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Grow Your Business Technology

Dell XPS 13 (Late 2015) Review: Is It Good for Business?

dell xps 13, business laptops The Dell XPS 13 earns 4.5 out of 5 stars. / Credit: Jeremy Lips

Our favorite ultraportable business laptop is now better than ever. Dell has refreshed its super-portable XPS 13 notebook with a more powerful processor, speedier storage and a bigger battery, without changing its stunning design. That makes the XPS 13 (starting at $799; $1,149 as reviewed) an even better option for commuters and frequent travelers who don't want to be weighed down. We just wish Dell could figure out a better solution for the notebook's awkward webcam placement.

[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.]

Like last year's model, the updated XPS 13 manages to pack a 13-inch display into a laptop with the footprint of the average 11-incher. That's thanks to super-thin bezels around the screen, which allow the display to stretch edge to edge. The result is a system that's much smaller than other 13-inch notebooks like the MacBook Air and the Lenovo Yoga 900

The non-touch version of the XPS 13 is also a hair lighter than rival notebooks at a feather-light 2.7 lbs., compared with the Yoga 900 (2.8 lbs.) and the MacBook Air (2.9 lbs.). Adding a touch screen to the XPS 13 does add a bit of weight, coming to about 2.9 lbs. Either way, Dell's notebook is one of the most portable laptops in existence, so it won't weigh you down on your commute.

It also just looks and feels great. The aluminum lid is sturdy, and the interior has a soft-touch finish that feels luxurious. And the notebook's edge-to-edge display — which Dell calls the InfinityEdge display — is sure to turn some heads in the conference room.

The 13-inch non-touch display on the XPS 13 has a relatively modest resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, but that's more than sharp enough for everyday work tasks. Colors look rich and vibrant, and the text was crisp. 

And I love the matte finish on the XPS 13's display, which does a great job of warding off distracting reflections from overhead office lights. The panel is also a bit brighter than the average notebook display, which makes it easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight.

The XPS 13's keyboard feels quite good, with snappy, well-spaced keys that make a comfortable overall typing experience. On the other hand, the keys are a bit on the shallow side, but I consider that a fair tradeoff for a machine this thin and portable. Keyboard backlighting can also be toggled on or off, which is handy for low-light typing.

The 4.1 x 2.4-inch touchpad is equally reliable. Cursor movement felt swift and precise, and gestures such as two-finger scrolling were responsive.

The sole change to the XPS 13's design, compared with the preceding model, is the addition of a Thunderbolt 3 port. The port can be used to connect to compatible accessories like hard drives and certain high-res external displays. Also included on the XPS 13 are two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot and a lock slot for physically securing your notebook at your desk.

There's no standard HDMI or DisplayPort connections here, so workers who want to connect the XPS 13 to most monitors or projectors will need to purchase an adapter.

The XPS 13's single best feature — its striking edge-to-edge display — is also the source of its biggest weakness. The razor-thin bezel around the display doesn't afford enough space for a webcam above the display, so Dell has stuck the camera beneath the screen instead. That means that the person on the other end of your video call is going to spend a lot of time looking up at you from a severe angle, which can get pretty awkward if videoconferencing is a regular part of your work routine.

The updated XPS 13 includes Intel's new sixth-generation Skylake processors, available in a range of configurations, including Core i3, i5 and i7 versions. That helped the XPS 13 outperform competing laptops, the MacBook Air and the Yoga 900, in our benchmark tests. Dell also included an updated SSD for speedier handling of files and snappier multitasking.

Our review unit came equipped with an Intel Core i5-6200U processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage. On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the machine racked up an impressive score of 6,391, which beats out the Yoga 900 (6,264) and the MacBook Air (5,784).

On the other hand, Dell's notebook lagged slightly behind those systems on our spreadsheet test. The XPS 13 was able to match 20,000 names and addresses in about 4 minutes and 34 seconds, which is slower than the MacBook Air (4:03) and the Yoga 900 (4:18).

The XPS 13 provides really impressive battery life, running for 11 hours and 54 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That far outlasts the Yoga 900 (7:57), as well as the ultraportable average of 8 hours and 10 minutes. Apple's MacBook Air is still the battery life king, though, running for an epic 14 hours on a charge. To be fair, part of that difference probably has to do with the MacBook's lower-res display.

We also tested the touch-screen version of XPS 13, and found its battery life to be lacking, at around 8 hours and 8 minutes. That's a good reason for workers to stick to the non-touch model.

Dell sells the XPS 13 in a handful of different hardware configurations. The low-end model we tested comes with a 1080p non-touch display, a 6th-generation Intel Core i3 processor with 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD for $799. That should provide plenty of computing power for basic business tasks.

More demanding workers can upgrade to the midrange model, which includes a more powerful Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM for $999. Another upgrade gives you a 256GB SSD for $1,149, which is the model featured in this review.

You can also spring for a couple of pricier models with sharper, touch-capable displays. For $1,399, you get a Quad HD+ (3200 x 1800-pixel) touch display, a Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. The top-end model has an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, for a grand total of $1,599. Just remember that adding a power-hungry touch-screen will diminish your battery life by about a third.

Dell's XPS 13 is a near-perfect work companion for commuters and frequent travelers, thanks to its small size and sturdy-yet-lightweight design. You also get a nice keyboard and enough battery life to last through the longest work flights. The notebook's only real issue is its awkwardly placed webcam, which could be a deal-breaker if videoconferencing is a routine part of your job. 

Lenovo's Yoga 900 is another strong option for workers who want a higher-res display and a bit more storage without paying too much extra. For $1,999, you can pick up a Yoga 900 with a Core i7 CPU, Quad-HD touch display and a 512GB SSD. Just remember that it's bigger than the XPS 13, and doesn't last as long on a charge.

[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.] 

Brett Nuckles

A former Ohio newspaper man, Brett Nuckles fled the Midwest in 2013. He now lives in Seattle, where he spends his days tinkering with smartphones, tablets and computers. He loves to think about the intersection of technology and productivity, and how to get the most out of new gadgets and apps. He's also a big fan of vegetarian food and digital painting. In his off hours he spends most of his time drawing and painting sci-fi/fantasy scenes on his PC with his trusty Wacom stylus in hand.