Dell XPS 13 review: thin, focused and fantastic
Laptop manufacturers continue to invest much of their energy in hybrid machines, either tablet Surface clones or convertibles that fold all over themselves. I can understand the temptation; Windows 10 works just as well in tablet or laptop configurations, so why not build a machine that's the best of both worlds?
In practice, though, I hate this strategy. In my testing most hybrids end up being the worst of both worlds; a low powered laptop and a clumsy, chunky tablet. I'd much rather a dedicated laptop for work, and a separate tablet free from work, that I can relax with on the couch or load up with movies for a long haul flight.
Which brings me to the new Dell XPS 13, which was first previewed at CES earlier this year. This is a laptop lover's laptop; an incredibly capable machine packed into the smallest possible shell, without any of the compromises that come with convertibles.
The XPS has the familiar wedge-shaped design of its predecessors, but is thinner, lighter and smaller than the models it replaces. For comparison, it's a few millimetres thinner than the current MacBook Pro, and about the same weight. But side by side, the difference is dramatic, thanks to the tiny bezels surrounding the display.
Dell calls this an InfinityEdge Display, and while I normally cringe at those kind of marketing names, I'll pay it here. The screen really does go right up to the edges of the laptop's shell. You can find bigger bezels on some current flagship phones. This reduces the XPS footprint considerably, leaving it looking closer to an 11-inch laptop, so it will fit comfortably on even the smallest tray table.
The display is incredible; at 4K it bests the MacBook Pro's resolution, although it cannot match the brightness and colour depth of Apple's laptops. The model I've been using is also a touchscreen, which doesn't seem to have added much thickness or weight to the display.
With so little room around the screen, Dell was forced to place the webcam below the display, creating an unflattering up-the-nose angle for video conferencing. I never use the webcam so this isn't a deal breaker for me, but the position of the camera enclosure, and the reflective Dell logo just above it, is really quite distracting, especially on the Rose Gold variant. It's a glaring error in an otherwise beautifully designed laptop. Thankfully, this is barely noticeable on the black model.
The XPS line is known for the carbon fibre bottom plate, which looks great and is far more comfortable palm rest than a standard aluminium or plastic shell. The Rose Gold variant includes a white woven glass fibre shell, promising an even stronger enclosure with lighter materials.
The keyboard here is comfortable and, while the travel of keys is shallow, there's enough feedback for comfortable typing. I'm disappointed that Dell's new maglev keyboard technology, available in the XPS 15s, is not available in its smaller laptops. Those are possibly the best laptop keyboards I've typed on.
With Intel's 8th generation Kaby lake processor, the new XPS 13 is powerful when it needs to be, while still having acceptable battery life. I found I was making it through a standard work day without recharging, although the battery was getting dangerously low in the afternoon. If you want a gaming laptop, you'll need the XPS 15; the 13's integrated graphics will stutter on anything but the simplest games.
There are still more impressive features jammed into this tiny case I don't have room to list, but the XPS 13 has overtaken the Surface Laptop as my favourite Windows-based laptop.