The Dell XPS 13 is a gorgeous 2-in-1 laptop that ticks most of the right boxes.
The particular version I’m reviewing has excellent specs:
- 13.3-inch screen
- Intel Core i7 Y Series processor
- 16GB RAM
- 256GB SSD
The lush edge-to-edge HD screen is truly beautiful. Dell’s “Infinity Screen” design makes this 13-inch laptop roughly the same size as many 11-inch laptops. It also makes the laptop look pretty futuristic and just plain cool. The screen also does a very nice job with images. Colors are rich without being overdone. The screen is a touchscreen, and works as it should.
The refinement continues with the keyboard, which is satisfyingly easy to type on. The keys are backlit and look and feel good. The keys have good travel depth, and overall it feels like the keyboard in a larger machine, rather than what we usually find crammed into a thinner laptop.
Speaking of depth, the XPS, is pretty thin. At only 0.54 inches at it’s thickest point, it is thinner and lighter than many premium competitors. Overall, the XPS weighs only 2.7 pounds, although if feels extremely solid.
One of my biggest complaints with Windows-based laptops has been the trackpads. I am happy to report the trackpad on the XPS is very good. It does a great job recognizing gestures, and multi-finger swiping works perfectly well.
The newest trick for the XPS is functioning as a 2-in-1. The prior generation was a pure laptop, and an excellent one, at that. The new XPS is also an excellent laptop, but now expands functionality with two hinges that allow you to pivot the screen all the way around. You can use the XPS as a regular laptop, in tent mode, tablet mode, or stand mode. Early 2-in-1 laptops suffered a significant degree of wobble in different modes. The XPS feels solid at all angles and the hinges seem very sturdy.
I have never really found impressive audio on a laptop. Then again, I’m a bit of an audiophile – my desktop computer has a subwoofer and multiple speakers hooked up to it. But the sound here is pretty good for a laptop. The speakers remain clear, albeit a bit thin, even at higher volumes. That, alone, is a feat most laptops can’t handle. You can also, of course, customize the sound to better suit your liking.
The XPS includes a fingerprint reader, and it works decently well. It also includes an infrared camera, which means you should be able to login via Windows facial recognition at some point, but that option is not currently enabled.
I greatly appreciated the relative lack of bundled software. The software that is bundled with the XPS seems generally helpful and unobtrusive.
The power cable is well-designed and – dare I say – attractive. The cable can wrap around the svelte charging block and has a cable keeper attached so you can keep it looking neat. Charging is via a Thunderbolt 3 port. It is quick.
In terms of trade-offs, there are only a few, but they are worth noting:
- The front camera is, curiously, placed at the bottom of the screen. This means anyone you video conference with will be looking up your nostrils. The fix is to switch the computer to tent mode, which then moves the camera to a natural top-side position. I presume this design is due to the very thin top bezel around the screen.
- The processor, while an Intel i7, is the Y Series Kaby Lake mobile processor with no option for the U Series traditional laptop processor. While Dell has done an excellent job configuring the Y in the XPS, it is no match for the U, when it comes to raw power. Of course, this also means the Y should use less battery. Although the Y doesn’t need a fan, it can get a little warm under a constant load, but it never seems to get super hot. At this price range, though, I expect at least a U Series option. That said, Dell has tuned this machine extremely well for performance, and it handled all normal tasks quickly and without any strain.
- There are no full-sized USB ports and the computer does not have a a full-size SD card slot. It does have a USB-C port, micro-SD slot, headphone jack, and Thunderbolt 3 port. It comes with a USB-C to USB-A adapter, which is handy for legacy devices, such as the various flash drives we have in our house.
- To achieve a thinner profile, the new XPS has a smaller battery than the older XPS. I’ve seen tests showing roughly 8.5 hours of battery life, which seems good, but not spectacular for a Y Series machine. Part of this is because Dell has tuned the setup here for performance. It is faster than other Y Series machines I’ve tried, but also eats battery a little more quickly. For comparison, battery life comes in about about an hour less than the well-known competitor named after a fruit (which also uses a mobile processor) and surprisingly a little less than some slightly beefier Windows-based competitors that actually have the U Series chips. I’d say battery life is sufficient to get you through most days, though. It should work well enough for business travelers and students. Still, I’d rather have another tenth of an inch thickness and a little more weight if that’s what it took to drive the battery up another two hours or so.
