The Dell XPS 13 is a beautifully designed laptop, taking things up several notches from its previous models.The prerequisite aluminium now covers both the lid and the base, and both are nice thick slabs that give the whole machine a real rigidity and premium feel.Inside it’s all soft-touch plastic, which may not sound as premium but rest assured it looks and feels great. The carbon fibre weave finish does raise an eyebrow but it somehow works on this machine, especially as we know it is actually made with carbon fibre underneath.The most striking thing about the design, though, is the lack of bezel round that screen. It’s just 5mm wide, which compares to around 15mm for a more typical machine of this type. It’s surprising just how much impact this difference has and it instantly makes every other thick-bezelled laptop look archaic in comparison.As a result of that lack of bezel the corners of the XPS 13 have been sharpened up and we actually think this improves the look further.
The biggest difference between the nontouch version of the XPS 13 is that it has a full-HD (1920 x 1080p) display, whereas the touch-screen model has a quad-HD (3200 x 1800p) display. That means the nontouch XPS 13 has a lower resolution than the Yoga 3 (also 3200 x 1800p) as well as the HP EliteBook 1020 (2560 x 1440p).When I watched a 1080p trailer for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, both the nontouch XPS 13 and the touch version looked great, but colors really popped on the touch model.The nontouch XPS 13 had a slight greenish cast, which was most obvious in scenes with lots of grays and whites.The nontouch model still provides pleasing visuals. In fact, its matte finish enables wider viewing angles than the touch-screen version; the glossy touch panel kicked back more reflections.The nontouch Dell displayed a similar range of colors, as its sRGB color gamut of 91.7 percent was just a few points shy of the touch-screen version , as well as the EliteBook and the Yoga 3 Pro.
Connectivity is more disappointing, however, with only two USB 3 ports, a mini-DisplayPort out for video, an SD card slot and a 3.5mm headset jack, plus no Ethernet port of any description. Wireless isn’t all that impressive either, with 2×2 stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4LE, but no 4G option.
Keyboard and Touchpad
As is often the case with slim ultraportables, typing can suffer because there’s simply not enough room for key travel. And while the XPS 13’s key travel was on the low side (1.2 mm), the 60 grams of force required to depress the island-style keys helped to compensate. If you don’t have a touch screen to execute Windows 8 gestures, then you better make sure your touchpad is up to the task. Fortunately, the XPS 13’s 4.1 x 2.3-inch touchpad was smooth and responsive.
Sound quality can’t reach the same grand heights as image quality but it’s still better than average for a machine as slim and light as this. There’s a reasonable stereo image and definitely a touch more depth than on most laptops this small. It’s still a largely treble-dominated affair that doesn’t really do music justice but for video watching it’s fine.
The dual-core 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U was extremely sprightly paired with 8GB of RAM is, scoring 83 in the image editing element of our new benchmarking tests. The more challenging video editing and multitasking tests were somewhat slower – 48 and 23 respectively – giving the XPS 13 a still very respectable overall score of 41. In real terms, this translates to responsive performance when browsing image and ad-heavy websites, and reasonable performance when editing photos.The integrated Intel HD Graphics 5500 is surprisingly capable.Things get heated when the processor is challenged to more than simple web browsing, however, with the left corner of the palm rest getting noticeably warm. The fan only kicks in when the laptop is under moderate load, such as playing a high resolution video, and only gets noticeably loud when you really push things to the limits.
Dell estimates the XPS 13 with the infinity screen will last approximately 11 hours of browsing or eight hours of video playback. With high performance settings and the screen brightness turned up, I got slightly less than that in normal use.With more balanced settings, the XPS13 should get through a normal day’s work. The power adapter is tiny, however, and the machine charges in about two hours. Dell also offers a Power Companion battery that will recharge it, but if battery life is a priority, the lower resolution full HD-screen versions last longer.
In many ways this XPS 13 is a cracking little laptop, packing maximum screen into minimum size without compromising usability. It’s no powerhouse and certainly no games machine, but it’s speedy enough for everyday use and has plenty of stamina. It has a good screen, ample connectivity and stylish looks. It’s smaller, thinner and lighter than the average 13-incher too.If you’re happy to pay a premium for a 13-inch laptop in an 11-inch chassis, though, then the XPS 13 is a great way to go.