Our favorite ultraportable business laptop is better than ever in its newest update. Dell's new XPS 13 boasts the same gorgeous, compact design and comfortable keyboard as previous versions but adds longer battery life and speedier performance with Intel's 7th-generation (Kaby Lake) Core processors.
I'm still not thrilled about the awkward webcam placement, and I can't help but notice that competing systems are thinner and lighter than the XPS 13 ($1,299 as reviewed, $799 to start.) Regardless, there's no better mobile work companion better than this one.
The Dell XPS 13 remains one of the most striking laptops on the market, with a small footprint that's made possible by the system's edge-to-edge display. Dell calls it an "Infinity Edge" display, and the lack of bezels around the screen make it feel surprisingly immersive for a display this size. Meanwhile, the laptop's smooth aluminum lid is sturdy, while the soft-touch keyboard deck feels luxurious.
Weighing in at 2.9 lbs. and measuring 11.98 x 7.88 x 0.33-0.6 inches, the XPS 13 is compact enough to slide into your work bag or purse without a fuss. Rival systems, like the HP Spectre X360 (2.45 lbs., 12.03 x 8.58 x 0.54 inches) and Lenovo Yoga 910 (3.04 lbs., 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.56 inches), have noticeably larger footprints. You'll notice that both of those systems are a hair slimmer than the XPS 13, though.
You can see that the XPS 13 model pictured in this review is a handsome, understated gold color. If you don't like it, though, you can an order the system in silver.
Ports & connectivity
It may not be the thinnest ultraportable laptop you can buy, but that extra bit of thickness allowed Dell to cram in a solid selection of ports. That includes two full-size USB 3.0 ports (those are becoming a rarity on many super-portable laptops these days) as well as a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support (which will come in handy for attaching up to two 4K monitors at once.)
You also get an SD card reader to expand the system's 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage.
The XPS 13 comes with two display options: a non-touch model with a full-HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and a matte finish, and a touchscreen model with a quad-HD resolution of 3200 x 1800 pixels and a glossy finish.
I got my hands on the non-touch model for this review. Text looks crisp, and the full-HD resolution is more than adequate for everyday work tasks. And I like the matte finish on the display, which wards off annoying reflections from windows and overhead lights.
The touchscreen model is sharper, but has a few big drawbacks. Its glossy finish is more reflective, and the touch panel will drain your battery a couple of hours sooner than the non-touch option. That's why most workers will want to opt for the full-HD, non-touch display.
The XPS 13's keyboard feels snappy, though I could do with a tiny bit of extra key travel. You get about 1.2mm of travel on each key stroke, which is shallower than the 1.5mm we look for in a business laptop.
A deeper keyboard helps prevent the feeling that you're “bottoming out” on each stroke, which can lead to fatigue over a long typing session. Still, springy tactile feedback helps make this a pretty comfortable keyboard to type on overall.
I can't complain about Dell's Precision touchpad, which allowed for buttery-smooth cursor control and responsive two-finger scrolling.
The XPS 13's epic battery life means you can work away from your desk all day long, and then some. The system ran for 13 hours and 49 minutes in our battery life test, which involves continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's far longer than the Apple MacBook (9:38) and Lenovo Yoga 910 (10:36), and more than twice what you get out of the HP Spectre (6:13.)
Keep in mind that this is a review of the non-touch XPS 13. When we tested the touchscreen model, it lasted 9:11 – not bad, but a far cry from the longevity you'll get out of the non-touch version.
The XPS 13 comes equipped with a Trusted Platform Module for full hardware encryption, which helps keep work files private. On top of that, there's the option to order the XPS 13 with a fingerprint reader for an extra $25 when you buy through Dell.com. My review unit didn't come with the feature, though, so I didn't have a chance to try it out.
The XPS 13's awkwardly placed webcam will make anyone you talk to well acquainted with the underside of your chin. That's because the camera is located beneath the display, instead of in its typical place above the screen. The result is a low-angle view of your face, which just looks really strange.
Dell put it there to make room for the system's edge-to-edge display, but frankly it's not a great tradeoff. If videoconferencing isn't a typical part of your routine, though, it's not a huge deal. But workers who use their laptop to meet remotely with clients or colleagues might want to steer clear of the XPS 13 for that reason alone.
You won't waste time uninstalling bloatware on Dell's XPS 13, because the system comes with a pretty clean installation of Windows 10. The apps that come preloaded are mostly useful: Dropbox, Microsoft Office (with a 30-day free trial) and McAfee LiveSafe.
My XPS 13 review unit was nice and speedy, burning through heavy multitasking sessions without breaking a sweat. The system came equipped with a 7th-generation Intel Core i5-7200U (Kaby Lake) processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage. I wrote this review on the XPS 13 with more than a dozen tabs open in Chrome while occasionally switching to Photoshop for some light photo editing, and I never noticed any slowdown.
The system racked up a solid score of 7,159 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That outpaces the 6th-generation Core i5-powered Spectre x360 (7,026) as well as the category average (7,021).
And the XPS 13 also fared well on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in 3 minutes and 55 seconds. The Spectre x360 finished in about the same time.
Dell sells the XPS 13 in a variety of hardware configurations. The low-end model gives you a 7th-generation Core i3 processor, 4GB and 128GB of SSD storage, all for $799. It comes in silver.
Most workers would be better off with the mid-range model, which includes a zippy Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $999. The system featured in this review is a lot like that model, but doubles the storage (256GB total) for $1,299. It's the best option for most workers.
On the high end, you can get a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $1,299. The fanciest model has the same processor but double the RAM (16GB) and double the storage (512GB) for $1,599.
So what if competing laptops are a hair slimmer and a bit lighter than the XPS 13? Dell's laptop is still plenty portable, and rival systems can't touch its long battery life or solid selection of ports. Strong multitasking performance and a pretty nice keyboard round out the package.
Workers who do a lot of videoconferencing might want to look elsewhere, because the XPS 13's below-the-screen webcam placement is just awkward. I'd also suggest opting for the non-touch model, which lasts longer on a charge than the touchscreen version. Either way, it's hard to find fault with this superb work laptop.