The new standard for Ultrabooks
Dell’s XPS 13 line of laptops has been around for many years now, and while the company’s 2015 model doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, Dell has made enough improvements to it to claim that it has the best Ultrabook on the market. We’ll see about that…
The compact chassis gives the notebook some sex appeal. Measuring 11.9x8x.5 inches and weighing just two pounds, 12.4 ounces, it’s extremely portable. While a chassis this small usually sports an 11-inch panel, Dell impressed us with its finesse in squeezing in a 13.3-inch 10-point touch display. This is done through what Dell calls its “Infinity Edge” display. That’s marketing jargon for what amounts to really thin, flush bezels that measure 5.2mm across.
While the panel isn’t huge, the resolution is enormous at 3200×1800. Certain Windows programs might look small but, surprisingly, it looks fine for most applications. Some users may also be put off by the glossy panel, but the viewing angles on this IPS display and the vibrant colors it offers are undeniably fantastic.
The body shape puts it in the MacBook Air category of laptops, and while it even sports a downward slope that’s similar to Apple’s popular notebook, it’s got its own thing going aesthetically. The XPS 13 is mainly composed of machined aluminum, and has a carbon fiber palm rest. Most of the notebook is black, with the exception of its silver back; here you’ll also find the Dell logo etched in. It would be nice if the logo had a lighting option (all the cool kids are doing it), but maybe Dell designers thought it would be best to go minimal this time around. Luckily, it does have a backlit keyboard, which is more important. Because the laptop is small, some people may be bothered by the compact keyboard, but it didn’t bother us. We weren’t too crazy about the trackpad, however, which offers a little unwanted acceleration. The notebook’s speakers have a surprising amount of firepower, but we’re a little let down that they’re side-firing as opposed to front-facing. In terms of ports, you’ve got your charging port, two USB 3.0 ports, mini DisplayPort, headphone jack, and SD card slot. We wish the laptop offered Mini-HDMI, but it’s got all the bare essentials otherwise, and offers more ports than other leading notebooks (ahem, Apple, we’re looking at you).
When it came to performance, our Dell XPS 13 and its 2.2GHz Core i5-5200U processor didn’t blow our socks off. It performed better than our Acer S7’s Ivy Bridge processor in our Stitch CPU benchmark by eight percent, but lagged three percent behind in our multithread-heavy x264 test. It’s worth noting that this isn’t an apples-to-apples tier comparison, however. Our zero point uses a Core i7-3517U processor that has a max turbo frequency of 3GHz, which trumps the i5’s 2.7GHz top speed. Also, when our S7 zero point goes full blast, it’s almost leaf-blower loud. The XPS 13, on the other hand, plays it cool and quiet.
In graphics territory, the XPS 13 was gave our zero point a thorough thrashing. Intel has been making very noticeable improvements when it comes to integrated graphics; the fruit of its labors means a performance delta between 40–70 percent here. If you’re thinking this means you’ll be able to do some hardcore gaming on this thing, however, you’ll want to think again. Even with everything turned low, we got unplayable framerates (mid-20s) running Tomb Raider at 1080p. This proves that gaming laptops aren’t getting pushed off the table by lighter fare anytime soon.
There were a few other areas where the laptop failed to impress, battery life being chief among them. In our video-rundown test, the XPS 13 lasted 223 minutes, which is fine for even the lengthiest of Peter Jackson movie edits, but if you’re hoping for something that will last an entire workday, this particular model isn’t for you. Dell says its 1080p configuration will last longer, since the laptop doesn’t have to push as many pixels, but as we don’t have that unit to test, we can’t validate the claim. Another gripe we had with the XPS 13 is that the camera is located on the lower left-hand corner of the monitor, as opposed to the top-middle, where most laptops place it. This placement sort of validates the old saying that the camera adds 15 pounds, at least that’s the excuse we’re going with in our case. Finally, the laptop does get a little warm underneath, but it won’t singe your lap.
These knocks against the XPS 13 prevent us from awarding it a Kick Ass score, but quibbles aside, this is still a great Ultrabook. Its 12.9-second boot-up time is among the fastest we’ve ever seen, and the laptop is ultimately quite sleek, incredibly portable, and priced fairly. It’s not perfect, but it may very well be the best Ultrabook out there at the moment.
Price, $1,400; www.dell.com