Laptop Mag Verdict
The Dell XPS 13 bundles a stunning 4K display, great performance and a comfortable keyboard into a svelte, premium chassis.
Elegant, lightweight design
Bright, vibrant 4K display
No legacy ports
Below-average battery life
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At this point in the game, Dell has the premium ultraportable thing down to a science. The Dell XPS 13 has undergone a number of small tweaks, including a smaller frame, thinner bezels all around, and a bigger keyboard and touchpad. Pair that with one of Intel’s latest 11th Gen processors and new integrated GPUs and you’ve got a laptop that looks good and works hard. Plus, you’ve got a lovely super high-resolution screen to gaze into.
While it’s really hard to find any faults in the XPS 13, there are a couple –– namely below-average battery life and a lack of ports. Despite this, the Dell XPS 13 retains its spot on our best laptops and best 13-inch laptops pages and is a top pick for anyone looking for a premium ultraportable. It also earned a spot on our best 4K laptops page.
Dell XPS 13 pricing and configuration
I spent a considerable amount of time with the $1,861 model of the Dell XPS 13. It’s outfitted with a 3.0-GHz Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD with an Intel Iris Xe Graphics with a 13.4-inch, 3840 x 2400-pixel touch panel.
The $979 base model has a 3.0-GHz Intel i3-1115G4 processor with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD with an Intel UHD Graphics with a 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200 non-touch screen.
The $2,155 top-tier configuration doubles the RAM to 32GB and the storage to a 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD.
Dell XPS 13 design
It’s still pretty as a picture. While I prefer the XPS 13’s Frost White finish, I’m never going to kick the old-school platinum silver and black color scheme out of bed. The silver lid has a slight pearlescence that draws and keeps your attention and works nicely with the glossy Dell logo stamped in the center of the lid. The sides of the laptops are also shiny thanks to the beveled edges.
And once you open the lid, you get that familiar yet appealing black carbon-fiber keyboard deck. The majority of the palm rest is occupied by a massive palm rest while the rest of the deck houses the full-sized keyboard. The power button in the top-right corner also doubles as the fingerprint reader.
At 2.8 pounds, the 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6-inch XPS 13 is still one of the lightest premium laptops on the market, matched only by the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro M1 (2.8 pounds, 11.9 x 8.4 x 0.2-0.6 inches). The Asus ROG Flow X13 (11.8 x 8.7 x 0.6) is slightly heavier at 2.9 pounds, making the Lenovo Yoga 9i (12.6 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches) and HP Spectre x360 14 (12 x 8.7 x 0.7 inches) the heavyweights at an even three pounds.
Dell XPS 13 ports
Like most portable laptops, the Dell XPS 13 doesn’t have a lot of ports, but it does have more than your typical ultrathin 13-inch system. Along the right side of the laptop is a Thunderbolt 4 port and a headset jack.
There’s another Thunderbolt 4 port on the left with a microSD slot.
Dell XPS 13 display
I love a good 4K display and the Dell XPS 13 is serving up all the goodies: crisp details and great color with plenty of brightness. And thanks to Dell’s InfinityEdge barely-there bezels, the XPS has one of the highest resolutions available at 3840 x 2400-pixels.
While watching the “Tazmanian Devil” trailer, I was taken with the deep, vibrant colors and clean details. For instance, the striations on the wooden door were just as clear as roses on actor Dayo Ayodele’s red-and-white hoodie, despite being covered in bright green paint.
Dell pre-installed its CinemaColor software on the system to adjust the panel’s color temperature. The utility offers four presets (Movie, Evening, Sports and Animation). Out of the four, I prefer Animation as it gives the most vivid hues.
The colors looked so good, I was surprised that its 76.9% DCI-P3 color gamut fell short of the 85.4% premium laptop average. However, the XPS 13’s score is better than the X13 (69.9%) and the Yoga 9i (76%). But the MacBook Pro and Spectre x360 14 (OLED) were more vivid with results of 78.3% and 139.7%, respectively.
The XPS 13 managed to outshine the competition at an average 442 nits. The MacBook Pro came the closest at 435 nits while the Spectre (339 nits), Yoga 91 (334 nits) and Flow X13 (282 nits) looked dim by comparison.
The capacitive touch panel is both agile and accurate, keeping pace with my rudimentary drawing skill in Paint.
Dell XPS 13 audio
The Dell XPS 13’s side-mounted speakers are far louder than I expected. With an assist from the pre-installed Waves MaxxAudio Pro software, the laptop had no problem filling my smallish living and dining room area. When I listened to “Leave The Door Open” by Silk Sonic, the soundscape was somewhat crowded, making it hard to identify some of the instruments on the track outside of the drums, piano and horns. Still, the vocals were as smooth as the band’s name suggests.
The MaxxAudio Pro software gives you a lot of customization options, including 24 presets and toggles for MaxxBass, Details, Midnight and Width.
Dell XPS 13 keyboard
The Dell XPS 13’s keyboard is springy with a surprisingly deep key travel which, with the large keycaps and generous spacing, makes for a really comfortable typing experience. I hit 72 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test which is slightly above my usual 70 wpm. The white backlighting is bright enough that I could easily read it when I decided to burn a little midnight oil and work after my bedtime.
