XPS Perfected

Dell XPS 13.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The modern XPS 13 as we know it began four long years ago when Dell showed off  the XPS 13 9343. Its ultra-thin bezel and slim chassis instructed the designs of XPS 13 notebooks that followed. The latest version of the XPS 13 was unveiled at CES 2019, and though it looks similar to its predecessors, Dell has made some minor but no less important improvements that advance the XPS 13 and puts it in a league of its own.

If you use the web camera often, you will be very happy to learn that Dell has repositioned it. It is now at the top above the display where it always ought to be. Amazingly, the bezel remains super thin at just a smidgen over 5mm. How did they achieve this? By engineering a tiny camera module that is just 2.25mm thick. It’s not perfect, however, because this tiny camera module does not work with Windows Hello. Fortunately, if typing passwords annoy you, you can use the power button which has an integrated fingerprint reader.

The other big changes happen under the hood. The latest XPS 13 is powered by Intel’s newest 8th generation Whiskey Lake processors. Like any new processor, Intel promises greater performance and power efficiency with these new Whiskey Lake processors. But wait, wasn’t last year’s XPS 13 also powered by 8th generation processors? Yes, you are right, but last year’s processors were based on Kaby Lake R. It’s all very confusing and you can blame Intel for this mess.

And the last change is a new colorway called Frost that joins the existing Rose Gold and Platinum Silver colorways. With the new Frost finish, you get a white chassis with the same arctic white woven glass fiber palm rest as last year’s rose gold model. It does look nice, but it’s really just a fancier way of saying white.

The rest of the XPS 13 is unchanged. It still has an InfinityEdge screen with almost non-existent bezels with a choice of either a Full HD display or a 4K display with touchscreen capability. As you would expect from Dell, the display is great with nice vibrant colors and adequate brightness in almost all situations. Thickness is unchanged at 11.6mm and so is the weight at 1.23kg.

Also unchanged are the keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard has nicely sized keys and a good weight and feel to it. The trackpad, on the other hand, is possibly the weakest link in the entire package. It is responsive and accurate but it is also one of the smallest you will find on a 13-inch ultra portable notebook. This makes scrolling through long documents and webpages a real pain.

Performance is generally very good. The model we tested was the top of-the-line one with a 4K touchscreen display, Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. In our tests, it was consistently one of, if not the best performer. Graphics performance was particularly impressive. It won’t beat notebooks with discrete graphics chips, but it managed to eke out the more performance from Intel’s integrated GPU than its rivals and that’s something. Battery life was impressive too, especially because it has a 4K display which tends to be power hungry. It lasted 4 hours and 21 minutes, one of the longest for notebooks of its class.

If you define perfection as the best that something can possibly be, then, yes, I would argue that this new model is “the” XPS 13. You could nitpick if you want, but bearing in mind the limitations of present-day technology, I think Dell has done a very commendable job. The camera has finally been moved to the right position, build quality remains class-leading, and both performance and battery life are very good. My only gripe is with the small trackpad, but that’s mostly a consequence of the XPS 13 having a small footprint more than anything else.

The best thing is that the new XPS 13 is actually cheaper. Starting prices are lower and so are the prices of the top-of-the-line models such as the one tested here.

My Reading Room
The web camera module is just 2.25mm thick.
My Reading Room
The XPS 13’s trackpad is accurate and responsive but also too small.
My Reading Room
The new XPS 13 is faster, better designed, longer lasting, and cheaper too. If that’s not progress, we don’t know what is.
My Reading Room
My Reading Room