As laptop makers race to design thinner and lighter machines, Dell has made its ultimate ultraportable smaller. A lot smaller. By nearly eliminating the bezel, the XPS 13 manages to cram a 13-inch display into a chassis the size of an 11-inch notebook. And what a display it is: The optional Quad-HD touch screen is gorgeous to behold, as is the XPS 13's carbon-fiber deck. Starting at $799 ($1,399 as configured), the XPS 13 also includes an Intel Core i5 processor that's faster than the Core M chip inside competing Ultrabooks. I wish the XPS 13 had longer battery life, but overall, it's a very impressive machine.
Editor's Note (10/8/2015): Dell has updated the XPS 13 with a 6th generation Intel Core processor. The price and links in this article reflect the new model, which is functionally identical but likely faster and more power efficient. We will update this review when we get a unit for testing
It may not be the lightest or the thinnest 13-inch notebook, but the Dell XPS 13 is certainly the smallest. With a footprint of 11.98 x 7.88 x 0.33-0.6 inches, the XPS 13 takes up about as much space on your desk as an 11-inch notebook. The 11-inch MacBook Air, for example, measures 11.8 x 7.56 x 0.11-0.68 inches. Dell says that the new XPS 13 is 23 percent smaller than the 13-inch Air.
How was Dell able to do this? By nearly eliminating the bezel. Unlike most notebooks, which have about a half-inch border around the screen, the XPS 13's border is just 0.2 inches. Not only does it shrink the size of the laptop as a whole, but it makes the display appear to go right off the sides -- a really cool effect.
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In comparison, the HP EliteBook 1020 (12.2 x 8.27 x 0.62 inches), Lenovo Yoga 3 (13 x 9 x 0.5 inches) and MacBook Air (12.8 x 9 x 0.11-0.68 inches) will each take up more space on your airline tray table.
Both the lid and the bottom of the XPS 13 are covered in aluminum; previously, the bottom of the notebook was made of carbon fiber, but that material has made its way to the keyboard deck, and to good effect. Not only is it attractive, but its soft-touch finish was very comfortable on my wrists.
Weighing 2.8 pounds, the XPS 13 is heavier than the HP EliteBook 1020 (2.68 pounds) and Lenovo Yoga 3 (2.6 pounds), but is a touch lighter than the 3-pound Air. It's a trade-off I'll gladly give for the XPS 13's smaller size.
Keyboard and Touchpad
While on the shallow side -- its travel is just 1.2 mm -- the XPS 13's keys require 60 grams of force to press, which makes for a better typing experience.
I quickly got up to my typical typing speed. I also liked that Dell reversed the Function row, so I didn't have to press the Fn button to adjust volume, brightness and the keyboard backlight.
I was also pleasantly surprised that, for such a small system, the touchpad was fairly large, at 4.1 x 2.3 inches, and handled Windows 8.1 gestures well.
Vivid reds, deep blacks, pure whites and luscious greens -- that's what you'll get from the XPS 13's Quad-HD (3200 x 1800-pixel) display.
The lack of a bezel makes it feel as if what you're watching were floating in space.
I quickly became absorbed watching high-def trailers for Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. And it's not just the screen itself that's captivating; it's the lack of a bezel that makes it feel as if whatever you're watching is floating in space.
The XPS 13's resolution is the same as that of the Yoga 3, and slightly higher than the 12.5-inch HP EliteBook 1020's 2560 x 1440p resolution.
On our display tests, the XPS 13 fared very well. Its brightness of 295 nits was higher than that of the EliteBook (224 nits) and MacBook Air (288 nits), but below that of the Yoga 3 (318 nits).
Able to show 96.6 percent of the sRGB color gamut, the XPS 13 is slightly better than the EliteBook (95.3) and the MacBook Air (63.3), but the Yoga 3 Pro was a touch better, at 99.3 percent. With a Delta-E score of 5.1 (where numbers closer to 0 are better), the XPS 13's display was more accurate than the Folio's (7.4), but fell short of the Yoga 3 Pro (4.9) and the MacBook Air (2.5).
The two side-mounted speakers on the XPS 13 were able to crank out loud sound, and fairly good sound at that. The bass line in both Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" and Maroon 5's "Animals" came through clearly, but the songs sounded a bit hollow overall.
From 23 inches away, the XPS 13's speakers delivered a strong 94 decibels -- much higher than the Yoga 3 Pro (86 dB), the EliteBook (85 dB), the MacBook Air (73 dB) and the category average (84 dB).
Huzzah! For someone like me, who transfers a lot of photos from my camera to my notebook, the addition of an SD card slot to the XPS 13 is very welcome indeed.
