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Dell XPS 13 review

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Dell XPS 13 2016 review
  • Dell XPS 13 2016 review
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Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Compact and attractive design
  • Great CPU performance
  • All-day battery life

Cons

  • No Intel Iris Graphics
  • Gappy touchpad and keyboard
  • Bizarre webcam placement

Key Features

  • 2.7-3.5GHz Dual-core Intel Core i7-7500U (Core i5 available)
  • 8GB DDR4 RAM (16GB available)
  • Intel HD Graphics 620
  • 256GB PCIE SSD (128GB, 512GB and 1TB available)
  • 2x USB 3, 1x USB 3.1/Thunderbolt 3 combination, 3.5mm headset jack, SD card slot
  • 1.29kg (Full HD model 1.2kg)
  • 13.3-inch QHD+ 3,200x1,800-pixel touch screen
  • Manufacturer: Dell
  • Review Price: £1,299.00

What is the Dell XPS 13?

Dell’s XPS 13 is back for 2016 with an updated specification that includes more efficient Intel Kaby Lake processors and longer battery life. While the 2015 edition won our coveted Laptop of the Year award last time out, the 2016 model faces stiff competition from rival Windows 10 machines such as the HP Spectre, Lenovo IdeaPad 710S, Razer Blade Stealth and the veritable bargain that is the Asus ZenBook UX310UA. Then there’s also the brand-new 2016 MacBook Pro to contend with.

Despite the rise in competition, Dell does more than enough with the XPS 13 to make it the most desirable Windows Ultrabook around.

Related: MacBook Pro vs Dell XPS 13

Watch: Dell XPS 13 video review

Dell XPS 13 – Design and Build

The new XPS 13 design has been around for a couple of years, but nobody has successfully replicated its trademark ‘InfinityEdge’ bezel that gives this machine its unique profile. It still looks great, as does the carbon-fibre finish on the palm rest. The palm rest does start to look a little greasy after use, but it's not as significant as it is on darker, metal-finished laptops.

Related: Best Laptops to Buy

The lid, previously only available in silver, can now also be bought in rose gold. The same colour is also found along the bottom half of the laptop’s edges, which makes for a slightly odd-looking pink-bronze sandwich with a matte black filling. I’m not convinced that it looks better than the silver model, but many of my colleagues were smitten with the new design, so it’s clearly a matter of taste.

Like any pure metal laptop lid, I was obsessively worried about scratching it, and while I didn’t damage it during my testing, a ding or two feels inevitable in the average life of an ultra-portable laptop.

Dell XPS 13 2

The model I was sent for review is the touchscreen version, which weighs in at 1.29kg. If you pick one of the matte, non-touch models that’ll drop to 1.2kg. It’s neither lightest nor the heaviest in its size category, but it certainly won’t be a strain on your shoulder when it’s stuffed into a satchel.

You get a full complement of useful ports on the XPS 13, including two full-size USB 3.0 connectors and a single Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1-C combination port. The latter can be used for high-power, high-bandwidth devices with a maximum throughput of 40GB/s. It's perfect for high-end monitors and storage arrays – something videographers will appreciate.

Elsewhere, there’s an SD card slot, a 3.5mm headset jack and a small button the left side to check the battery’s charge level when the machine is switched off. It’s a fine selection of ports that’s more generous than all of its rivals, although higher-end users might actually miss the three extra Thunderbolt 3 ports offered by the high-end MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

Related: What is USB-C?

The keyboard is standard Dell fare, with small, backlit, chiclet keys. It doesn’t feel overly cramped, even when you consider the Dell’s reduced footprint, although the overall design and feel of the keyboard have been made to look pretty dated by the latest MacBook Pro. It’s unfortunate, because nothing’s changed and it’s actually a very good 'board.

Dell XPS 13 1

The keys on the top row double up as dedicated function keys for all the usual controls, including media playback, volume, keyboard backlight and screen brightness.

The touchpad is among the best found on Windows laptops. While it isn’t as responsive as any MacBook Pro, it comes a very close second. The surface is smooth and comfortable, gestures are reliable, and physical clicks are satisfying. Palm rejection is dependable, too – even when typing with my palms resting on the corners of the pad, I never activated any rogue clicks or swipes.

As you can see from the picture above, there's a fairly significant gap between the touchpad and the palm rest, and you might also spot that a tiny piece of tissue paper has found its way into it. The same goes for the keys, which aren't properly flush with the chassis. It may sound finnicky and fussy, but at this price point every flaw counts.

Dell XPS 13 – Screen

You get two choices of screen on the Dell XPS 13. My model came with the glossy, touch-enabled 3,200 x 1,800 panel, but there’s also a matte Full HD option available.

Performance is excellent. I measured its maximum brightness at 303 nits, while 0.3-nit black levels equate to a good 1,010:1 contrast ratio, which produces stark contrast between vibrant colours and more subtle shades.

