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The Dell XPS 12 Had a Very Serious, Very Stupid Design Flaw



There's an Olde English saying out there that goes something like this: He who buyeth a laptop just because it looketh cool shall risk developing cancer. OK, maybe I made that up. Still, I feel like this is one of the most interesting design flaws to ever come out of the tech industry, and one that deserves to be far better known because of just how pathetic it is.

When Dell launched the original XPS 12 in 2012, it was marketed as a "MacBook Air and iPad melded into one device," despite looking a bit more like a broken chair. A very cool looking one, that's for sure, but still a broken chair nonetheless. Unlike most convertible laptops of the time (as well as even today's models), the XPS 12 didn't use a 180° hinge, but rather a pair of traditional laptop hinges attached to an aluminum "halo", which had its own hinges that allowed the screen itself to flip 180 degrees within the halo, a design previously implemented on the Inspiron Duo in 2010. The screen almost looks like it's floating when you don't have it fully rotated, and it just looked so cool to me that I knew I had to get one of these.


I think the main place most of you would know this thing from is that video where Linus accidentally left it out in the rain, only for it to fire up like nothing ever happened. It was a much more durable laptop than it looked, at least unless it was dropped, hit, set on fire, or submerged in water while running.

Well, there is another exception when it comes to durability. You see, early XPS 12s had severe screen burn-in that would usually develop after only a few months. In response to this, Dell issued a recall where they'd replace the screen with a shiny new one (presumably with one from a different manufacturer than they initially went with) on all XPS 12s sold up to that point. Dell was obviously very confident about the longevity of this new display, even going as far as to use a stronger adhesive to hold the digitizer on because it wouldn't have to be touched.

Unfortunately, Dell was wrong about this screen; it had to be touched. As the years went by after the recall, people on many tech forums started sharing photos of their XPS 12s, showing weird bubbles forming inside their screen. Some of them just chalked it up to the laptop suffering water damage, but many people said their laptop was releasing a sticky, sap-like substance, as well as a strong chemical smell. Many of them also said it seemed like the sticky substance was irritating their skin.

These new screens, while safe from the burn-in issues of yore, were leaking liquid crystal. Not leaking from people closing the laptop on their earbuds and cracking their screen, not leaking from people using their laptop right next to a volcano or other extreme heat sources, but leaking out of otherwise pristine devices.

As you'd expect from Dell, they stayed silent when this much more severe problem arose, despite LCDs using several carcinogenic chemicals. The leaking LCDs became more and more common over the years, to the point where there are numerous leaking XPS 12s on eBay that aren't even listed as parts laptops. There's a pretty good chance that no XPS 12 is safe, though I don't know who made the defective screens. Some of them may have used screens from a different vendor, but then again, I really don't know.

Still, at least it gets worse. The XPS 12 was pretty much a commmercial failure, so tracking down replacements ones with good screens is neither easy, nor cheap. The laptop itself isn't even worth as much as eBay sellers are listing the screens for, so there's simply no reason to fix it when you can go out and buy a new one that won't even cause cancer. (But where's the fun in that??)
At the end of the day, I still don't regret buying mine even if I rendered the screen permanently unusable by attempting to rip off the digitizer. I may now have many extremely small and extremely painful glass shards embedded in my hands, but at least it's all for a cool looking laptop.


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