For many years, PCs were tarnished with the tagline of being bulky and ugly while Apple’s Macbook range scaled new heights in design and functionality. However, the past couple of years has seen Microsoft’s OEM partners expand their design departments and the recent wave of ultrabooks has offered credible competition to Apple’s latest flagships.
Arguably one of the biggest Windows-based competitors to Apple comes from Dell, in the form of the XPS 13 Ultrabook, and with a svelte profile that pushes the boundaries of design and functionality. However, is the XPS 13 really the best ultrabook on the market and, through the eyes of a Macbook Pro user, is the Dell XPS 13 the ultimate definition of portable power?
The Dell XPS 13 is the very definition of an ultrabook, combining the power and specifications of a powerful laptop or desktop, with the slim profile of a netbook. Arguably the future of PCs as we know them, ultrabooks aim to deliver high performance and great battery life without the bulk attached to more traditional laptops that offer this, and for the most part, Dell has certainly delivered here.
As a Retina Macbook Pro user, the XPS 13 comes across as exceedingly light, at a weight of just 1.33kg (2.93 pounds) for the Quad-HD touch enabled version and 1.2kg (2.7 pounds) for the Full HD non-touch version. Comparatively, Apple’s Macbook Air weighs in at 1.35kg (2.96 pounds) and the Lenovo Yoga 900 comes in at 1.29kg (2.84 pounds) and the weight distribution of the XPS 13 makes it feel lighter than it actually is.
One of the biggest attractions of the XPS 13 is its incredible profile, with Dell managing to cram a 13.3-inch display into a much smaller frame than other ultrabooks with similar display sizes. At 1.5cm tall, 30.4cm wide and 20cm long, the XPS 13 is the size of an 11.9-inch laptop with a much larger display and the overall profile makes for an exceptional in-hand experience.
Both the top and bottom are built from machined aluminium with a silver anodized finish, which reminds us of the Macbook range, and it is certainly built to last. After a few weeks of carrying it in a bag and even just having it out surrounded by other tech in my office, there’s no signs of wear. Durability is definitely not a problem with the XPS 13.
Dell has also included a couple of extra touches that elevate the XPS 13 beyond a traditional ultrabook. On the left, the company has included a light-up battery gauge that – once pressed – displays how much battery is left through a series of 5 LEDs. One particular point of note is that it doesn’t seem to work when the XPS 13 is switched off, although this could be a fault limited to our particular machine.
Despite the slim thickness of the machine, Dell hasn’t skimped on functionality either, with a plethora of ports and connectivity options included as standard. These include a SD card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, a USB Type-C port (which is new to this year’s machine and replaces the mini DisplayPort) and a Thunderbolt 3.0 port.
Considering that Apple’s new Macbook has rapidly reduced the number of available ports, Dell’s decision to include as many ports as possible is most definitely justified. Along the edges of the XPS 13, you’ll also find two side-firing speakers, which produce natural tones but aren’t designed for audiophiles.
While the design of the XPS 13 is certainly amazing to behold, opening the lid is when you experience the magic of Dell’s Infinity Display. The small profile coupled with the 13.3-inch display means the XPS 13 offers an exceptional screen to body ratio of around 80 percent.
The version of the XPS 13 we’ve been using features a QHD+ display at 3200×1800 pixels resolution, which is far superior to most (if not all) ultrabooks that tend to be capped at Full HD resolution. The display itself is quite sharp and although it is slightly cool, the display is definitely one of the best currently available on an ultrabook.
The display itself has so little bezel that is stretches right to the corners of the machine and the extremely thin bezels provide a cinematic-like experience that’s a joy to use. The XPS 13 is also exceptionally bright at 400 nits, which means you’ll most likely be using at under full brightness unless you’re in direct sunlight outdoors. I personally kept it around 30-35 percent brightness but even at 10 percent, it was legible enough to see indoors so you’ll have no brightness problems here.
The necessity of cramming a large display into such a small profile does mean that Dell has had to move the webcam to the lower right corner, which makes it an absolute pain for video calling (to the point where I stopped using it for video calls). The small profile also means that the keyboard is fractionally smaller than a traditional 13-inch laptop (although still very comfortable to use) but thankfully, the trackpad is the correct size and absolute joy to use.
Like most of its rivals, you’re able to choose from a selection of internal configurations when you buy the XPS 13. The various models available are:
|Model:||XPS 13 Non-touch||XPS 13 Touch||XPS 13 Touch Gold Design||XPS 13 Touch||XPS 13 Touch|
|Processor:||6th gen Intel Core i3 / i5||6th gen Intel Core i5||6th gen Intel Core i7||6th gen Intel Core i7||6th gen Intel Core i7|
|OS:||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home|
|RAM:||4GB / 8GB||8GB||8GB||8GB||16GB|
|Graphics:||Intel HD Graphics 520||Intel HD Graphics 520||Intel HD Graphics 520||Intel Iris Graphics 540||Intel Iris Graphics 540|
The model we’ve been testing is the entry-level QHD+ version, which comes with a quad-core Core i7 processor, 8GB DDR3 RAM and a 256GB solid state drive. Throughout day to day usage, the XPS 13 hasn’t failed to deliver and I was able to easily use it for every daily task without it breaking a sweat. What is particularly interesting is that – unlike other ultrabooks – the area around the trackpad and keyboard don’t heat up as much as I had expected them to.
