The Ultrabook initiative from Intel has really helped bring a really light form of portable PC that offers both good computing performance and hours of battery life in a sleek and stylish ultra-thin design. One particular Ultrabook that caught my eye during GITEX Shopper 2015 was the new Dell XPS 13 with its new premium slim design factor and an almost bezel-free screen. Luckily Dell sent us one shortly after.
Dell’s unique craftsmanship of the new XPS 13 has led to a combination of both machined aluminum and carbon fiber construction. While you will be forgiven for mistaking the XPS lid as an ordinarily fashioned Dell Inspiron, the lid cover and the back plate is made of solid and polished aluminum which feels premium.
Unlike the MacBook Air, opening the XPS lid is only possible with two hands, but it wasn’t as tricky as the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, or an ASUS UX305. At just 1.18kg, I found the Dell XPS 13 really light and easy to carry around.
My initial use of the Dell XPS 13 took a little time in getting used to its backlit keyboard, since it felt cramped at the start. The whole keyboard island is really sturdy, with no sort of squishy feedback found in many ultra-thin laptops. The keys gave a soft tactile feedback, along with a pleasant audible click.
The mousepad on the other hand is easily one of the best I’ve used on Windows notebook. It’s smooth, solid, wide and very responsive. I extensively enjoyed the two finger gesture scrolling on the XPS- it’s as close to a MacBook as you can get in a Windows world.
The XPS 13 has a soft carbon fiber material engulfing the palm rest, and the side ports which is very comfortable to rest you hands on. I felt no signs of strain even after prolonged uses. The power button placed on the upper right also gets the carbon fiber treatment. Compared to other laptops that feature either a plastic or metal-like polished palm rests, I would say that the XPS’s carbon fiber can easily resist accidental scratches caused by bumps, keys or stainless-steel watches in my case.
Dell has placed the necessary connectivity options required to make the XPS a fully functional laptop. On the left, you have the power connector, a mini-display port, a USB 3.0 port and a battery level indicator. A second USB 3.0 port is also seen on the right, along with a full size SD card reader. Both the USB 3.0 ports support USB charging feature. I doubt many will miss the LAN connector but the one port I found missing is HDMI.
There is an LED indicator on the front that glows up in white, while charging the laptop, or goes orange when the battery is low. The XPS 13 also has built-in dual speakers placed on either side of the device. They are quite loud and clear.
Dell has placed the fan vents on the upper end of the rear aluminum plate, and on the back of the device. The device gets warm on the upper portion of the keyboard, and the fan that rarely spins up at isn’t loud.
Display and camera
What makes your jaw drop is the nearly bezel-less edge-to-edge display on the XPS 13. Dell claims that this Ultrabook is the smallest 13-inch laptop on the planet, and I have to agree. The XPS 13 is amazingly small for a 13-inch design, thanks to the Infinity display.
The new Dell XPS 13 comes in matte Full HD/glossy Quad HD resolution options, touch and non-touch variants. We received the base Full HD non-touch matte model for review, which is good in most regards including outdoor viewing. However, there were instances that the display wasn’t bright enough while watching movies. The Quad HD Ultra Sharp variant is supposedly brighter and sharper, and comes with Gorilla Glass NBT protection.
That all being said, there always a catch for something so good. While Dell has impressively trimmed down the size of the bezel, the front camera had to be shifted below to the left of the screen. It’s a decent 720p camera but the placement makes your hands appears rather large and the up-your-nose view could prove to be a bit unflattering to someone you’re video-conferencing with. Also, you have to look down on your left instead of the traditional top side, when you want your eyeballs to look straight on the display.
Specifications and performance
Dell provides options to choose the XPS 13 in a variety of configurations with Intel Core i3/i5/i7 ultra low power processors, 4GB or 8GB RAM, and 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of SSD storage space. The unit I received came with the Broadwell based Intel i5-5200U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive.
The Dell XPS 13 performs very well in most occasions, even with power-saving mode. However, Google’s Chrome browser gets really choppy while using the two finger gesture scrolling in low-power or balanced mode. The only way around is to shift the system to performance mode for a smooth scrolling experience. Strangely, the built-in Internet Explorer, and other office apps don’t need the brute force for a smooth gesture scrolling experience.
The 2015 Dell XPS 13 comes packed with a 52 WHr 4-Cell battery that supposedly offers over 15 hours of battery life. My first battery life test was to find out how long can the XPS work at performance mode, with 40-60% of screen brightness and occasional stand-by intervals. The tasks involved heavy typing, browsing through numerous websites, watching a few YouTube videos, and editing some images. The result was a total of five hours of battery life which felt on the lower side.
Switching to balanced or power saving modes will definitely help with that where I was able to squeeze out 8 and 10 hours of battery life respectively. Watching a 1080p movie consumed over 25% of the battery life in balanced mode.
The XPS 13 is like a new sports car that instantly becomes a classic. Dell has done an amazing job with the super-slim Aluminium with Carbon fibre design and the Infinity Display makes it hard to take your eyes off it. Add to that a pretty good performance and a reasonable battery life and you have a great Ultrabook- possibly the best I’ve seen running Windows. I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a premium quality Windows ultrabook.
+ Lightweight Aluminium Design
+ Edge-to-edge Infinity Screen
+ Soft Carbon Fibre Palm Rest
+ Fast Performance
- Oddly placed camera