Other ports include two USB 3.0 ports, a miniDisplayPort and a headphone jack. I also like the small indicator lights along the left side that show how much battery life remains.
In order to make the bezel as thin as it is, Dell had to move the XPS 13's webcam from the top middle, where it usually sits, to the lower-left corner. As a result, anytime you have a Skype chat with someone, the other person will see the underside of your chin -- not the most flattering angle. They'll also have a good view of your ceiling.
Quality-wise, the XPS 13's camera produced colorful but grainy images, even in a room with plenty of natural light.
After the XPS 13 streamed a Hulu video for 15 minutes, the top of the machine remained relatively cool: The touchpad was 81 degrees Fahrenheit, and the space between the G and H keys was 89 degrees. Both temperatures are below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees.
The bottom was a different story. While the dead center was 94 degrees, the back edge near the vent got as hot as 104 degrees. Fortunately, two ridges run along the bottom to elevate the XPS 13 slightly.
HOW THE Dell XPS 13 STACKS UP
The XPS 13 is one of the first notebooks to pack Intel's fifth-generation Core processors, and its Core i5-5200U CPU and 8GB of RAM were more than enough to power through my workday.
In terms of general performance, the XPS 13's Geekbench 3 score of 5,653 was well ahead of the EliteBook (3,814) and the Lenovo Yoga 3 (4,571), both of which use a lower-power Core-M processor. The MacBook Air, which also has a Core i5 processor, came closer, with a score of 5,393.
On our real-world spreadsheet test, the XPS 13 paired 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice in 5 minutes and 34 seconds. The Yoga and the EliteBook were slower, with respective times of 5:46 and 6:36, but the Air took just 3:46 to complete the task.
While not the fastest among its peers, the 256GB SSD in the XPS 13 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia in just 33 seconds, for a rate of 154.2 MBps. The Lenovo took 29 seconds (175 MBps), the EliteBook 28 seconds (182 MBps) and the Air 27 seconds (190.3 MBps). Still, all are well above the average of 106 MBps.
Intel's HD Graphics 5500 GPU is more powerful than the previous version, but its limitations become apparent when dealing with screens whose resolutions exceed 1080p.
On our World of Warcraft test, the XPS 13 mustered 35 frames per second with the effects on autodetect and the resolution at 1080p. That's better than the EliteBook, which could only manage 21 fps, as well as the Lenovo's equally unplayable 18 fps.
However, when I increased the XPS 13's resolution to its native 3200 x 1800p, WoW frame rates plummeted to just 14 fps.
On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, the XPS 13's score of 55,586 easily beat that of the Yoga 3 Pro (35,342) and the EliteBook (33,302).
Under ideal conditions, the non-touch-screen version of the XPS 13 is expected to last up to 15 hours, and the touch version up to 11 hours, according to Dell. On our tests, this system fell a bit short, but still managed to beat most of its competition.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi at 100 nits of screen brightness), the XPS 13 lasted 7 hours and 24 minutes. That's slightly longer than the ultraportable average (7:18), and more than 30 minutes longer than the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 (6:49) and the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro (6:29). However, the MacBook Air endured for 12:20.
The XPS 13 starts at a reasonable $799, and that price includes an Intel Core i3-5010U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Its full-HD display has a resolution of 1920 x 1080p, but it's nontouch.
The least expensive touch-screen model starts at $1,299; for that price, you get a 3200 x 1800p display, a Core i5-5200U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.
The most expensive XPS 13 ($1,949) has the same display as my review unit, but has an Intel Core i7-5500U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and Windows 8.1 Pro.
Software and Warranty
Dell keeps bloatware to a minimum on the XPS 13; the only preinstalled, third-party apps are Skype and Dropbox.
Consumers purchasing the XPS 13 get one year of premium phone support and one year of in-home service after remote diagnosis. There's also a one-year limited hardware warranty, as well as accidental damage service, which covers those chance drops and spills.
Commercial services include Dell ProSupport, Accidental Damage Service and Return for Repair. Additionally, the XPS 13 can be used with Dell's Client Command Suite, which lets IT administrators remotely manage the notebook.
I was already enamored with the design of the older Dell XPS 13, but the Lilliputian 2015 version impressed me even more. For those who really value their space, this 13-inch notebook in an 11-inch package will free up enough space on your tray table for a drink and a bag of nuts.
At $1,399 as configured, the XPS 13 sits in between the $1,299 EliteBook Folio 1020 and the $1,499 Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. Not only does it last longer, but Dell's offering also has an Intel Core i5 processor, making it the most powerful of the group. Unless you're in the market for a convertible such as the Yoga, the Dell XPS 13 is one of your best bets when shopping for a Windows ultraportable.