Dell XPS 13 review
The email told us Dell was coming to show us something special. That we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement if we wanted in. A day later, that something turned out to be an early sample of the XPS 13, Dell’s long-awaited addition to its premium laptop range and, more importantly, its very first Ultrabook.
The XPS 13 bears no design homage to Apple’s range, nor even to any laptop in Dell’s history. The lid is finished in a light shade of brushed metal – the traditional, if unofficial, uniform of the Ultrabook – and the dark base beneath adds a touch of contrast. A weave of carbon fibre stretches all around the metal XPS tag at its centre, itself engraved with Windows and Intel logos.
Inside, the Dell is entirely understated. Matte-black plastic pools around the keyboard and wristrest, encompassed by a flash of metal, and the soft-touch plastics feel silky smooth. It’s physically compact too. Dell claims the XPS 13 squeezes a 13.3in display into a 12in chassis, and while it isn’t quite as small as Asus’ Zenbook UX21, it’s much more compact than its 13.3in competitors.
At 1.38kg, the XPS 13 can hardly be accused of being overweight; yet, somehow, it feels heavier than its counterparts. Indeed, more than one of the PC Pro team remarked at its heft. Whether it’s the way the weight is distributed across the chassis, or perhaps the soft-to-the-touch yet rigid feel of the carbon fibre base tricking the senses, this is a solid-feeling laptop.
Despite the relatively dainty dimensions, the XPS 13 sacrifices nothing in the way of comfort. The keyboard is wonderful, the slight dip in the centre of each key combining with a crisp action that makes for quick, confident typing. It’s backlit, too: a keyboard shortcut flicking between two brightness levels, or turning it off completely. It’s easily the best keyboard of any current Ultrabook.
The touchpad doesn’t quite scale the heights of the keyboard. It occasionally requires a firm tap to get a response, and we missed the ability to use two-fingered taps to emulate a right-click. As with most of its rivals, the multitouch functions also seem a bit tacked on – there’s still no getting away from the fact that Windows just isn’t as gesture-friendly as OS X. It’s by no means bad, though, and the glass surface feels great under the finger, delivering accurate cursor control, and the whole pad gives way with a solid, reassuring click.
Whether it’s kicking back with a movie, or churning through a demanding video edit, the XPS 13 delivers sterling performance. Our review model boasted the top-end specification: a Core i7 processor alongside Samsung’s newest 256GB SSD, the PM830. It’s a potent pairing, with the Dell’s result of 0.62 in our benchmarks matching Asus’ Zenbook UX31. And with light-use battery life extending to 8hrs 11mins, the Dell is only a whisker behind its Asus-branded rival.