Dell XPS 13 (2018) review

IF THERE’S ONE THING Dell knows how to do, it’s how to make a good laptop. Its XPS line, which stands for Xtreme Performance System, dates way back to the early 90s when the US company launched the product family to focus on corporate customers rather than consumers.

Now representing the company’s fastest and most powerful business laptops, it’s still going strong, and probably for good reason.

The original Dell XPS 13 was released back in 2015 when it claimed to be is the smallest 13in notebook in the world thanks to its ability to squeeze a 13.3in screen into the size of a typical 11in notebook chassis. Now it’s back, complete with updated innards and a lovely new white colour option (which unfortunately wasn’t available for us to review).

We’ve been using Dell’s latest XPS 13 for the past few weeks to see how exactly the device has improved over the last iteration, and if it stays true to the success of its many predecessors.

The design of the new XPS 13 is quite something. It boasts a substantial improvement over its predecessor, with Dell claiming that it’s the first company to use woven glass fibre in a laptop to achieve an “alpine glass weave”. It might sound like nothing but marketing crap, and upon close inspection, you’ll probably still think it is. However, it does offer a nice soft texture as well as a subtle differentiator over the last iteration. It also doesn’t pick up smudge marks as much as previous versions, we’ve noticed.

The subtle waffle effect is only visible on the inside of the chassis once you’ve popped the lid, might we add. On the outside, it’s made from quality aluminium, which gives it a very solid, premium feel. It is also said to possess a titanium oxide coating to offer a pearlescent sheen while being UV and stain-resistant. You can’t see this in real life, but it’s nice to know it’s there, nonetheless.

One thing you’ll notice about the case though is that it isn’t super slim. Measuring 11.6mm, it’s slightly more streamlined than before, shaving off 3.4mm in thickness compared to its predecessor and weighing in at 1.2kg, but compared to some of its rivals, it could be much much thinner.

However, it’s impressively compact considering its high-end specifications. We were expecting a bulkier design due to its powerful dedicated GPU, so for a desktop replacement, it is fairly slender, fitting nicely into a rucksack to carry to and from work.

Overall, Dell has made good use of high-quality materials and the XPS 13 impressed us with its design and’ build. It feels well-made and has a high-quality finish, and as a result is a pleasure to work on. Or play on, for that matter.

One of the first points we should make is that the Dell XPS 13’s keyboard is backlit, which makes typing in dark conditions much easier. In general use, we found that the keys have good travel, allowing you type rapidly with ease.

Unlike some other laptops we have tested recently, the XPS 13’s keyboard registered all keystrokes really well due to its well-spaced layout, so although it’s bigger than many of its rivals, it’s a nifty little device to type efficiently on.

As you’d expect, the Dell XPS 13 has a touchpad for cursor control. This took a little while to get used to, as it didn’t work as easily as we hoped, even for the simplest tasks. This is because the mouse button keys don’t always register a command, as the touch pressure required to register a click is rather stiff.

Made from a soft touch material, the trackpad feels different to on previous XPS device. This is a good thing, though, as it appeared to recognise most commands well, unlike that found on the Dell XPS 15, for example.

One annoying thing about the XPS 13’s keyboard is that the Page Up and Page Down keys are too close to the arrow keys, so we found ourselves hitting these instead when wanting to navigate down a line on a word document, for example. After a few weeks of use, we still hadn’t gotten used to it. 

It’s good to see that the shortcut keys offer essential shortcuts to the most used functions, however, such as the media playback and volume keys, as well as screen brightness and display switching.

The Dell XPS 13’s illuminated InfinityEdge display, which now scales in resolution from full HD (1920×1080) all the way up to Ultra HD 4K (3840×2,60), is one of its best features. Our review model was the 4K edition with touch capability.

The screen is simply marvellous. It’s vibrant and clear, and colour reproduction is great, with everything appearing incredibly rich. Movies, in particular, are dreamy to watch on this machine.