The screen covers 92.6% of the sRGB colour gamut, which is great for photographers working in that colour space. However, Adobe RGB and DCI P3 coverage are somewhat wanting, at 71.7% and 67.8% respectively. It’s here where the MacBook Pro holds an advantage – its massive 98.8% DCI P3 coverage means video professionals won’t need an external monitor to get an accurate look at what they’re working on, where Dell users will.Dell XPS 13 2

For everybody else less concerned with hyper-accurate colours, the Dell XPS 13 does a great job of displaying vibrant tones and is more than good enough for image editing and watching a few videos.

I like the addition of a touch-sensitive panel – sometimes it’s just more comfortable to scroll up and down using the screen instead of a touchpad. The protective glass over the touch layer does make for a fairly reflective surface, but no more so than any other glossy-screened laptop.

Dell XPS 13 – Audio and Webcam

From an audio standpoint, the Dell XPS 13 is much less attractive than the MacBook Pro. The speakers, which fire from the left and right edges of the machine, aren’t great and lack depth. The pre-installed audio-mixing software can make a difference by artificially boosting lower-end sounds, but all the software enhancements in the world can’t save a mediocre set of speakers. They are at least loud and will be fine for watching YouTube videos, but not so great for movies or music.

Dell XPS 13 3

The webcam is of a decent quality, although in order to make the ultra-thin bezel possible it’s been moved to the bottom left of the screen. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it does mean you have to push the screen back a little further than you might want in order to give your chat partners a better view of your face.

The microphone is fine – it picked up my voice from a normal sitting position pretty well, although I did catch a little static hissing in what was, in reality, a silent room.

3waysin3days

November 22, 2016, 1:52 am

Never buy a Dell computer. I have the XPS 13 and it was a great computer, until it developed a fault. After 6 weeks there is still no satisfaction from the service department, and they now refuse to honour the New Zealand Consumer Guarantees Act. Very poor company.

ma_t14

December 20, 2016, 10:03 am

How did things work out for you in the end?

Humanity

December 25, 2016, 10:41 am

Seriously no one is bothered about the static noise it makes when you
are charging it? or by the fact, that it uses a lot of power when it's
in sleep (34% in 8 hours of sleep)?
It has been chosen the best
laptop by so many review sites. It is hard to imagine how bad are the other
laptops if this one is the best so far.

Sue

January 2, 2017, 12:42 pm

Dell laptops are now on sale at LaptopDealFinder(.com

Chad Board

January 7, 2017, 1:22 pm

Brand new Dell XPS 13 three months ago. The Thunderbolt connection never worked quite right, but I was able to use it without it (even though it was a major selling point). One day the computer would not turn on. Worked, then didn't. Tech wasn't able to fix and had to be sent to depot. After a week at the depot, I get this message:

Hello Chad,

Thank you for choosing Dell. This mail is related to your recent interaction with Dell technical support.

I see that the part to fix your computer is in backlog. While we are working with our warehouse team to get the parts shipped at the earliest, we do regret the inconvenience. I will keep a track of this case and will notify you through email if there is any further update on this dispatch.

The current ETA for the parts is still pending. The service will be completed once we receive the part(s). Please reply to this email if you have any questions.

For future reference I have included your service request information above. If you need anything at all related to this service request please contact me directly by replying to this email.

Thank you for choosing Dell support.

In summary, spent more so I could have the "best" laptop and got crap. Yay!

Dr_j

January 14, 2017, 8:32 pm

I bought a dell 13" XPS laptop in December 2015. It wouldn't turn on Jan 10 2017. I called dell and they told me that since it was over one yr, there was no warranty. I took it to a computer repair store and they said it needed a new mother board. Repair was going to be $500. One word of advice, don't buy these dell laptops unless you want a boat anchor. Dell after sales service and warranty is terrible. I bet I didn't use this piece of junk more than 30 times since it was new as I have a desktop.

Jimmy

February 21, 2017, 12:08 pm

If you only used it 30 times in over a year, why did you buy it? It seems like a waste of money to me.

The_Irredeemable_Toxic_Avenger

April 10, 2017, 1:37 am

I bought the XP 13 and received it last Wednesday. I spend Thursday, Friday, and Saturday loading Office and other software tools. I bought a video connector and an extra power cord. I was really impressed and liked the machine immensely.

On Sunday, I tried to start the laptop and it wouldn't come on. I checked on line and found a lot of people were having the same problem. Dell support had me try and hard boot a few times (hold the power button down for 30 seconds) and that didn't fix it. They then told me to take the back case cover off and disconnect the battery. The screws attaching the back plate are star screws in a size that no one would ever have at home. Took it to my local Radio Shack to see if they had a tool that would work and even they couldn't find a star screw that wouldn't strip out the screw.

Called Dell customer service back and got the run around before finally ending up with some completely useless support person who told me that I would have to wait two days to send it back (because it was a new purchase my service tag wasn't associated yet) and that it would take an additional 7 to 12 days to get it back. No guarantee that this wouldn't happen again.

I am calling the Sales line tomorrow and demanding full refunds for my computer, my expedited shipping, and all my accessories.

I'll by a Lenova before I ever deal with Dell again. Run away from Dell. Just run an never look back

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