Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook Review

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The company calls the XPS 13's panel an "edge-to-edge" display and though there technically is a bit of black bezel under the glass, there is virtually no metal or plastic bezel external to the LCD.  The result is that Dell gets 13.30 inches of screen real estate into a 12-inch form-factor.  It's a gorgeous 300-nit panel with a native resolution of 1366x768 and, as we mentioned previously, it's Corning Gorilla Glass protected.



Though viewing angles are decently wide with this panel, we wish Dell could have figured out a way to allow the screen just a few degrees more backwards tilt, to afford an optimal viewing angle when the machine is perched on a counter top and you're standing over it.  Streaming Pandora in the kitchen while whipping up a little chow for dinner, we were itching to push the XPS 13's panel back just a touch more.



YES.  Backlit keyboard.  It's the little things that make the difference and Dell was listening.  Beyond backlighting, the keyboard itself is a bit of a mixed bag.  The XPS 13's key caps feel plasticy under pressure and while there is no flex in the keyboard itself, key travel feels shallow.  The layout is nice and spacious, however, and it doesn't take long to get up to full speed on XPS 13's keyboard.  It may not have the same high quality feel as the Asus Zenbook or Lenovo's U300s (review forthcoming) but it's not bad either.  But yes, it's backlit.  Can we praise that enough?

The palm rest area is a magnesium alloy, according to Dell, and the large touchpad area has gesture support.  The touchpad has a really nice soft feel with just the right amount of tactile click in its integrated two-button control. It doesn't feel cheap or flimsy at all, as we've seen with too many touchpad solutions.  Nicely done.  All told it's one of the better touchpads we've used but gesture support is so-so, with the occasional accidental mouse click while performing pinch/zoom functions. 



There aren't an over-abundance of ports on the XPS 13 but then again, ultrabooks don't exactly have much real estate for them.  With this machine you have one USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort and a headset jack.  DisplayPort may be the future for external monitor connectivity but somehow we wish HDMI was available here instead or in addition to it.  Dell also includes a fancy battery level indicator, similar to Apple's approach, with a single button that illuminates a series of five small LEDs on the right edge of the machine.  It's all well and good but PC folks are smart enough to look at the battery level indicator in the Windows system tray, right?  Oh, that was a zinger.  Sorry.


The XPS 13 has a nice brushed aluminum lid and its carbon fiber construction around the base feels solid as well.  It's a sharp machine with minimalistic lines and not much gloss except for the LCD and keyboard.  Interestingly, Dell also fashioned a metal cover plate on the underside of the machine, to protect your Microsoft license label and Dell service tag.



All told, this razor-thin, slightly rounded beauty really does inspire a top-shelf experience all around, though we do have one more gripe we need to vent (badump-bump).  Dell's bottom side ventilation system and exhaust fan isn't optimal.  We've seen side and rear venting in competitive ultrabook designs.  Frankly, though it does a decent job keeping the palm rest area cool, venting on the bottom side of the machine (a place that will likely be partially blocked on your lap or less than flat surface) is the least desirable approach in our opinion.  To make matters worse, the XPS 13's fan is too whiny for our comfort.  The XPS 13 is the loudest ultrabook we've tested to date, either under load or at idle.  It's also the fastest, as you'll see in the pages that follow, but really, we wish it was a little more audibly subdued. Is it a deal breaker for us?  No, not by a long shot, but if this area pegs your importance meter, you might want to hear it in person first.  

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Dell did a great job with this machine. A few small gotchas for me along the way but overall this machine is one of my favorite ultrabooks that I've tested thus far.

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I'm really impressed with what Ultrabooks bring to the table. Light and responsive, they are great for students and business professionals alike that are on the go. Thanks for the review :)

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You're welcome LB! :) Thanks for reading.

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It appears like a BIOS fix is/maybe fixing the overly excessive fan noise. This would be very welcoming.

Can you comment on the horizontal and vertical viewing angles some more? How would you compare it to the likeness of a samsung series 9? Thanks!

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I would say a firmware update with a new fan profile could go a long way. Though the fan noise is really only evident on boot up and under heavier loads. Sometimes during extended HD video watching, it spun up a bit too much for my taste, for example. Under light gaming it spun up the loudest. Viewing angles on the display are decent, not stellar. However, when you're lined up optimally, the display is gorgeous for sure. I'm not sure about how it is versus the Series 9 unfortunately though. I have yet to see that machine.

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This is a very nice little Lappy. I like the power sipping abilities when no heavy workload is involved. (probably would be my main usage for one of these) I also like the key spacing since I have large hands.

It's overall appearance is pretty dang nice too.

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I'd love to get my hands on one of these. It seems like it would be night and day compared to the HP model my GF has.

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I've had mine for about 3 days now. Really like it. Haven't noticed much fan noise.

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My name is JD. I work for Dell. Your post about Dell's XPS 13 Ultrabook review is very informative. I suggest to visit Dell website at http://www.dell.com/uk/p/laptops for more information on Dell laptops for any business or personal requirements. looking forward for more such nice posts from you.Thanks for sharing.

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I've purchased one and am really happy with it. I wrote a review for a website I created for Dell XPS 13 owners or potential owners. http://www.dellxps13.org About the vs apple comments, its not really fair to compare them because Windows is such a hindrance. I run Linux Ubuntu on mine that levels the playing field.

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