Connectivity on the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook is rather limited. There are two USB ports, one USB 3.0 and one 2.0. There’s a headphone/microphone 3.5mm combi jack and a microDisplayPort for video.
We have a number of problems with this selection. Most annoyingly, there’s no SD card reader, so you’ll need an adapter to get photos from your camera. There’s also no Ethernet jack, and unlike Asus with its Asus Zenbook UX31, Dell doesn’t provide adapters in the box. Last but not least, we would have preferred microHDMI over microDisplayPort for video output, as cables are cheaper and more universal.
In Dell’s defence, however, it’s no worse than the MacBook Air 11in. And at least the wireless side of things is covered by the usual Bluetooth and Wi-Fi N combo, while the nicely-integrated HD webcam does a good job. One nice little feature is a MacBook-like battery indicator on the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook’s side, which uses five white LEDs to indicate how much charge you have left.
When it comes to usability, Dell’s first Ultrabook really shines – literally, as the keyboard is nicely backlit in white. It’s also rather pleasant to type on. Layout is good and keys well-spaced. Their semi-glossy finish doesn’t pick up fingerprints and their concave shape cradles your fingertips.
Feedback could have been just a little crisper but there’s still plenty of travel. It’s just a whisker away from offering as good a typing experience as the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, and thanks to its backlighting the XPS 13 takes the lead.
The matt glass touchpad’s even better, easily up there with ultraportables from Samsung and Apple. It’s beautifully integrated, utterly responsive, and its clearly delineated buttons offer a positive click.
Getting to the screen, like with its XPS 14z Dell has gone for a single glass layer - and not just any glass, but toughened Gorilla glass. The bezel-free look is gorgeous and the screen gets an extra layer of protection, but it does increase annoying reflections. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many Ultrabooks, it’s the XPS 13’s screen quality that really lets it down.
The 13.3in display sports a standard resolution of 1,366 x 768 and uses our least favourite screen panel type: TN. Unfortunately it’s not even one of the better examples of its kind, and as a result the XPS 13 suffers from terrible viewing angles. Whether vertically or horizontally, moving away from centre causes significant contrast shift.
It’s a real shame as on other levels the 13’s screen is quite good. It does a fair job of dark detail differentiation and gives you deep blacks without any backlight bleed to spoil things, colours are reasonable, and there are no nasty artefacts.