other than Sony or Acer - with the same specs at the same price. As they did not have anything comparable from other manufacturers, they refunded what I had paid.

JB Hi-Fi made no fuss about taking back the units, either the first time or the second. Asked about the issue, a spokeswoman said they did not often encounter such situations, where hardware of the same kind repeatedly failed. She said they had not sold that many of the XPS 12 models, only around 10, because not many people were looking for such high specs; hence she said they could not make any kind of generalisation about it.

I put the following questions to Dell:

One defective unit is okay, but two, with the same defects, appear to hint at some kind of failure in Dell's QA. Is this a reasonable conclusion?

The drivers for the trackpad on this model - which, incidentally, are from Dell - appear to be very flaky. Why is a laptop sold with such flaky drivers? I tested the machine with a live Linux CD and the drivers on that operating system seem to drive the trackpad very well.

The laptop does not go to sleep - and this means that when one closes the lid and leaves it, it tends to get very hot. On the rare occasion that the sleep function does work, the machine never wakes. Once again, there does not appear to have been sufficient testing of the sleep feature with Windows 8 before the machines were sent out for sale. This appears to hint at a streak of carelessness. Once again, would this be a reasonable conclusion?

A Dell spokesman came back with this: "As a business, we aim to design and build products that offer the best user experience possible for our customers. On the rare occasion that there is a fault with any of our products, Dell and its partners will do everything possible to rectify the situation. We apologise for this unfortunate situation and any inconvenience this may have caused."

XPS 12 image courtesy Dell


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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