Dell’s entry into the ultrabook world may not break any new ground, but does it have to? By covering all of the ultrabases in a good-looking package, Dell’s XPS 13 keeps up with the Joneses while not really trying to show off. The strategy works.
You’ll find absolutely no surprises under the hood here, as the XPS 13 stays almost exactly in lockstep with the rest of the ultrabook market. Specs include a 1.6GHz Core i5, 128GB SSD hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and a 13.3-inch screen with 1366×768-pixel resolution. The gently tapered chassis features one USB 3.0 port, one chargeable USB 2.0 port, and, oddly, a mini-DisplayPort connector. Landing right at three pounds, it’s an awful lot like a blacker, and slightly smaller, version of the MacBook Air.
Performance tests drew no complaints or surprises: Scores were within the Air’s numbers within a couple of percentage points across the board, plenty fast with general apps but simply unfit for graphics or gaming duty. The only real weak spot in testing: Slightly sub-par battery life that didn’t reach four hours (when 4.5 to 5 hours is common for the industry).
The little touches are nice, including a handsome keyboard backlight, a soft-touch palmrest and underside, and surprisingly beefy speakers. Touch-typing on the island keys was easier than usual thanks to a slight depression built into the top of each key. Overall, it’s a very attractive ultrabook that can almost go toe to toe with Apple in the design department.
Speaking of design, I only have a few complaints about the system. First is the hinge: It’s so tight that you can’t adjust the screen without the laptop tipping backwards. But a bigger issue is the clickpad. While it’s big and spacious, it didn’t register taps half the time, and pushing down on the pad to physically click required an inordinate amount of effort — and usually caused the cursor to move involuntarily. Neither is a dealbreaker, but both features could benefit from more thorough usability testing.
In the final analysis, at $1,000, the XPS 13 is a good value in a market that is rapidly becoming as commoditized as the rest of the laptop space, but where fairly hefty prices still rule.