The Dell XPS 13 (2015) has received highly positive reviews since it was announced in 2015, retaining the “smallest 13-inch laptop in the world” accolade even after over a year (not the lightest though). The latest update of XPS 13 (2016) is fitted with new hardware specs but otherwise have similar outlook.
Size of an 11-inch ultrabook
The Dell XPS 13 (Touch) has a 13.3-inch display but the size of a 11-inch laptop (like XPS 11), and weighs 1.29kg. Its exterior is cut from a single block of aluminum for a sturdy brick-like chassis. The palm rest is made from carbon fiber which is strong and thin like aluminum, but lighter and more comfortable to touch. I love the 2 long rubber strips at the bottom of the laptop, offering a firm grip on any surface and prevent slippage.
The unique feature is the screen, where the bezel is so thin that Dell calls it the Infinity Display. The Corning Gorilla Glass touch display claims to be up to 10 times more scratch resistant and with acceptable reflectivity level.
6th Generation Intel Core i7 processor
The unit I am reviewing is fitted with i7-6560U 2.5GHz (up to 3.2GHz) 8GB RAM with 256GB SSD. The ultrabook runs confidently throughout the review period. It starts up fast, goes on standby and wakes up promptly, and much credit goes to the fast SSD.
There aren’t much bloatware except for essential Dell software to manage the computer, like Dell Audio, Dell Update, SupportAssist.
Inputs and Display
The touch display is sensitive, the touchpad is also improved in leaps and bounds to correspond more naturally to finger movements. The backlit keyboard actions are firm, the key travel is shorter due to its limited space, which might be a good thing as I don’t have to press too deep. I would prefer the key spacings to be closer though, and I’m very much crippled when the Home/End PgUp/PgDn buttons share with the arrow keys.
The native display is 3200×1800 (276 ppi) but the fonts are resized properly to look normal on the 13-inch screen, though there are some rogue apps that displays dialog boxes in native resolution which turned out extremely tiny. Resolution and colour tone is sharp with good contrast without loss of dynamics. Brightness is maxed at 400 nits.
The XPS 13 comes with minimal set of ports. There are 2 USB 3.0 ports, SD card slot, and Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) port. There are no video-output ports, so you need to purchase an optional Thunderbolt 3 dock to expand the connectivity. There is a battery check button to indicate the remaining battery life with 5 LED, an under-rated feature that lets user decide whether to charge the battery without booting up the laptop.
For the size of XPS 13, I am happy with the battery management. Dell claims the ultrabook can achieve over 18 hours, but we well know that this depends on the applications you use and how processor-intensive the apps are.
I use the review laptop mostly on blog drafting, web browsing on Chrome, music and video, and it can last about 7 hours (not consecutive, excluding sleep time) before I charge. It is a known fact that Chrome browser drains the battery the most among the web browsers, but I still prefer to use it. To maximise my battery, I will close the browser when I do not use it. When pushing the processor, the fans kick in to keep temperature low.
What I like about XPS 13 is that I can leave the computer on for hours without incurring excessive battery life drain when idle. While it seems my kind of usage is rather light that most other low-spec ultrabooks could do the job at potentially longer battery life, a top-spec processor helps in getting things done faster and smoother. Moreover, I could still rely on the laptop for occasional intensive activities, like editing images on Lightroom or video editing. Hence, the XPS 13 gives me the performance when I need, and the extended battery life when doing light tasks.
To further maximise battery, the XPS 13 will go into battery saving mode when battery drops below 20%. A full charge takes about 3 hours.
The speakers place on both sides of the XPS 13 can deliver really loud audio when the Dell Audio MaxxAudio Pro is enabled. I’m not a fan of audio effects and I would prefer to listen to my audiophile tracks in clean flat output. But when it comes to laptop speakers, they are built primarily for loudness and clarity, so purposefully tuned audio effects will improve the speaker output. When I turn on maximum volume on the speakers, I really enjoy the presence of the stereophonic sound of blockbuster movies like Transformers. Music tracks are also sounding pleasant with good effort on providing adequate mid warmth. Even the high-bass has some presence, albeit forced. MaxxAudio Pro offers further customisation to the preset sounds, like Bass, Treble, Dialog, Space, Auto-level, 10-band Equalizer.
When I plugged a cable into the 3.5mm jack, a pop-up dialog appears to advise the type of audio device you have plugged in. This is the chance for me to disable the MaxxAudio Pro effect to deliver clean audio. When comparing to my Sony NWZ-A15 Hi-Res Walkman, the XPS 13 bass is very slightly fatter and the treble is slightly less airy. Otherwise, the output is clean and sufficiently detailed for my enjoyment.
It’s hard to notice a 1MP webcam that is situated at the bottom left of the screen, near the Esc key. It’s at a rather awkward position and not flattering for narcissists who prefer their right side of the face, though I rarely use it hence doesn’t bother me. Quality is ok for webcam but not for photo taking.
I do not put laptops through benchmark tests, those are better left to the professional tech sites. I review products based on actual day-to-day user experience. The Dell XPS 13 definitely lives up to its name as one of the best Windows i7 ultrabooks. I have taken for granted that this 11-inch-size laptop has a 13.3-inch screen. The build is solid and feels like it can take a few bumps. The Windows 10 runs well without any annoying lags or software driver issues, fast to boot, sleep and shut down. It achieves good battery life when I use it for light tasks, and delivers performance when I run heavy apps. Users who want to connect to external display output ports would need to purchase a separate Thunderbolt 3 dock which increases the connectivity with more USB ports in addition to all other display outputs like DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA.
XPS 13 (9350) Specs
Intel Core i7-6560U 2.5GHz
8GB LPDDR3 1866MHz RAM
Intel Iris Graphics 540
256GB PCIe SSD
Display: 1920×1080 (non-touch), 3200×1800 (touch)
Wireless: DW1820A 2×2 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Speakers: 1W x 2, tuned with Waves MaxxAudio
Battery: 56WHr Integrated Battery non-removable
Size: 304 x 200 x 9-15mm
Weight: 1.2kg (non-touch), 1.29kg (touch)
Price: $2099 (non-touch), $2299 (touch)
Official Product Specs: http://www.dell.com/sg/p/xps-13-9350-laptop/pd