App & Software Gadgets Review

Dell XPS 13 review: Dell is coasting (and that’s fine)


The Dell XPS 13 has lengthy been one of many high suggestions for Home windows customers on the lookout for a MacBook Air various. The mannequin I reviewed in 2020 was the most effective devices I’ve ever reviewed; all the pieces from the display screen to the construct to the efficiency and battery life was exceptionally robust. 

Intel’s twelfth Gen and thirteenth Gen processors have made computer systems like {that a} little bit of a… fantasy. Certain, Apple and AMD are doing an incredible job on each the facility and effectivity fronts. However the XPS is an Intel line via and thru, and lots of of Intel’s twelfth Gen choices have proven themselves to be one-trick ponies in that regard. You may get energy from the H-series, you may get (some extent of) effectivity from the U-series, or you may get… a few of each, I assume, from the middle-of-the-road P-series. 

In flip, Dell has cut up up its XPS 13 line. You may get XPS 13 Plus, a P-series OLED machine that prioritizes energy over effectivity. Or you may get the common XPS 13, a extra conventional and barely cheaper U-series clamshell with a give attention to portability and battery life (our mannequin has an MSRP of $1,149, $350 cheaper than related Plus SKU). If the XPS 13 Plus is for an eclectic and specific energy person, the XPS 13 is for, effectively, everybody else. (The XPS 15 and XPS 17 have thirteenth Gen choices, however twelfth Gen remains to be the phrase in the case of the 13-inch clamshell.)

So anyway, I’ve been utilizing the common XPS 13 for the previous few weeks. And, like, it’s high-quality. It’s simply high-quality. It’s worse than its 2020 predecessor in some methods and higher in others. It continues to convey among the greatest construct high quality within the 13-inch area. The show is ok. The audio system are high-quality. There’s an off-purple shade possibility! It’s definitely the most effective Home windows laptops you should purchase, and it additionally doesn’t come near the efficiency or effectivity that right now’s MacBooks can present, which says a factor or two concerning the present state of the Home windows laptop computer area.

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Let’s begin with the class the place the XPS 13 is a far-and-away winner: portability. At 2.59 kilos and 0.55 inches thick, this XPS is a dream for journey. I introduced it on a weekend ski journey and was in a position to squeeze it into the entrance pocket of a backpack that included my ski boots, helmet, and various gear. There are only a few different laptops that will’ve been that straightforward to convey. 

This was taken earlier than I traveled with the unit, so it’s pristine.

Construct high quality is the opposite space the place the XPS line has lengthy stood out, and this 13-incher continues that pattern. It’s product of aluminum (“low-carbon” aluminum, particularly) and glass. The end received a bit scratched up after being battered round in my backpack for a few weeks, however a minimum of it doesn’t decide up fingerprints (which was a difficulty I had with the darker Plus). 

50 p.c of the ports are pictured right here.

The XPS 13’s keyboard and touchpad proceed to be a few of my favorites available on the market. The touchpad is definitely an enchancment over the invisible haptic one which the Plus sports activities, with a clean floor and a satisfying and responsive click on. It is a bit small as they go and won’t be my best choice if I had particularly giant fingers. The keyboard can also be clicky and comfy, with respectably smooth backlighting. The arrow keys are half-height, however such is life generally. 

And right here’s the opposite 50 p.c.

Lastly, I discover no fault with the show. It appears to be like fairly good, with crisp particulars and colours that popped. It kicks again little glare and was the right panel for the dimmest to the brightest of settings. It reaches 500 nits of brightness, however I by no means discovered myself needing to crank it greater than 20-30 p.c. 

Now, I’ve seen some complaints concerning the lack of alternative this XPS 13 affords in the case of show high quality. Particularly, you’re restricted to a 1920 x 1200 60Hz IPS panel on this mannequin, and lots of have referred to as for an OLED possibility. The spec sheet I used to be despatched does point out {that a} 4K possibility is on the market, which might be one thing a minimum of, however that isn’t presently listed on Dell’s website.

I perceive the place these complaints are coming from — extra choices are at all times good — however I’ll say that I’ve by no means used an OLED XPS that I actually preferred. On the XPS 13 Plus, the XPS 15, and the newest OLED XPS 13, it was clear that the additional pixels have been considerably consuming away at battery life. These elements don’t essentially smash the machines, however they’re important sufficient compromises that I typically discover myself recommending different OLED laptops as options. All that mentioned, these looking for a harder-core display screen could also be higher suited to the XPS 13 Plus, which has a greater variety of decision choices. 

I do choose this energy button to the one on the Plus, which is squeezed in subsequent to the backspace.

With regards to the video calling expertise, I’m a bit extra underwhelmed. I want the webcam have been higher — my colleagues on Zoom calls famous that I appeared high-quality, however my backgrounds have been fairly washed out. The microphones are as respectable as you may anticipate from a tool like this; I introduced this unit to Instances Sq. for a current Vergecast episode and located that it did a good job of filtering out numerous sirens, shouting individuals, and basic kerfuffle that surrounded me, however my voice nonetheless sounded fairly processed. 

Audio, nonetheless, left a bit to be desired. All the pieces sounded fairly good, however I had the amount between 90 and 100% more often than not after I was watching movies to be able to catch each phrase, and the downward-firing audio system (4W of whole output) weren’t loud sufficient to be heard in public areas. I used to be placing my ear to the keyboard deck whereas recording the aforementioned Vergecast phase and nonetheless might barely hear the hosts. 

