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Dell Studio XPS 13 review

Verdict

Dell's latest is certainly chic and sophisticated, but that comes at a price

Review Date: 13 Feb 2009

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,303 (£1,498 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

Before you've even set eyes on Dell's new Studio XPS 13, its minimalist black packaging sets the tone; tilt back the cardboard lid and you're given a tantalising glimpse of a laptop sheathed in black felt. It doesn't quite achieve the unboxing drama of Apple's best, but when you're spending this much even a token amount of foreplay is welcome.

Indeed, slip the XPS 13 from its bag and it's hard not to be impressed. Dell's previous XPS-branded 13.3-incher, the XPS M1330, is a delightful portable but the XPS 13 makes it look scruffy by comparison. The wedge construction is sleek and sees the XPS 13 taper from 38mm at its rear to 23mm along its front edge. With looks that tread the line between subtlety and glossy panache, we suspect Dell's designers have been locked away in a room for some considerable time.

It's not light, weighing in at 2.19kg, but that heft is matched with sublime build quality. Grip the Dell between both hands and it's in a different class to most laptops - flex-free and crafted with an attention to detail bordering on the obsessive. The lid, for instance, is shod in three different materials - two-thirds gloss black with the final third comprised of an aluminium flourish and a soft leather strip which makes for a convenient handhold.

Look to the XPS 13's underside and there's yet more evidence of the obsessive detail: rather than the usual mishmash of plastic panelling, Dell has crafted the belly of the XPS 13 from a single piece and enlivened it with subtle criss-cross designs. Not only does the single panel make it easier to get at all the components beneath, but it also matches perfectly with the rest of the design.

The razor-sharp design continues inside. Anodized aluminium sweeps around the edges of the chassis and surges upwards from the illuminated XPS-branded hinges, while the keyboard is flanked top and bottom by gloss black strips. Press the power button and the row of touch-sensitive buttons along the keyboard's top edge gleam to life; a trick repeated by the backlit keyboard and the trackpad buttons when the ambient lighting demands it.

What lies beneath

Look beyond the XPS 13's sterling build and fine design and there's plenty to like. The keyboard's square keycaps maintain the Dell's crisp lines, and they're comfortable to type upon too. There's plenty of travel and a soft but positive action to each key which makes for a lovely feel under the fingers. We weren't quite so keen on the trackpad's squishy buttons, but they're not bad enough to ruin the experience.

The 13.3in display disappoints with its everyday resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels, but quality is good, with LED-backlighting providing even brightness apart from a slight strip across the display's left-hand side. Colour reproduction does err on the side of coldness, but the wide viewing angles and sheer punchiness are a suitable riposte. Plus, should you find that native resolution too limiting you can always hook up a display to the VGA, HDMI or DisplayPort outputs.

More haste, less speed

Another recent technology inside the XPS 13 is Nvidia's Hybrid-SLI. It comes with Nvidia's 9400M G integrated graphics chip, as well as a 9200M GS discrete chip. When on battery power the 9400M G jumps into power-efficient action, with the discrete graphics only chipping in when gaming requires it. With both chips combining their power the XPS 13 dispatched our low Crysis benchmark at 41 fps; cranking up the resolution and detail level pushed it too far, but there's enough grunt for a little light gaming on older titles.

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