Review: Is Dell's XPS 13 The BEST Ultrabook?

Written by Tony Ibrahim     18/05/2012 | 02:05 | Category name i.e.HOME OFFICE

Dell's Ultrabook has some interesting design cues, but is that enough to separate it from the Ultrabook pack?

The XPS 13 adheres to the most basic of design philosophies: stay thin. Its allure derives solely from its slender proportions, standing just 6mm on its shortest end and rising no more than 18mm. The lid is only interrupted by Dell's own insignia, but other than that, it is a simpleton.

In fact, the XPS' base is more lively thanks to its carbon fibre casing and a metal plate that conceals barcodes, product keys and other notebook-relevant trivia. Carbon fibre is a rare material on notebooks, but it is less conducive of heat and contributes to the XPS' rigidity. In fact, picking this notebook up from the corner reveals no chassis flex.

A glance at its connection ports indicates how Dell kept this Ultrabook lean as it has the bare basics, including USB 3.0, USB 2.0, 3.5mm jack and a Mini DisplayPort. These connections have been distributed to both sides evenly, with the right side featuring an adorned button that triggers 5 LED lights, each one representative of 20% remaining battery life.

Opening the Ultrabook requires two hands as a one hand attempt will see it roll onto its hind legs, and with enough persistence, sit on its hinge. But, once the lid eventually parts with its base, you're greeted by an inviting interior, dressed predominantly in black. Weaving between the Chiclet keyboard and around the touchpad is a sumptuous black rubber that is comfortable and resilient to finger prints.

Typing on the keyboard feels natural and the backlighting dissipates across the board evenly. After a minute or so of no use it will automatically turn off, but it can be overridden (on or off) by pressing the aptly labelled function button. Better yet, the keyboard is border-line accident proof as it is resistant to spills.

For the most part, the 'glass integrated' touch pad is a pleasure to use and exercises precision with each motion. It's compatible with a vast variety of gestures - including a nifty program overview instigated by swiping four fingers upwards - and each one helps bridge the gap between using an Ultrabook and a PC. However, when surfing the web, scrolling has two speeds: fast and supersonic. The touchpad is too enthusiastic to scroll down a webpage and this makes it difficult to skim information—such as Facebook status'—with ease. Unfortunately this annoyance couldn't be hedged through some of the software settings.

The 13.3 inch screen has a 1,366x768 resolution and is coated by scratch resistant Gorilla glass. Sitting upright, the screen communicates vibrant colours that fluently contrast with shades of black, and coupled with the resolution, facilitates a pleasurable viewing experience. Unfortunately these colours quickly compromise as your viewing angle shifts.   

One of the admirable design attributes Dell has achieved with the XPS 13 is the fine bezel that frames the screen. Compared to rival offerings, it is significantly thinner and ensures the XPS 13 is not as wide.

Sound emanating from the XPS 13 is good enough to discern vocals in movies and YouTube clips, producing enough volume to render headphones unnecessary. Music playback is good - in fact it's better than most of its competitors - but deep lows and complex high notes do baffle the speakers and intermittently result in distortion. At the end of the day this Ultrabook will nobly produce audio, but don't expect too much from a device that stands 18mm tall.

Built into the tight enclosure is a non-removable 6 cell Li-Polymer battery which, according to Dell, can last just under 9 hours. To test its battery life, we set the brightness to auto, upped the volume and replayed movies back-to-back (while downloading in the background) until the battery ran flat. Under these conditions, the XPS 13 provided 4 hours and 24 minutes of continuous movie playback. However, our run-of-the-mill everyday sessions, characterised by the odd YouTube clip, music playback, intense web browsing and content creation, saw its battery life linger on for roughly six hours.  

Our review unit came equipped with an Intel Core i7 processor clocked at 1.7GHz, joined by 4GB of RAM, Intel HD 3000 graphics and a 256 GB solid state drive. Windows' Experience Index awarded it 5.8 out of 7.9 (the 5.8 score was owed to its graphics), but on a positive note its hard disk scored 7.9, while its processor scored a respectable 6.6.

We ran the XPS 13 through Cinebench's benchmarking software and the results were simply on par with its Ultrabook rivals. We'd like to reiterate gaming is not the intended functionality of Ultrabooks and, if you're after a dedicated gaming notebook, the XPS probably isn't the right product for you.

With this configuration, the XPS 13 will set you back $1,699, but if you stick to the intro core i5 processor running at 1.6GHz, it can be picked up for $1,399. In its market then, the XPS is a tad more expensive, but considering it comes with a solid state drive as standard and benefits from superior build quality, it is well worth the extra coin.

The Ultrabook market is rapidly populating with several iterations from each vendor. Whereas many models are homages to Apple's MacBook Air, Dell's XPS radiates individuality. It marries functionality with portability successfully - two attributes that are fundamental to the Ultrabook philosophy - and is an all-round star player. If you're after an Ultrabook, Dell's XPS 13 deserves a look. 

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Pros & Cons


Built from premium materials; Great keyboard; Slender design;


Few connectivity ports;