Update: Dell forwarded us a replacement XPS 13, which resolved some of our touchpad issues. This article has been amended accordingly.
Dell's reasonably late to the ultrabook party, but it's by no means the last across the line.
Despite hiding behind edge-to-edge gorilla glass, the 13-inch, 1366x768 screen isn't as bright or colourful as HP's Envy 14 Spectre, but given the price differential this is to be expected. Still, blacks are never black, but a disconcerting level of grey.
Dell's construction is excellent, with a rigid, strong chassis being the order of the day. While the lid may be rather similar to a certain fruit-themed manufacturer's thin laptop, open up the XPS and it's all matte black and silver inside. The surface begs for greasy hand and fingerprints to be left behind, so this isn't a laptop for those who need to keep things clinically clean. Flip it over, and you'll find a carbon-fibre base, which is a shame that you won't find it where it will be visible when you're using the laptop.
Typing response is springy but decent on the backlit keyboard, which gave us hope — then we discovered that Dell had strayed from Synaptics and Alps pads to try a brand called Cypress.
This usually doesn't bode well.
The pad is, thankfully, nowhere near as unpredictable and awful as those made by Sentelic. Our initial review unit had big issues with the palm check, even with the newer 126.96.36.199 drivers; thankfully a replacement unit from Dell addressed the issue, and typing became a predictable activity again.
Flick gestures and image rotating seemed to operate fine, although pinch-to-zoom required some effort, requiring a decent portion of two fingers on the pad to operate reliably. Scrolling was odd; more than once we found after our fingers left the page in WordPad that it would just continue scrolling, whether or not continued motion was turned on, and scrolling in browsers could be best described as erratic.
While there's a vent hidden in the hinge of the laptop, there's another, weirdly, put on the bottom, between two raised "feet". This is fine for as long as you rest it on the table, but holding the laptop in your hand, or placing it on a non-flat surface such as carpet or your bed could be problematic.
Dell's port options are unexciting: one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, a headset jack and mini DisplayPort. If you want HDMI, you'll need to buy a conversion cable.
Our review sample contained a Core i7 2637M @ 1.7GHz, 4GB RAM and a 256GB Samsung SSD. Wireless is handled through Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11n, surprisingly of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz varieties. This model will set you back AU$1699 — a significant pricing win for Dell — but you can save even more if you go for lower specced machines. Drop to a Core i5 2467M @ 1.6GHz and you'll pay AU$1499, reduce that again to a 128GB SSD and you'll only pay AU$1199.
Dell has informed us that Dell Stage, its dock program, has been removed from retail units, a positive move. Our first review unit had an issue with Dell's QuickSet program stealing focus too; we're happy to report our replacement unit suffered no such affliction.
Handbrake encoding (in seconds)
Dell XPS 13 (Core i7 @ 1.7GHz, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
The XPS 13 holds up as one might expect against the competition, trailing the faster i7's in Asus' competitors, but outstripping the Core i5 equipped models.
Battery life (time)
- Heavy battery test
- Light battery test
- 6h 27m
- HP Folio 13 (Core i5 @ 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 6h 7m
- HP Envy 14 Spectre (Core i5 @ 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 5h 23m
- Asus ZenBook UX31 (Core i7 @ 1.8GHZ, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
- 5h 8m
- Toshiba Satellite Z830 (Core i5 @ 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 4h 53m
- Dell XPS 13 (Core i7 @ 1.7GHz, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
- 3h 21m
- Asus ZenBook UX21 (Core i7 @ 1.8GHz, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 2h 54m
- Acer Aspire S3 (Core i5 @ 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, 320GB HDD)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
It is higher-level hardware than the average ultrabook, but we didn't expect the battery scores to be so uninspiring. The more powerful UX31 outdoes it significantly.
Dell's ultrabook gets a passing grade. The touch pad is frustrating, and the battery life could be better. It's built well, but one obvious thing remains; there are better choices out there on the market.