Laptop Mag Verdict
The Dell XPS 13 combines a gorgeous chassis with Intel’s new 11th Gen Tiger Lake for a seriously powerful ultraportable laptop.
Attractive, premium chassis
Good battery life
Springy, comfortable keyboard
No legacy ports
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CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7
GPU: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Storage: 512GB SSD
Display: 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200
Size: 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 2.8 pounds
What do you get when you put one of Intel’s new Tiger Lake processors into a Dell XPS 13? Even more awesome. The $1,649 laptop keeps all the things we loved about this year’s previous model, such as a smaller frame, four-sided InfinityEdge bezels and a larger keyboard. But this refresh brings Intel’s 11th Gen Tiger Lake processor and a host of promised features, including better CPU and graphics performance and longer battery life. You also get Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6.
But does Tiger Lake live up to the hype? Yes and no. Yes, because you can play certain AAA games on an integrated GPU, albeit on low settings. And yes, in many cases, the overall performance is top-notch as well. The battery life even surpasses Intel’s new Evo standards by two hours. But a lack of legacy ports and a somewhat dim display are a fly in an otherwise pretty pristine ointment. Regardless, pound-for-pound, the Dell XPS 13 is one of the best laptops on the market.
Dell XPS 13 pricing and configurations
The latest base model of the Dell XPS 13 costs $999 and has a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i3-1115G4 CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, an Intel UHD Graphics GPU and a 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200 non-touch display. The $1,099 version upgrades you up to a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-1135G7 CPU and an Intel Iris Xe Graphics GPU.
My review unit costs $1,649 and kicks things up a notch with a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, double the RAM and storage, and adds a touchscreen to the mix. The $2,499 model gives you 32GB of RAM, a 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD and a 3840 x 2400-pixel touch panel.
Dell XPS 13 design
The XPS 13’s exterior is the color of a thin sheet of frozen condensation just before the sun rises to give way on a crisp winter day –– or Frost White as the company likes to call it. The lid of the premium anodized aluminum chassis is adorned with a center-laid, shiny silver Dell logo.
The company wisely decided to keep the twin-coil hinge. It makes opening the laptop with one hand incredibly easy. And anything that lets me enjoy the pristine white interior of the laptop is a plus in my book. Similar to the other Frost White models, the latest version of the XPS 13 sports the stain and fade-resistant proprietary Arctic White glass fiber weave on its keyboard deck. A massive glass touchpad occupies a large portion of the palm rest. The white backlit keyboard waits expectantly for your hands to engage.
At 2.8 pounds, the 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6-inch XPS 13 is on the heavy side of the equation. The Asus ZenBook 13 UX325EA (11.9 x 8 x 0.5 inches) weighs a slight 2.5 pounds while the HP Spectre x360 (12.1 x 7.7 x 0.7 inches) sits at 2.7 pounds. Only the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro (12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches) is heavier, tipping the scales at 3.1 pounds.
Dell XPS 13 security
Hiding in the XPS 13’s power button is an embedded fingerprint reader that allows for easy logins by way of Windows Hello. It's a nice, easy way to add an extra layer of security. However, I need Dell to get cracking on either adding a physical shutter or a kill switch for the webcam.
Dell XPS 13 ports
As with most modern iterations of the XPS 13, it is a laptop of few ports. But thanks to Tiger Lake, it’s gotten a couple of improvements. You’ll find a Thunderbolt 4 port on either side of the system with a headset jack on the right side and a microSD card slot on the left. And while Dell is kind enough to include a USB-C to USB-A adapter, it makes the need for a USB Type-C dock all the more urgent.
Dell XPS 13 display
Look ma, no bezels! No bezels as far as the eye can see. Dell once again flaunts its design prowess with a four-sided InfinityEdge display. The elimination of the thick bottom chin allowed Dell to fit a 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200-pixel glossy touch screen into an 11.6-inch chassis. All while keeping the webcam in its proper position (above the display).
Watching the Fly Like a Girl trailer, I was really impressed with how vibrant the colors were, particularly the orange blouse worn by one of the interviewees. It just really drew the eye, especially against the contrast of her mahogany skin. Details were clean enough that I could easily see the delicate filigree along the front of the blouse.
