Dell XPS 13 Review - High Performance Laptop with InfinityEdge Display

Pros

  • Small
  • Compact chassis
  • Great keyboard and touchpad
  • Bright, colorful display
  • Strong performance
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Awkwardly placed webcam

Verdict

This thin-and-light notebook offers very good performance, hybrid graphics, and a luxurious design.

The best laptop is now even better. Dell has given the XPS 13 ($799 to start, $1,399 with touch) a brighter screen, longer battery life, a new USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3 and your choice of Intel's latest 6th-generation Core Series CPUs. Dell also kept all the features we liked on the previous model, including the sexy aluminum and carbon-fiber body, optional quad-HD infinity display, and comfy backlit keyboard. While the location of the webcam still feels out of place, this latest XPS 13 continues to reign supreme.

Design

Like the previous version, from early 2015, the current XPS 13 features a carbon-fiber deck sandwiched between a brushed-metal lid and bottom, which creates an appealing and modern two-toned look.

I really like Dell's attention to detail, which is best seen in the bottom-mounted aluminum flap, whose sole purpose is to cover up the ugly service stickers and labels required by the Federal Communications Commission.

When you open the lid, you're treated to Dell's infinity display (pictured above), which features an almost nonexistent bezel that seems to just disappear into the background. It's intimate and engaging, and when you watch movies, it's feels like the video player is just hovering in midair.

Dell XPS 13 Review

Dell XPS 13 Review

The Infinity display isn't just for looks either, as the smaller lid means the XPS 13 also has a small footprint. Measuring 12 x 7.9 x 0.33-0.6-inches and weighing 2.7 pounds (2.9 pounds for the touch-screen version) this notebook is even smaller than some of the tiniest 13-inch systems, including the MacBook Air 13 (12.8 x 8.9 x 0.11-0.68-inches, 2.96 pounds) and the Lenovo Yoga 900 (12.75 x 8.86 x 0.59 inches, 2.8 pounds).

Gold Edition

The Gold Edition of the Dell XPS 13 is physically identical to the original with the exception of the Gold version's luminous yellow exterior.

Dell XPS 13 Review

Dell XPS 13 Review

Dell XPS 13 Gold Edition It comes in only one, $1,650 configuration featuring a QHD touch screen, 6th-generation Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, integrated Iris graphics and 256GB of storage.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The XPS 13 features a backlit keyboard with two levels of lighting.

Dell XPS 13 keyboardDell makes up for the keyboard's somewhat shallow 1.2 mm of travel by adding a good spring at the bottom of the stroke, so even though there's not a lot of room to work with, it's not painful when you bottom out while typing.

Dell XPS 13 Review

Dell XPS 13 Review

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On my first attempt at 10fastfingers.com's typing test, I recorded 85 words per minute, which is 5 more words per minute than my typical pace.

The 4.1 x 2.3-inch touchpad features a seductively smooth, matte-black surface that my fingers simply couldn't get enough of. Mouse movement and multifinger gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling, responded quickly and accurately.

Even better is the feeling of the touchpad's mouse click, which offers a really satisfying snap every time you press down.

Display

The Dell XPS 13's 13.3-inch quad-HD (3200 x 1800) touch screen is a sight to behold. It features wide viewing angles, and even better brightness and great color range than the nontouch, full-HD version of this notebook.

Dell XPS 13 Quad-HD Display

Dell XPS 13 Quad-HD Display

The result is a display whose picture lags behind only that of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. When I watched the trailer for Gods of Egypt, the radiant blue light of Horus' eye provided a good contrast to the dark and gloomy dungeon. When compared side by side with the nontouch XPS 13, the quad-HD model featured brighter and more-saturated colors. However, the nontouch model exhibited less glare.

The touchpad features a seductively smooth surface that registered gestures accurately.

When measured with a light meter, the XPS 13 produced 336 nits of brightness. That's more than the Yoga 900 (284 nits) and the nontouch XPS 13 (318 nits) could muster. However, the pricier Surface Book (387 nits) is brighter.

Color range was on point, with the XPS 13 covering 103.6 percent of the sRGB spectrum. The MacBook Air 13's color range was significantly more limited, at just 66 percent, although the nontouch XPS 13 (92 percent), Yoga 900 (93 percent) and Surface Book (99) percent) weren't far off.

Interestingly, despite good brightness and great color range, the XPS 13's color accuracy is only slightly better than average. The touch-screen model turned in a Delta-E rating of 3.13. (Closer to 0 is best.) The nontouch model was much less accurate, with a score of 8.2.

Audio

Even though size is at a premium, the XPS 13 still puts out a lot of sound. When I listened to DJ Mehdi's "I Am Somebody," I was surprised by the Dell's better-than-average bass and overall volume (which was more than enough to fill our testing lab), although I would have liked more crispness from the percussion.

Heat

The touch version of the XPS 13 ran hotter than the nontouch model. After streaming HD video for 15 minutes, a section near the vent on the bottom of the touch XPS 13 registered a disturbing 112 degrees Fahrenheit, far above our typical 95-degree threshold.

Other areas, such as the touchpad and space between the G and H keys, were much less worrisome, at 87.5 and 98.5 degrees, respectively.

