Sonically, the Dell XPS 13 holds its own, especially for such a compact ultraportable. Good depth and volume are offset by tinny lows, but overall the speakers Dell has chosen are certainly usable. If we hadn’t heard what the Samsung Series 9 900X3B managed to produce from a thinner chassis, we would have been quite impressed.
Performance is what you would expect from an Ultrabook. Like many of its peers, the Dell XPS 13 uses ULV processors - but a dual-core Intel Core i5 2467M with support for up to four virtual cores which can Turbo clock up to 2.3GHz from its 1.6GHz default won’t have any trouble chomping through most people’s workload. If you think that’s not enough for you, you can opt for a Core i7 model instead.
The CPU is backed by the usual 4GB of RAM, and a choice of fast Samsung 128GB or 256GB SSDs. The upgrade price of nearly £200 makes the latter option rather unattractive though, despite the noticeable speed/performance gains it gets you out of the box as demonstrated in the comparison chart above.
Last and least is graphics performance, which as with most Ultrabooks relies on Intel’s somewhat underpowered integrated HD 3000 graphics. This is fine for accelerating HD video and casual gaming – as demonstrated by a fairly smooth 35.9fps average in TrackMania Nations Forever at Medium settings - but those looking to play more demanding 3D titles are still left out in the cold, with a mere 18.4fps in Stalker.
Though it runs cool and quiet in general use, the XPS 13 does get a little hot on your lap and somewhat noisy under load. It’s nothing too distracting, but a few other Ultrabooks with similar dimensions do manage to avoid this.
For battery life, meanwhile, the Dell XPS 13’s performance is above average for the 13in Ultrabook crowd, as its 6-cell, 56Wh battery managed six hours and 42 minutes. This beats the 13in MacBook Air, Zenbook UX31, and Samsung Series 9 900X3B, but falls behind the Toshiba Satellite Z830 and Lenovo IdeaPad U300s. However, it’s important to remember that since this laptop sports a smaller chassis than most, its longevity away from a socket is actually very impressive.
Dell is pricing its XPS 13 on a premium level, which is hardly surprising given its build and design. Mind you, £949 for the ‘basic’ XPS 13 with a Core i5, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD wouldn’t have been considered expensive a mere few months ago, as it’s the same price many rivals launched at. However, now many Ultrabooks have sunk to £800, it’s a tad pricy.
Poor screen and limited connectivity aside, the XPS 13 does compare favourably to most of the 13in Ultrabooks on the market. Many of its cheaper rivals don’t give you its flawless build quality, good typing experience or backlit keyboard, and only the Samsung Series 9 900X3B offers a similarly small footprint.
On the other hand, if you can justify the extra £170 to get the Series 9 900X3B, you’ll bag yourself a better-connected, thinner, lighter, quieter and cooler ultraportable with a matt PLS screen that’s superior in both quality and resolution. The only area where the Samsung lags behind is battery life.
Dell is last to market with its Ultrabook, but in many ways the XPS 13 has been worth the wait. With a 13.3in screen crammed into a 12in-equivalent body, it’s innovative and beautifully designed, combining attractive elegance with practical user comfort and good battery life. Build quality is superb and, thanks to its great backlit keyboard and lovely touchpad, usability is up there with the best. Unfortunately, connectivity suffers from the smaller chassis and the screen’s poor viewing angles really let the side down, meaning the similarly compact Samsung Series 9 900X3B is a far better proposition if you can afford the extra. If not, however, the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook is a great premium option.