Dell Studio XPS 13 - 13.3in Notebook - Dell Studio XPS 13

Andy Vandervell

By Andy Vandervell



Our Score:


Irritating light bleed from the backlighting isn't the biggest problem with the keyboard, though. Neither is the layout for that matter, it's just fine and matches that found on the M1330 in more or less every detail. Its keys, however, are an entirely different story. Keys lack depth, feel soft and clumsy and don't depress evenly if you hit them off centre, leading to a rocking motion when pressed in at the corners. Overall, the typing experience still remains passable, but it could and should have been a lot better and is another retrograde step compared to the M1330.

Thankfully the touchpad garners no such complaints. Recessed slightly into the palm-rest section, it offers a smooth action allied against a subtle texture, while the two buttons have a firm and crisp action. They're also backlit, like the keyboard.

Outside of the familiar reflectivity, few complaints can be made of the screen, either. We've got the LED backlit version here, which is very bright and very sharp, producing small text with no problems and bringing out the finer details in high definition content surprisingly well. Colour production isn't overly vibrant but is acceptably accurate, leaving only the lack of a higher resolution option over the standard 1,280 x 800 our only meaningful complaint.

Less charitable things can be said of the speakers. Dell clearly hasn't made any attempt to improve these and though they can reach reasonable volumes, making them fine for the occasional video clip or music sample, a lack of bass and depth means you wouldn't inflict prolonged film viewing or music listening on anyone you like. It's hardly the most important of issues, but it's worth remembering nonetheless.

More worrying, though, are some of the fit and finish issues exhibited by our sample. Most striking was how one of the four rubberised feet, which otherwise do a decent job of keeping the machine planted on flat surfaces, didn't actually touch the desk. This resulted in an irritating wobble whenever one pressed down on one corner, or just leaned on the machine to type. A little research reveals this isn't an isolated issue, either, with many end users reporting the same problem. This is of course sufficient grounds for an RMA, while homebrew fixes do exist, but it doesn't reflect well on the quality control or manufacturing consistency on this model.

We also found, possibly related to the uneven base, that the battery compartment was incredibly tight requiring a significant amount of force to remove and re-insert. Finally, the smart looking silver trim around the edges of machine could, in some places, be lifted by using one's fingernails - something we also found on our sample of the sister machine, the Studio XPS 16, which we'll be reviewing shortly.

This ends the build quality complaints, but one other issue arises regarding the slot-loading optical drive. First, it's quite noisy, though this isn't uncommon among this type of drive, but secondly and more importantly, it has to be the most finicky DVD drive we've ever encountered. It routinely refused to read burned discs we've never had problems with before and even refused to read two different factory produced Windows Vista installation discs.


February 25, 2009, 6:06 am

I'm on a 13 inch screen right now and I am so sick and tired of manufacturers not offering higher resolutions on their notebooks. Specifically ones that are supposed to be "premium" like this particular notebook.


February 25, 2009, 8:15 am

That design's nice - cool hinge. It basically says - okay we're obviously not competing on thinness, but are on style.


February 25, 2009, 1:24 pm


My Vaio Z series has a 13" screen and is 1600x900 (16:9). Lovely!


February 25, 2009, 2:29 pm

That is a rarity, Steve. Also, the Z series is mega expensive. What annoys it there seems little reason higher resolution screens can't be offered on more modestly priced notebooks.

That said, I find 1,280 x 800 is enough on a 13.3inch screen. I used a Sony Z for a while and found it difficult to use everyday because everything was too small.

What's really poor is when 15inch notebooks still have 1,280 x 800.


February 25, 2009, 2:55 pm

Yes, it's rare admittedly. 1600x900 on a small screen has many benefits but a few negatives too.

I recently purchased a new 13" MacBook which is 1280x800 and I find it easier on the eyes when browsing the web. It seems to be the standard at the moment as most websites are optimised for it.


February 25, 2009, 4:33 pm

The biggest downside is that it cannot run OSX, of course macbook is overprised slightly, but people sometimes don't see how much effort Apple has put to make it easy to use. In Apple Store they offer Training and Seminars for free.

Dell is great thought, the service support is excellent, the Windows OS is outdated and spoils all the hardware fun.


February 25, 2009, 5:29 pm

What a irrelevant comment...