Right here, have a more in-depth look.

There’s one space during which I actually should register my grumpiness, nonetheless, and that’s the port choice. This XPS 13 has a grand whole of two ports, each of that are USB-C / Thunderbolt 4. One will generally be occupied by the charger, so just one is reliably and persistently out there. 

Even for individuals who have totally embraced the USB-C life-style (and I acknowledge that this group is rising day-after-day), I simply don’t suppose two is sufficient. The unit ships with a USB-C to USB-A adapter and an optionally available USB-C to three.5mm adapter, which is good, however neither of these adjustments the truth that you’ll be able to solely plug one factor into this gadget whereas it’s charging. Actually, one factor. If you wish to each cost your telephone and use an exterior webcam for a video name, higher hope you introduced a dock! 

Look, I do know that that is the path that ultraportable laptops have been heading in recent times. However even amongst these, the XPS 13, in addition to its Plus sibling, is excessive. The M2 MacBook Air has two USB-C ports, however its devoted MagSafe charging port basically affords an additional USB-C. (Oh, and it has a headphone jack as effectively.) 

I like the portability this gadget affords. However the truth that individuals may want to hold a bunch of dongles and docks round with them, to me, is factors off in that class.

The place the XPS 13 Plus promised transportable energy, the XPS 13 guarantees transportable… much less energy, I assume? Our $1,149 unit features a Core i5-1230U, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. This unit, nonetheless, seems to be bought out on Dell’s web site presently. What you should purchase is a Core i7-1250U, which is presently $1,199 for a 16GB / 512GB / touchscreen mannequin. A equally configured M2 MacBook Air is presently selling for $1,699, which makes Dell’s pricing engaging — although the efficiency advantages Apple delivers for that additional value aren’t insignificant, as we’ll quickly focus on.

The U-series XPS is a major step down from the P-series XPS 13 Plus (which was already dropping badly to the MacBook) in the case of the uncooked numbers. Benchmark scores have been decrease nearly throughout the board. Particularly stark was the 30-minute loop of Cinebench, the place the XPS 13 received near 50 p.c of the Plus’s rating. It’s clear that the XPS 13’s efficiency modified considerably after the primary 10-minute run.

With all that mentioned, I didn’t observe a lot of a distinction between the XPS 13 and the XPS 13 Plus throughout my every day use. They’re each completely quick for work in Chrome, watching Succession, chatting on Discord, and such. They’re each a little bit of a nightmare whenever you attempt to use applications like Lightroom and Premiere; anticipate crashes, lags, and a typically disagreeable time.

93.9 p.c screen-to-body ratio.

One factor to notice concerning the XPS 13, although — the followers get going very simply. They have been audible with a pair Chrome tabs and Slack open. Throwing on the Silent cooling profile (accessible within the My Dell app) will shut them up if the blowing bothers you, so the noise itself isn’t regarding. That is simply for example that my pretty customary workplace workload was taxing the Core i5 a bit.

On the plus aspect, this XPS is doing a a lot higher job of not frying itself than earlier XPS fashions have. All through intense benchmark testing, the CPU stayed at a constant temperature effectively beneath 70 levels Celsius. Even higher, the chassis and keyboard remained fairly cool, even after I was doing pretty taxing work. XPS fashions I’ve reviewed prior to now (the Plus included) have tended to boil after just some hours of normal use. I’m lastly, lastly complimenting a Dell laptop’s cooling system. I assumed I would by no means stay to see at the present time. Properly finished. 

Talking of issues which have improved: battery life. I averaged six hours and 42 minutes of constant use round medium brightness, working with round a dozen-ish Chrome tabs and occasional Spotify streaming overtop. That may be a step down from final yr’s XPS and is lower than half of what I get from the MacBook Air on the identical load — but it surely’s over an hour higher than what we noticed from the Plus and remains to be one of many higher outcomes I’ve seen from a current Home windows laptop computer. I nonetheless very a lot want I didn’t must cost the gadget a number of instances a day, however that appears to be par for the course in Home windows land lately. The 45W AC adapter juiced the gadget as much as 52 p.c in an hour with mild Chrome use.

Previously, the XPS 13 was a hands-down contender for the most effective laptop computer available on the market. However the Apple-silicon MacBook has since barrelled onto the scene, and it wipes the ground with many of the ultraportable Home windows laptops that cross my desk every day. This XPS is not any exception. In comparison with the M2 MacBook Air, battery life is worse. Benchmark efficiency is worse. Display screen, whereas good, is worse. Port choice is worse. Audio is worse. The XPS is barely lighter, and I subjectively choose the texture of its keyboard. Nevertheless it has two major benefits now: the lower cost (which isn’t one thing I’m used to praising concerning the XPS line) and the truth that it runs Home windows, an working system that many individuals like an terrible lot.

And that has me a bit anxious. I’m anxious that this may simply be the best possible model of an ultraportable, thousand-dollar-range Home windows laptop computer you could purchase on right now’s market. It’s a really high-quality gadget — however I don’t really feel that I can enthusiastically reward it the way in which reviewers used to. The XPS is now not what sells the XPS; Home windows is what sells the XPS. And I’m wondering if Dell, or any OEM, will provide you with one thing actually revolutionary within the subsequent few months that can break that mildew. Within the meantime, although, please give us a number of extra ports.


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