The screen’s bezels have been slimmed-down compared to the earlier editions, too, with Dell managing to squeeze a 13in InfinityEdge display into an even slimmer 11in frame. In short, it’s one the most impressive screens on a Windows 10 machine yet. 

If we were forced to be pedantic, the XPS 13’s glossy screen does tend to reflect direct light any chance it gets, although we’re aware the display quality would suffer if Dell had opted for a matte screen finish. Brightness levels are brilliant, however, and we were even able to work on the XPS 13 outside, albeit not in direct sunlight.

On the inside, the Dell XPS 13 packs Intel’s latest 8th-generation Core i5 or i7 processors, which are offered with a choice of 4GB, 8GB or 16GB RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage. Our review device was at the top of this spectrum, boasting a Core i7 8550U Intel CPU running at 1.8 and 1.99GHz alongside 16GB RAM and 500GB of SSD storage.

Dell said that with these updated innards, its new XPS 13 laptop offers twice the grunt of the 2015 model thanks to better power management. This, it said, has been achieved with a new thermal design of the laptop, which uses Gore thermal insulation for better heat dissipation. There’s also a ‘dynamic power mode’ that intelligently delivers maximum power when needed, while carefully monitoring system temperatures.

But how does that translate to real-world use?

In our tests, the Dell XPS 13 handled Windows 10 efficiently with no lag when swiping between pages, and programs popped up almost as soon as we clicked on them. It also handled everything we threw it at with ease, probably due to the new superfast Intel processor.

Online HD video streaming also proved effortless, something that some Core i5 laptop models can sometimes struggle with. From a cold start, the XPS 13 took on average around 20 seconds to get to the Windows login screen and just under a minute to restart completely to the same point.

According to Dell, you’ll manage to squeeze 20-hours of battery life out of the laptop on full HD, but this’ll drop to 11 hours in 4k Ultra HD mode

In our experience of using the XPS 13 daily, we’d have to say we were quite disappointed with the performance of its battery life.

Yes, it has a very high-resolution screen that is 4K in quality and its impressive set of internal components that take a lot of power, but with intermittent use – and with the brightness level set to medium – the laptop only lasted for around five or so hours. Much less than the 11 promised by Dell for 4K use.

Connectivity and storage
The Dell XPS 13 offers an optional fingerprint scanner, an IR camera with Windows Hello support and an array of connections, including two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a microSD card reader, USB-C input with DisplayPort support and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

It would have been nice to have at least one full-size USB port but we understand this was to keep thickness levels down. And there is  a USB-A to Type-C conversion dongle provided, but this is really irritating to have flapping around when you’re taking the XPS 13 with you on the go.

On the connectivity side, the XPS 13 offers 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth. It’s also worth noting that the XPS 13 has an HD webcam and microphone set below the screen this time around for video calls.

The Dell XPS 13 we reviewed has a 512GB SSD drive. Though this is plenty for all your storage needs, such as movie files, games, software and photographs, the speed of the SSD, as mentioned in the performance section, makes the XPS 13 consistently fast and doesn’t pull down the startup speed of Windows 10 like an HDD would.

In Short
We are (and always have been) big fans of the Dell XPS line-up, and the 2018 model is no exception. We loved the soft-yet-strong design of this newest version, and it’s impressive how Dell has managed to stuff such high-end specs into such an impressively compact design.

Although the Dell XPS 13 is by far one of the best laptops we have tested in a long time, it’s let down by its disappointing battery life performance, meaning it’s perhaps not the best device for those who like to work on the go.

Another caveat is the price. Starting at just less than £1,300, the XPS 13 doesn’t come cheap. Nevertheless, if you’ve got the cash to spare and you’re looking for a portable powerhouse, the XPS 13 is a great option. If it wasn’t for the battery life, we think the XPS 13 would have been a force to be reckoned with this year. µ

The good
Great performance, excellent design, amazing keyboard, out of the world display.

The bad
Disappointing battery life.

The ugly
The price.

Bartender’s Score 

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