February 25, 2009, 5:56 pm

@ Steve, I'm super jealous! The Z looks amazing, had a chance to play with one in a Sony Store and really liked what I saw, but the price as Ed mentioned...


February 25, 2009, 6:28 pm

I just wanted to point out that comparing apples to oranges is no point. and therefore comparing it to macbook is irrelevant.


February 25, 2009, 10:43 pm

Is it just me or is the M1330 thinner? It seems like it's taken Dell a year just to take a step backwards.


February 25, 2009, 11:07 pm

@ Chris, the M1330 is also lighter. I don't know what Dell was thinking...


February 26, 2009, 9:40 pm

I have the XPS M1330 and it is a great laptop. I dont see the value added in this one.

If Dell wants to up the ante on the 1330, then what they really need is to put in a 12" screen and better speakers. The keybaord is quite good as-is - I dont know why they messed with it all all.


March 8, 2009, 6:56 pm

Shame about the over-the-top silver hinge fixings and utterly useless leather affectation. Otherwise I think it looks really nice. I think illuminated keyboards should be an option on all mid-range laptops and upwards. Touch-typing not withstanding, its nice to have the lights there when you're feeling lazy. Now if only they could do away with the heavy and heat conductive metal base plate and find a hinge design that DOES NOT obstruct the vents when the screen is open! Only then will it be a contender for stealing sales from MacBook. As it is I think its a bit rushed. Not quite half-baked, but definitely out of the oven before it is really ready.


March 29, 2009, 12:26 am

more or less the same price as the newest Macbook (2.0GHz).

Only thing i like with Dell is the HDMI but not sure if that is enough to make me buy Dell.

Macbook has OSX and a sexy design (all aluminum).

If the price was about 30% lower on Dell or it offered build-in 3G modem or something to differentiate but as it is now its simply a nice laptop among many.

ps. yes of course it matters to compare. After all when you buy something you compare with other products on the market in the same segment. And i agree that Sony laptops are very nice too but at least in Sweden they are 3 time more expensive then other laptops. Even Apple is cheap compared to Sony :)


April 24, 2009, 3:13 am

Dell service is speak to someone in the Phillipnes whose accent is hard for a U.S. citizen to understand.And there seems to be a delay in the phone line.And you have to wait before you speak to them.They spend a lot on ads,but as little as possible on service.Phillipinos work for less$.While Apple may have its faults they do give good service.That is worth paying more for-something few if any reviewers mention.


June 2, 2009, 2:11 pm

I am currently looking at getting this notebook, and would like to know whether it is possible to run two external monitors from it, using both the VGA port and the HDMI port. Apparently the existing M1330 XPS could do this, but I haven't been able to find out anywhere if this notebook can do it.

Thanks in advance.

John 53

November 24, 2009, 11:05 pm

I had the Sony Z series and sent it back and ordered this instead... heres why:

The Z series and the SR series now have removed the dedicated Page Up/Page Down/Home and End keys and combined them with the up/down/left/right keys meaning you have to use two hands to press the function key for it to work. It also makes moving around spreadsheets and web pages much more difficult. I spent over £2000 upgrading it and then had to send it back from frustration. I really don't understand why manufacturers mess about with keyboard layouts - the same happened when ASUS and a few others decided to swap the fn and ctrl keys over - that drove me mad and i bought my Sony SZ4 which was great. But the backward step of sony just cost them my business (and me £72 to send it back to Holland!!) Anyway the screen resolution of 1600x900 on it also was way too small for comfortable viewing. The Dell seems to have everything in the right place and now has £1000 of my money! Thanks Sony! Don't buy Sony!!


December 28, 2009, 2:57 am

I think what makes this an interesting choice is the avalible options for the price. However I'm not in love with the design which I find ott and tacky. I also see that the review points to probably the main reason it is cheaper than both the Sony and Macbook pro it's so desperate to beat, build quality. Some people still don't seem to be able to come to grips with the fact that you just can't get build quality, attention to detail or true innovation on the cheap. However, the major problem and deal breaker for me is it doesn't run Mac OSX or any of Apples brilliant apps. Thats the real reason to buy a Macbook Pro over the Dell or Sony or Asus or any of the others. Even if Dell ever did sort out all it's quality control issues or come up with a design to compare with the likes of Apple it could never run the Mac os. Where as a mac user can run Windows any time they want if need be and just as well as this machine.

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