Revisiting Dell's XPS 13 Ultrabook, In Full HD

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Design & Layout

From the press materials to the construction, it's clear Dell is trying to one-up Apple's MacBook Air. This machine features bonded Corning Gorilla Glass, machined aluminum, and carbon fiber construction.

Compared to the 13-inch MacBook Air, Dell's XPS 13 Ultrabook is a little thicker and ever-so-slightly heavier. It measures 12.4 inches (W) by 8.1 inches (D) by 0.24-0.72 inches and weighs 2.99 pounds, whereas the MacBook Air checks in at 12.8 inches (W) by 8.94 inches (D) by 0.11-0.68 inches (H) and 2.96 pounds.

The top cover on Dell's systems is precision-cut from a single block of aluminum and feels rigid at every corner. Dell went with a carbon fiber composite base that it says is every bit as strong as aluminum, but cooler to the touch and lighter. A ring of anodized aluminum wraps around the base like lipstick, adding to both the aesthetic and overall solid construction. It's arguably not as sexy as the MacBook Air, only because Apple's machine looks paper thin, but it's a fine looking Ultrabook with a premium look and feel. It also has rounded corners, so if you're a college student, the XPS 13 should slip into and out of your backpack without getting caught up on anything.

As you'll see further down the page, the XPS 13 utilizes a tapered design that is increasingly thin towards the front.

Dell's most proud of the XPS 13's new panel. Customers can now opt for a Full HD 1080p (1920x1080) display with twice as many pixels as a 720p screen. In case you're keeping count (and Dell is), that works out to 44 percent more pixels than an HD+ panel found on the 13-inch MacBook Air. It's not just about pixel count, though.

It's a brighter display than before, which Dell rates at 350-nits, and offers exceptional viewing angles at up to 178 degrees. Dell's not overselling the panel quality -- it's exceptionally bright at full bore, vivid, and easily viewable from multiple positions without significant degradation. Dell also claims the XPS 13's displays offers a 72 percent color gamut versus the 45 percent color gamut on standard panels. We weren't able to run screen through DisplayMate's tests, like we do with our monitor reviews, but subjectively, pictures and text looked crisp and sharp.

Sitting center below the keyboard is a glass touchpad with integrated buttons and gesture support. It's plenty large for this size Ultrabook, and if you learn the different gestures, it's easy to navigate Windows 8 like a boss. Swiping from the right side of the touchpad and towards the left, for example, brings up the Charms menu. When it works, anyway. It takes a little practice to get accustomed to the gesture response, which can be a bit finicky at times. Otherwise, it feels nice and soft to the touch.

Flanking the touchpad on both sides are magnesium alloy palmrests with soft touch paint. It has a rubberized feel similar to some smartphones that adds to the comfort level, with the added bonus of not attracting fingerprints and smudges the way glossy finishes do.

As for the keyboard, it falls just short of pure awesome. Dell nailed the spacing between keys, and the curved keycaps mold comfortably to your fingertips as you hammer out emails and documents. Plus, it sports a backlight! On the downside, the key travel is just a little too short for our tastes, and inherent to the 13.3-inch form factor, there just isn't room to squeeze in a numpad, not without squishing the other keys, anyway. Overall, Dell delivers a really nice typing experience

Our ports picture gives you a better glimpse of the tapered design that we touch on earlier. This allows the XPS 13 to remain relatively thin without giving up access to full sized ports towards the back, though it does rule out the inclusion of a built-in optical drive. With so much emphasis now on cloud computing, this won't be a problem for most users.

From left to right, you can make out the AC power port, USB 3.0 port with PowerShare, and the headset jack. Note that the USB 3.0 port is not color-coded blue, but it is indeed a SuperSpeed port.

Over on the right side is an LED battery gauge indicator that you can turn on or off, another USB 3.0 port without PowerShare (and also non-color coded), and a mini DisplayPort. It's a little curious (and disappointing) that there's no HDMI output, though at least the XPS 13 is Intel WiDi ready.

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