- Lastly, and perhaps most annoying on a recurring basis, there is no easy way to open the XPS. Most laptops have an indention or cut-out in the shell or an overhang, but the XPS does not, and closes pretty flush and tight. You have to pry it open with fingernails, really. I don’t understand the design intent here.
You’ll note I titled that section trade-offs rather than negatives. These issues are really choices Dell made to achieve what they felt was a better purpose. So, while I might have preferred a larger battery and full-sized ports, they had design goals in terms of look and weight and performance they wanted to achieve.
The only things I consider true negatives are the lack of a U Series processor option and how unnecessarily difficult it is to open the XPS.
While I would strongly prefer a U Series option, particularly at this price point ($1400 as of April 2017), they valued the fanless design and sleeker profile. Dell has optimized this machine for performance as well as anyone can with a Y Series, and the Y Series chiops are much improved since the old mobile chips. But it still simply isn’t enough for power users. However, to be fair, it really did handle every normal day-to-day task I threw at it very well. Installation of programs was quick and painless. Video playback was free of stuttering. In terms of a Y Series processor, this is the best performance optimization I’ve seen. It should work well for most folks.
If there were a U Series option, the XPS would have my highest recommendation. With the Y Series, I still recommend it if you can find it on sale. The RAM, SSD drive, and performance tuning help cover the gap for all but serious power users and gamers.
More info from Best Buy:
Windows 10 brings back the Start Menu from Windows 7 and introduces new features, like the Edge Web browser that lets you mark up web pages on your screen.
Enjoy Ink driven experiences in apps like Office, Messenger, and Microsoft Edge, as well as apps from brands like Adobe. Windows Ink is integrated with Illustrator to bring you an intuitive pen experience.
The virtually borderless InfinityEdge display maximizes screen space.
Offers powerful dual-core, four-way processing performance.
Reams of high-bandwidth LPDDR3 RAM allow you to smoothly run your graphics-heavy software and video-editing applications, as well as numerous programs and browser tabs all at once.
While offering less storage space than a hard drive, a flash-based SSD has no moving parts, resulting in faster start-up times and data access, no noise, and reduced power draw on the battery.
Seamlessly switch between high-functioning laptop and portable tablet forms.
The on-processor graphics with shared video memory provide everyday image quality for internet use, basic photo editing and casual gaming. Optimized to use less power.
Waves MaxxAudio is tuned to give you great sound across music, movies, voice and games.
Offers lightweight design featuring a slightly smaller screen and omitting the DVD/CD drive for improved portability.
Wirelessly transfer photos, music and other media between the laptop or tablet and your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone or MP3 player, or connect Bluetooth wireless accessories.
Connect to both hosts and devices, replacing various Type-B and Type-A connectors and cables with a standard meant to be future-proof. PowerShare helps charge external USB devices.
This single interface supports both high-speed data and high-definition video – ideal for digital content creators.
Add your microSD memory card to access and save files and media when using the tablet alone.
Connect to a Wireless-AC router for nearly 6x the speed, more capacity and wider coverage than Wireless-N (150 Mbps). Backward-compatible with all other Wi-Fi networks.
Its 720p resolution generates a clear picture during video chats with your family and friends.
For easy typing in dim or dark locations.
Easy, typo-free access to your secure Windows account, password-protected websites and more.
Trial version of Microsoft Office.
Feature microphone-in/headphone-out combination jack.
All in all, this is a very nice little computer. It’s gorgeous and looks and feels very well made. I am impressed with the design and feel, despite my significant disappointment with the lack of a U Series processor option and my complaint about how difficult it is to open. This will be my son’s primary computer as he goes off to college this fall, and he is very excited to have it.