My fingertips glided across the 2.5 x 4.4-inch touchpad, performing Windows 10 gestures such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and three-finger tap and flick with ease. The bottom corners provided a satisfying click when I pressed them to perform right or left clicks.
Dell XPS 13 performance
Outfitted with an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, the Dell XPS 13 is a little firecracker. The laptop handled streaming an episode of Jujutsu Kaisen on HBO Max with 45 additional Google Chrome tabs, some playing Twitch, TweetDeck and YouTube.
The notebook also held up against our synthetic tests, scoring 5,365 on the Geekbench 5 overall performance test, which was enough to top the 4,104 premium laptop average and the Spectre (5,004, Core i7-1165G7 CPU). However, the Yoga 9i (5,440, Core i7-1185G7 CPU), MacBook Pro (5,880, Apple M1 SoC) and Flow X13 (7,925, AMD Ryzen 9 5980HS CPU) all outpaced the XPS 13.
There was a slip up on the Handbrake test; the XPS 13 took 18 minutes and 33 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. It’s slower than the 16:54 category average. The Spectre was somewhat faster with a time of 18:05 while the Yoga 9i and MacBook Pro (Rosetta) clocked in at 14:24 and 13:38, respectively. The Flow X13 had the fastest time at 8:43.
The XPS 13’s SSD duplicated 25GB of mixed media for a transfer rate of 814.4 megabytes per second, crushing the 604.5MBps average. The Flow 13’s 1TB M.2 2230 NVMe PCIe 3.0 SSD delivered a speed of 779.5MBps while the Spectre (1TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD) reached 764MBps and the Yoga 9i (512GB PCIe NVMe SSD) hit 692.3MBps.
Dell XPS 13 graphics
Armed with Intel’s Intel Iris Xe GPU, the Dell has a bit more graphical oomph. In fact, Intel is promising gamers can play more titles at 1080p thanks to the chip having double the performance of the previous generation chip.
The XPS 13 scored 15 frames per second on the Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm benchmark. That’s below the 28-fps premium gaming average as well as the 29 fps from the MacBook Pro, the 25 fps the Yoga 9i scored, and the 21 fps from the Spectre.
Dell XPS 13 battery life
Thanks to its 11th Gen processor and graphics card, the Dell XPS 13 is classified as an Intel Evo laptop. As such, it’s supposed to last at least 9 hours of battery life for 1080p systems. But, this is a 4K system and when the system ran the Laptop Mag Battery Test, it lasted only 7 hours and 32 minutes.
That’s longer than the Spectre and Flow X13’s times of 7:14 and 6:30, respectively. However, it’s well short of the 10:04 premium laptop average. The Yoga 9i and MacBook Pro also lasted significantly longer, clocking in at 11:15 and 16:32, respectively.
Dell XPS 13 heat
Whether you’re writing a review or watching videos, the Dell XPS 13 keeps its cool. We played a fullscreen HD video for 15 minutes and measured key areas. The touchpad registered 79 degrees Fahrenheit while the center of the keyboard measured 88 degrees. The bottom of the laptop hit and 95 degrees, matching our comfort threshold.
Dell XPS 13 webcam
I don’t usually recommend getting an external webcam right off the bat, but this is a really bad webcam. Every shot I took was rife with visual noise. While you can make out hard edges, like along the light switch in the background, it’s difficult to see much of the geometric detail at the top of my shirt. The colors were pretty accurate as far as my brown skin and pink shirt go, but it had trouble with my pink, blue and purple locs.
Dell XPS 13 software and warranty
Dell’s usual cast of branded software is playing their roles, including Dell Power Manager to manage power consumption and Customer Connect to speak to a Dell technician if you need assistance. Digital Delivery manages all your software downloads and restores everything after a system wipe or crash, and with Dell Mobile Connect, you can swap images, documents and videos seamlessly between your smartphone and laptop. The company also pre-installed Cinema Guide to aggregate all your streaming services.
For your third-party apps, you have Killer Control Center, to 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, Hulu, Dolby Access, 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.
A beautiful design, powerful performance, a gorgeous display –– there’s a reason the Dell XPS 13 remains a perennial favorite at Laptop Mag. The notebook gives consumers what they want in a system that performs as well as it looks. For $1,861, you get a lightweight beauty with a great super high-res display, comfortable keyboard and a pair of surprisingly loud speakers. Plus, you get the power of one of Intel’s powerful 11th Gen Core i7 processors and the company’s new Iris Xe Graphics GPU, which provides enough graphical oomph to play a solid array of games on lower settings at 1080p.
However, if you’re looking for even more power and longer battery life, you’ll want either the 13-inch MacBook Pro M1 ($1,899) or the Lenovo Yoga 9i ($1,379). The Asus ROG Flow X13 is also a good choice, but since it costs $2,999, it’s an expensive proposition. But if you’re looking for a premium workhorse that’s equal parts portable and powerful, you can’t go wrong with the Dell XPS 13.
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.