The trackpad itself is also one of the standout parts of the XPS 13 experience; prior to moving to a Mac, Windows touchpads had irritated me beyond belief and by way of comparison, the Macbook’s trackpad was a godsend. When using the XPS 13, it reminded me of just how good a trackpad can be, with multi-touch gestures working perfectly to control the various features in Windows 10.
Speaking of Windows 10, this is also where the XPS 13 surprised me; having used the Surface Pro 4, Surface Pro 3 and a few other machines running Windows 10, the XPS 13 is the only machine where Windows 10 runs flawlessly. I’ve been used to little quirks in Microsoft’s latest OS but the XPS 13 doesn’t seem to have these. If anything, it is the only machine that would make me consider switching back to Windows again.
Overall, performance in the XPS 13 is like the machine itself; quiet, unassuming yet able to handle any task you throw at it. The machine I tested had 8GB RAM and I’d probably suggest that – if you’re going to buy an XPS 13 – you go all out and spend on the extra RAM. While 8GB is more than capable of most tasks, there is the odd occasion where too many apps and tabs open in Chrome, does noticeably affect the performance. Again, this is a limitation of the RAM more than anything so the extra RAM could come in handy for power users.
The XPS 13 performance is like the machine itself; quiet, unassuming yet able to handle any task you throw at it
We’ve performed extensive benchmark testing on a number of similar tablets and ultrabooks, as result, we can give you a solid comparative reference of device performance. Taking our test device specifications into consideration, let’s see how the XPS 13 stands up.
As one of three devices with the Intel Core i7 installed, it should be no surprise that the XPS 13 posted some impressive numbers. This is in-line with our hands-on impressions of this ultrabook, we’ve been more than happy with it in almost all use cases, and we think it’ll rock your daily tasks with ease.
The concept of an ultrabook is that the machine delivers long-lasting battery life (which is, after all, why you spend more on an ultrabook than a laptop) and the XPS 13 somewhat lives up to this. I say this because in almost every task, the XPS 13 delivers around 8 hours battery life on average but when used for video playback, the battery life does considerably drop.
As an example, in my average day-to-day usage, I found the battery lasted between 6 to 8 hours and, unlike my Mac or other Windows machines, it doesn’t seem to suffer from battery drain caused by having too many Chrome tabs open. However, when watching videos at full brightness, the battery can drain in under 3 hours (although setting this to around 50 percent brightness can increase the video playback battery life to approx. 5 hours).
A welcome improvement indeed (and actually better than my 2015 Macbook Pro with Retina Display) but still not quite on the level that I expected. For example, Apple’s Macbook Air can deliver 13-hour battery life and even 2-in-1 machines like Lenovo’s Yoga 900 can deliver better battery life. With this in mind however, the overall battery life of the XPS 13 is certainly good enough for most average users and, unless you’re using it for resource intensive tasks like video editing or gaming, it should be good for the average workday.
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Price & Specs
How much does the XPS 13 and all its goodness cost you? Depending on where you’re based, it starts at just $799 and can rise to over $3000 (once you convert currency for other markets). Here’s the in-depth specs list and the cost of the different models:
|Model:||XPS 13 Non-touch||XPS 13 Non-touch||XPS 13 Touch||XPS 13 Touch Gold Design||XPS 13 Touch||XPS 13 Touch|
|Processor:||6th gen Intel Core i3 / |
Up to 2.3GHz
|6th gen Intel Core i5 / |
Up to 2.8GHz
|6th gen Intel Core i5 / |
Up to 2.8GHz
|6th gen Intel Core i7 / |
Up to 3.2GHz
|6th gen Intel Core i7 / |
Up to 3.2GHz
|6th gen Intel Core i7 /
Up to 3.2GHz
|OS:||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home|
|Memory:||4GB RAM||8GB RAM||8GB RAM||8GB RAM||8GB RAM||16GB RAM|
|Storage:||128GB SSD||128GB SSD||256GB SSD||256GB SSD||256GB SSD||512GB SSD|
|Graphics:||Intel HD Graphics 520||Intel HD Graphics 520||Intel HD Graphics 520||Intel Iris Graphics 540||Intel Iris Graphics 540||Intel Iris Graphics 540|
|Display:||13.3" FHD (1920x1080)||13.3" FHD (1920x1080)||13.3" QHD+ (3200x1800)||13.3" QHD+ (3200x1800)||13.3" QHD+ (3200x1800)||13.3" QHD+ (3200x1800)|
|Battery Life:||Up to 15 hours||Up to 15 hours||Up to 15 hours||Up to 15 hours||Up to 15 hours||Up to 15 hours|
Some of the models listed above come with additional customisation options allowing you to pay extra for options such as SSD size, amount of RAM, display resolution, Processor and OS.
The XPS 13 certainly isn’t the cheapest machine on the market but considering everything it has to offer, the pricing is certainly fair. Innovation isn’t cheap and the XPS 13 is certainly innovative, combining very impressive specs into an impossibly thin body and once you pick it up, you’re likely to want to buy one straight away.
Yes, it’s not the absolute best ultrabook that money can buy and the lack of a dedicated graphics card in the 13-inch model may rule out those who need one, but for most would-be ultrabook customers, the XPS 13 is certainly one of the finest that money can buy.
As for myself, would I buy one? As a mac user, Windows machines have traditionally failed to inspire me to switch away from the Mac. However, the Dell XPS range is the first that offers the style, function and practicality that the Macbook does and in some ways, it does it even better. If I was to switch or wanted a PC as an additional machine, I’d look no further than the XPS range.