I was surprised that the XPS 13’s panel measured only 69.4% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. The result is well below the 83.6% premium laptop average and it means that the MacBook, Spectre and ZenBook are much more vivid at 80.9%, 77.4% and 76.1%, respectively.
But when we measured for screen brightness, the XPS 13 got some vengeance, averaging 469 nits. That was enough to outshine the 382 category average as well as the ZenBook 13 (370 nits) and Spectre (369 nits). However, the MacBook Pro was slightly brighter, at 485 nits.
Dell included its CinemaColor software that adjusts the gamma, white point, and saturation based on what you're watching (Movie, Sports and Animation) or if you’re in a low-light situation (Evening).
The 10-point capacitive touch panel is responsive and agile, keeping pace with my frantic doodling in Paint.
Dell XPS 13 audio
Never underestimate the little guy. Dell has circumvented my loathing of bottom-mounted speakers somewhat by placing them along the sides of the system. The positioning ensures that they weren’t muffled when I used the XPS 13 on my lap. As a result, the ultraportable served up big sound, not big enough to fill the top floor of my duplex, but enough to take care of my smallish living and dining rooms.
The drum kit on Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” was nice and crisp and the “Bennie And The Jets” reminiscent chord was clean. Aside from Ocean’s disaffected vocal, the synthesized portions of the track really stood out as did the horns. However, there was a bit of distortion when the background vocals came in to harmonize. Not enough to be off-putting, mind you, but enough to be noticeable.
The XPS 13 comes with Waves MaxxAudio Pro preinstalled, which has over 20 presets to give you the optimal listening experience. It covers a number of genres from Rock to R&B, you just have to be willing to tweak the settings every now and then.
Dell XPS 13 keyboard and touchpad
Big keys, little laptop. Dell increased the size of the keys by 9%, making it easy for anyone to peck out a message, even those with massive sausage fingers. Despite their size, the island-style keys are well spaced and offer firm, bouncy feedback. I hammered out my typical 70 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test.
The 2.5 x 4.4-inch glass touchpad provided smooth and agile response whether I was navigating web pages or performing multitouch Windows 10 gestures.
Dell XPS 13 performance
It is Tiger Lake, hear it roar! Intel’s third 10-nanometer chip is built on the new Willow Lake architecture, a chip layout designed to improve power efficiency and performance. Using Intel’s new SuperFin process, the company has successfully introduced higher clock speeds that Intel claims will translate into 20% better performance.
Paired with 16GB of RAM, the XPS 13’s 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor put on a solid show. I had 30 tabs of Google Chrome going, some running various Google Docs and Sheets, others streaming Twitch and YouTube, while some ran Tweetdeck. The XPS 13 continued unabated without any stuttering or hang time.
The notebook also performed well on our synthetic benchmarks. For instance, it scored 5,254 on Geekbench 5.0, our overall performance test. It surpassed the premium laptop average and Spectre (Core i7-1065G7 CPU) which reached 4,074 as well as the MacBook Pro (4,399, Core i5 CPU) and ZenBook 13 (5,084, Core i7-1165G7 CPU).
The XPS 13 had a hiccup on the Handbrake test, taking 18 minutes and 22 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p, which is slightly slower than the 18:19 average. The ZenBook 13 clocked in at 17:51 while the MacBook Pro had a time of 12:43. Still, the XPS 13’s time was still faster than the Spectre’s 21:13.
When we ran the Puget Photoshop test, which loops through 21 different Photoshop tasks three times per run, the XPS 13 reached 588, which beat the MacBook Pro’s 569. That’s not enough, however, to overtake the ZenBook 13’s score of 742.
On the File Transfer test, the XPS 13’s 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files for a transfer rate of 729.3 megabytes per second. That score just missed the 749.9MBps category average, but was much faster than the Spectre’s (M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD) 312.2MBps. Still, the ZenBook 13 (M.2 PCIe 3.0 SSD) proved to be the fastest at 966.8MBps.
The XPS 13 did better when we upped the workload to 25GB, delivering 806.2MBps and absolutely scorching the ZenBook 13 (583.6MBps) and the category average (572.8MBps).