The nontouch version of the XPS 13 stayed cooler. The hottest spot on the notebook after our video test was the bottom right corner, at 97 degrees.

Ports and Webcam

New on this year's XPS 13 is a reversible USB Type-C port with support for Thunderbolt 3. Though it doesn't charge the laptop, this Type-C connection transfers data at up to 40 Gbps, or outputs video to multiple 4K displays over a single cord.

Dell XPS 13 Quad-HD Display

Dell XPS 13 Quad-HD Display

The XPS 13 also includes two traditional USB 3.1 ports, an SD card reader and a combo headphone/mic jack.

Dell XPS 13 webcam

Dell XPS 13 webcam

Due to the laptop's slim bezel, the XPS 13's webcam is located beneath the display.

The 1280 x 720 camera features dual mics for better audio during video calls, although it's a little awkward to always be looking down at the bottom-left corner. This can often cause shadows to fall on your face. Despite the good detail and sharp focus I saw in a selfie I took in our office, the picture ended up looking a little dark.

Performance

We tested two versions of the Dell XPS 13 -- one with a touch screen and one without -- but each one featured a 6th-gen 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe x4 (aka NVME) SSD.

This machine can multitask, stream video and crunch numbers with the best of them.

In our tests, this machine multitasked, streamed video and crunched numbers with the best of them. Even when I streamed multiple 1080p 60 fps videos in YouTube with 15 other tabs open in Edge, there wasn't a hint of slowdown.

On Geekbench 3, which tests overall system performance, the XPS 13 scored 6,374. As expected, the MacBook Air 13 (5,783) with its older, 5th-gen Core i5 CPU, didn't score quite as high, although the Yoga 900, with the same i5-6200 U, was in the same ballpark, at 6,264. The Surface Book finished even higher due to its slightly faster Core i5-6300 chip.

When we used OpenOffice to match a spreadsheet containing 20,000 names and addresses, the XPS 13 finished the task in 4 minutes and 28 seconds. While this is a good deal faster than the ultraportable average, it was slightly behind the times from the Yoga 900 (4:18), Surface Book (4:17) and even the MacBook Air 13 (4:03).

Graphics

The Intel HD Graphics 520 in the XPS 13 can handle mainstream games. On World of Warcraft, the Dell averaged a playable 40 frames per second with the effects on Good, and the resolution at its native 1080p. At these same settings, the Yoga 900, which has the same GPU, averaged a slightly better 49 fps. When we increased the eye candy to max, the Dell and the Lenovo performed about the same, at 21 and 18 fps, respectively.

On 3DMark's Fire Strike graphics test, the XPS 13 posted a score of 783, which was a bit worse than the scores of the Yoga 900 (840) and the Surface Book (854 without discrete graphics).

Battery Life

The nontouch version of the Dell XPS 13 lasted an awesome 11 hours and 54 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi with the screen at 100 nits). The Dell's endurance is much better than that of the Yoga 900 (7:57) and the ultraportable average of 8:10. The MacBook Air continues to dominate, with an excellent time of 14 hours, but it also has a lower-resolution display.

The touch-screen version of the XPS 13 provides a small but insignificant increase in battery life over its immediate predecessor. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits), the quad-HD XPS 13 lasted 8 hours and 8 minutes. That's a 44-minute increase from the early 2015 model, which featured a similar configuration.

Configurations

The XPS 13 starts at $799; at that price, consumers get a 1080p nontouch display, an Intel Core i3-6100U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.

Dell XPS 13 configs

Dell XPS 13 Review

The next pre-configured model costs $999, and has a more powerful Core i5-6200U CPU and 8GB of RAM. This is the version I reviewed, albeit with a 256GB SSD, which increased the price to $1,149.

Stepping up to $1,399 -- the least expensive configuration that has a touch screen -- gets you the same Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, but a 256GB SSD and a QHD+ (3200 x 1800) display. Spend $200 more, and you can upgrade the CPU to an Intel Core i7-6500U.

If you're willing to spend more, you can upgrade to an Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, all for a grand total of $2,000.

Dell also offers the Gold Edition unit, which replaces the silver lid and bottom with a more flaxen tint. It comes in only one configuration, which costs $1,649 and packs an Intel Core i7-6560U processor, 8GB of RAM, Intel Iris 540 Graphics and a 256GB PCIe SSD.

Software and Warranty

Dell includes Windows 10 and a one-year limited hardware warranty standard on every XPS 13, but if you like, you can upgrade to Dell's premium support for up to four years, for a total of $299. The premium tier includes 24/7 tech support, on-site servicing and automatic alerts that highlight potential hardware or software issues.

Don't worry about bloatware on this ultraportable. Our XPS 13 arrived with a clean desktop and just a few nagging apps, like Candy Crush Saga and McAfee LiveSafe, lurking in the Start menu. You do get some useful trials, including 20GB of storage on Dropbox.

Likes: Customers on Dell.com praise the XPS 13's sleek and compact design. One reviewer says the build quality on this laptop is "top-notch and rivals the MacBook." Owners see another plus in the soft-touch finish, which makes typing comfortable.

The XPS 13's long battery life is another high point for owners. One student wrote that he gets "at least 10 hours in battery life while using it," and he has left the XPS 13 in sleep mode for an entire day and it still had juice for him to use it when he picked it up.

 

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