Mere months ago Dell wowed me with its first 2015 XPS 13 laptop. Featuring a slick design, powerful components and a beautiful display the XPS 13 waltzed in and won the coveted TrustedReviews Awards Best Laptop award.
In fact, the XPS 13 was so good that I couldn’t think of any serious ways Dell could improve it at the time. But with the new year approaching, Dell has done just that with its latest XPS 13 refresh.
Updated: Since our original review, a couple of new Dell XPS 13 rivals have been announced and are starting to appear on store shelves. They're worth taking a look at, particularly if you're looking for a slightly different offering with something more premium or more wallet-friendly.
First is the Asus ZenBook 3, the laptop that stole the show at Computex last month. In terms of specifications, it's very similar to the XPS 13, with similar processor and storage choices. It's also quite a lot cheaper, but you do pay for that cheapness with build quality and design that doesn't feel quite as premium. During our hands on with the new machine we were impressed with how much tech Asus has been able to cram into such a small and light chassis, and if raw performance-per-pound is what you're after, it'll probably be a great option when it goes on sale. A bottom-of-the-range model starts at £550, with Dell XPS-rivalling specifications available for around £800.
Another contender is the high-end HP Spectre 13. HP has angled its new laptop to a different class of buyer, hoping that the copper-coloured highlights, clever hinge and ridiculously thin build will be enough to tempt people away from the Dell XPS 13. During our initial hands-ons go with the Spectre 13, we were impressed by the build quality still slightly taken aback at the huge £1,129 price tag. This will push it out of the budget range of most buyers, but it's still technically quite impressive.
With all of this in mind, continue reading our original Dell XPS 13 review from 2015.
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From a distance the XPS 13 looks identical to its predecessor, though this is no bad thing. The XPS 13’s metal frame and compact 304 x 200 x 15mm dimensions give it a sleek premium look that rivals Apple’s Macbook.
Dell’s InfinityEdge screen tech is another pleasing feature. This reduces the screen’s bezel size to mere millimetres and according to Dell makes the XPS 13 the “world’s smallest 13-inch laptop”.
I’ve not verified the claim, but can tell you that, compared to competing ultrabooks such as the Lenovo Yoga 900, the XPS 13 is noticeably smaller and more travel friendly. The non-touch model I reviewed fit neatly into my satchel and survived all the usual wear and tear expected of a laptop when dragged around London, with no scratches, chips or blemishes. The laptop’s 1.2kg weight – 1.29kg for the touchscreen version – also meant the laptop never felt like a burden to lug about.
Dell’s done a decent job of taking advantage of what little surface real estate the XPS 13 offers and has loaded it with a reasonable selection of ports. Along its right and left sides you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI, headphones socket, Noble Lock slot, SD card reader and Dell Thunderbolt 3 connector.
In a perfect world I’d have liked to have another USB 3.0. But considering the laptop’s super-slim dimensions and the fact that most competing ultrabooks don’t feature three USB connectors, this is a very small qualm and the XPS 13 will meet most users’ needs.
The inclusion of the Thunderbolt 3 connector will be useful in the future, though it’s not really a big deal now. Thunderbolt 3 aims to offer radically better performance the competing USB 3.0 and USB C standards. The connector is the same shape as USB-C, but, on paper, offers data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps – four times the speed of USB-C.
Dell’s also managed to load more storage into its refreshed XPS 13 and is now offering it with 128GB SATA, 256GB PCIe, 512GB PCIe and 1TB PCIe SSD options.
My only other issue with the XPS 13’s design is that, once again, its front-facing webcam has been placed on the bottom left of the screen. It means whenever I take video calls on Skype or Hangouts, the person on the other end gets treated to a wonderful view directly up my nose.
I found the backlit keyboard comfortable to type on despite the laptop’s slightly squished dimensions.
The keys have decent travel and a pleasantly reactive, tactile feel that makes typing smooth and pleasant. The backlight also ensures you can still type quickly when using the XPS 13 in dim lighting conditions – I used the XPS 13 at some poorly lit launch events without issue.
The carbon-fibre-esque finish around the keyboard further aids the laptop’s appeal, and acts as a comfortable place to rest your hands when typing.
The trackpad is fairly large, despite the XPS 13’s limited real estate. It’s also suitably reactive and in general I never had any issues using it.