Dell XPS 13 graphics
The arrival of Tiger Lake also heralds the arrival of Intel’s new integrated graphics chip, Intel Iris Xe. With this new component, Intel is promising gamers can play more games at 1080p by doubling the performance of the previous generation chip. I tested it by playing Control.
I led a Bureau member to a downed ally, fighting off waves of Hiss along the way, telepathically flinging objects at 34 frames per minute on low settings at 1920 x 1200. The game was still playable on Medium, but there was some stuttering at 23 fps. The game became downright unplayable on High as the frame rate dropped down to 15 fps.
On the Sid Meyer’s Civilization VI benchmark, the XPS 13 achieved 55 fps, crushing the 28-fps premium laptop average. The ZenBook 13 (Intel Iris Xe) and MacBook Pro (Intel Iris Graphics) came nowhere close with scores of 21 and 18 fps, respectively.
In the 3DMark Night Raid test, the XPS 13 obtained 12,593, sailing past the Spectre’s 6,226 and the 8,010 category average.
Dell XPS 13 battery life
The new 11th Gen processors aren’t just bringing better performance and graphics, you also get longer battery life –– at least, that’s the plan. Tiger Lake brings with it Intel Evo, the second stage in the company’s Project Athena initiative. Evo comes with a number of requirements for laptops to receive Intel’s certification. One of those is at least 9 hours of battery life for 1080p systems.
The Dell XPS 13 lasted 11 hours and 7 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. It outlasted the 9:50 premium laptop average as well as the MacBook Pro’s 10:21. The Spectre clocked in at 13:19 while the Tiger Lake-powered ZenBook 13 tapped out at 13:47.
Dell XPS 13 heat
To test the Dell XPS 13’s cooling capabilities, we ran a 15-minute, fullscreen video and measured certain points on the laptop. The touchpad measured 81 degrees Fahrenheit while the middle of the keyboard reached 89 degrees. The laptop’s undercarriage reached 101 degrees.
Dell XPS 13 webcam
At 0.1-inches, the 720p webcam is one of the world’s smallest webcams. Despite its Lilliputian size, the shooter takes decent photos. I was most impressed with how well it captured color, as shown by my pink, purple and blue braided locs. Although it’s grainy, I still saw the parts in my braids and the weave in my sweater pattern. Still, if you’re looking for sharper images, you’ll want to invest in an external webcam.
Dell XPS 13 software and warranty
Dell bundled a solid suite of useful branded software with the XPS 13. Dell Power Manager lets you manage power consumption via preset profiles to extend battery life or to squeeze every bit of performance out of the system. Customer Connect is your conduit to a Dell technician if you need system assistance. Digital Delivery keeps track of all your software downloads and restores them after a system wipe or crash.
The company recently updated Dell Mobile Connect so it now plays nice with the iPhone. Now everyone can swap images, documents and videos seamlessly between your smartphone and laptop.
Third-party apps include Killer Control Center, which lets you set network bandwidth priority. The laptop also comes with a 20GB of free Dropbox storage for a year. There is, of course, some Windows 10 bloatware, such as Netflix, Hidden City: Hidden Object Adventure and Solitaire.
The Dell XPS 13 ships with a one-year hardware warranty with onsite and in-home service after remote diagnosis. See how Dell fared during our annual special reports: Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands.
The Dell XPS 13 continues its reign as an ultraportable powerhouse. I mean, it was already bringing its A-game with a smaller frame, lack of bezels and large, comfortable keyboard. Now with one of Intel’s new Tiger Lake chips, the $1,649 laptop has a solid boost over last-gen systems. It remains to be seen how well the XPS 13 will hold up against similarly specced laptops in this component arms race.
But for the money, I wish the notebook’s screen was just a bit brighter and the battery life was just a tad longer. For those things, you might want to consider the Asus ZenBook 12 UX325EA. But for beauty, power and longevity, the Dell XPS 13 is the laptop for you.
Dell XPS 13 (Model 9310, Late 2020) Specs
|Size||1.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches|
|Display||13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-1165G7|
|GPU||Intel Iris Xe Graphics|
Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.