Our base-spec XPS 13 contains a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor with 4GB of RAM and we found it to be more than adequate for general computing tasks, including writing this very review. It was quite snappy and responsive navigating through Windows, playing videos, listening to music and, in general, computing.
This is, again, a 13-inch laptop. While there are multiple choices for processor and disk size there’s but one display on offer, a 1366 x 768 unit that manages to do greater than 720p, but not by much. It is a 16:9 aspect ratio display, so the panel itself is slightly shorter and wider than that on the 13-inch MacBook Air, despite the XPS 13 itself being slightly narrower.
Yes indeed we have some skinny bezels here, but sadly we’re also talking about a screen that has a lower pixel density than the 1600 x 900 panel on the $1,100 UX31. (The Air has a 1440 x 900 display, but you’ll pay $1,299 and up for the privilege.) It’s not a massive difference, but individual pixels are far more noticeable on the Dell.
The webcam of the Dell XPS 13 is pretty decent, and if I compare it to the computers that I have on my desk, it lands somewhere between the Macbook Air 11” (gen1) and the Samsung Series 9 13.3” (2011). It’s a bit difficult to describe the difference in image quality given that none of them are “excellent”, but there’s no question that they all get the job done if you want to hop on a quick family video chat
Display size : 13.3 inches
Maximum resolution : 1366 x 768
Display type : Glossy LCD with LED Backlight
Processor class : Intel Core i5
Processor model : 2467M
Processor speed : 1600 MHz
Number of Cores : 2
Integrated Graphics Chipset HD Graphics 3000
4 GB Memory technology DDR3
Memory Speed 1333 MHz
Hard Drive Type Solid-State Drive 256 GB
Vendor Rated Battery life 8.5 hours
Wifi Type 802.11 n
Number of USB 3 Ports: 1
Number of USB 2 Ports: 1
Video Interfaces : Mini DisplayPort
Additional Interfaces: Bluetooth
Size and Weight
Weight (min) : 3 pounds
Width : 12.4 inches
Depth :8.1 inches
Height :0.71 inches
Operating system : Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
You’ll find absolutely no surprises under the hood here, as the XPS 13 stays almost exactly in lockstep with the rest of the ultrabook market. Specs include a 1.6GHz Core i5, 128GB SSD hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and a 13.3-inch screen with 1366×768-pixel resolution. The gently tapered chassis features one USB 3.0 port, one chargeable USB 2.0 port, and, oddly, a mini-DisplayPort connector. Landing right at three pounds, it’s an awful lot like a blacker, and slightly smaller, version of the MacBook Air.
Like many Ultrabooks, the XPS 13 certainly turns heads. From the outside, it looks like a smaller version of the Dell XPS 15z and Dell XPS 14z – which is no bad thing. A curvaceous silver aluminium shell clocks in at feather-weight 1.4Kg. While that's lighter than a great many ultraportables, it's not as floaty as some - the Toshiba Z830 weighs in at 1.12kg for example - and there is a sturdiness to it that makes it feel solid.
The backlit keyboard, large touch pad, edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass over the display, and small footprint all add up to an impressive package. If the Dell XPS L322X battery life and screen were better (and the fan were quieter) it could be the best of the current ultrabooks. As it is, it's still in the running, but it's not a blowout win.
The top screen cover is precision cut from a single block of aluminum. This not only makes the XPS 13 look nice but it gives the otherwise vulnerable screen some much needed protection. The sizeable palm rests beneath the keyboard are made of magnesium and covered with soft touch paint. The lower half of the chassis is made of a carbon fiber composite to help keep the weight down and prevent heat transfer from the internal components to your lap.
One disappointment is the screen itself. While the 1,366x768-pixel native resolution is what you'll find in most 13-inch laptops, we've seen 1,600x900-pixel models recently, and the 13-inch MacBook Air has a 1,440x900-pixel display (admittedly starting at $300 more). Edge-to-edge glass is always a look that I like, but the off-axis viewing on this display is poor. Dell is purportedly going to offer a higher-resolution screen in the near future, so hopefully it'll be an improvement.
From a design perspective, the XPS 13 is a fantastic addition to Dell's lineup, establishing a new bar that Dell should aim to clear with its future products. The laptop is attractive, solid, and fast. Dell Studio 1440 battery life is good if you don't go crazy with the screen brightness. Audio is better than you'd expect, and the keyboard and trackpad (after the driver update) don't disappoint. With better display quality, it would be a slam-dunk. Unfortunately, the middling resolution, iffy color reproduction, and poor off-axis viewing leave a considerable stain on what would otherwise be a five-star product. Let's hope that Dell releases a revised version this summer that carries Intel's Ivy Bridge chips and a better display.
Like the rest of the laptops written about here, the Dell XPS 13 is fast to boot, resume from sleep, and a very capable performer. All of the laptops managed my everyday workload, which includes simultaneously writing emails, browsing the web with a number of tabs open, listening to music, and periodically watching video clips.
The built-in speakers are, as you'd expect, less than impressive. They do the job though, and for video conferencing and the occasional YouTube clip are more than adequate.
I wasn't wild about either touchpad; on the Series 9, I had to load a new software driver for it since I wasn't reviewing a final unit. Battery life was disappointing. In my harsh test, in which I cranked brightness to the max, played streaming video in a loop via Wi-Fi and turned off power-saving measures, the XPS lasted just about three hours, the Series 9 about 4½ hours. You can do better under "normal" cicumstances.
The XPS 13 is extremely well built, the keyboard is very comfortable, and it's very thin and light. And for $999, it's certainly a good value for those looking for an attractive and fast Windows 7 laptop. But the aforementioned glaring issues really do hold it back from being the best thin and light laptop on the market. If you want a better trackpad and screen and longer Dell XPS L322X battery life, you'll probably want to have the MacBook Air in that seat pocket, even if it costs $300 more.
The XPS 13 weighs 3 pounds, which is average for Ultrabooks (the HP Folio is currently the heaviest at 3.3 lbs. and the Toshiba Portege Z830 the lightest at 2.5 lbs). It's 0.24" at its thinnest point up front and 0.71" at the rear. The laptop looks like a Dell when it comes to the black keyboard deck and fondness for curves. Happily, the over the top design elements like the shiny spiral hinge and weird speaker grilles found on the XPS 14z and 15z are gone. The lozenge-like aluminum lid is very attractive, though MacBook Air derivative. The tapered sides make for a slim look and feel, and the carbon fiber that covers the bottom and wraps around the sides looks and feels simply wonderful. It's got a soft touch feel, is grippy and has that checkered gray pattern that says carbon fiber (you know what I'm talking about, sportscar geeks).
The maximum energy consumption turns out to be just as inconspicuous, which is estimated to just under 33 Watt at full load. Around half of this should be down to the 17-Watt processor, and other main energy consumers are, for example, the display and the mainboard. We are eager to find out whether the coming Ivy Bridge platform can get more improvements despite identical TDP classifications.
The Dell XPS 13’s aluminium chassis is jaw-droppingly attractive. Outwardly, it’s a smaller, thinner version of the Dell XPS 15z and the Dell XPS 14z – no bad thing. A curving silver shell measuring 7mm at its thinnest point and a barely-there weight of 1.4 means holding the XPS 13 is akin to holding a tablet.