Dell XPS 13 review

9 Apr 2012

Classy, understated and brimming with potential, Dell has conjured up an industry-leading Ultrabook with its XPS 13

Price when reviewed 
1,299
5

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.

Dell XPS 13 - above

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.

Dell XPS 13 - rear

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,083
Price inc VAT £1,299
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 3
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 316 x 206 x 21mm (WDH)
Weight 1.380kg
Travelling weight 1.7kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i7-2637M
Motherboard chipset Intel QS67
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 0

Screen and video

Screen size 13.3in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset Intel HD Graphics 3000
Graphics card RAM N/A
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 256GB
Spindle speed N/A
Internal disk interface N/A
Hard disk Samsung PM830
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive N/A
Battery capacity 6,400mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 1
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader no
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 8hr 11min
Battery life, heavy use 3hr 8min
Overall Real World Benchmark score 0.62
Responsiveness score 0.73
Media score 0.66
Multitasking score 0.47

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition