For a while now I’ve known I would need to buy a powerful yet extremely portable device as my tablet and phone wouldn’t meet future needs for typing and working on the go. So for the past six months I’ve been doing my homework to find an ultrabook or two in one that would get the job done at work and graduate school. I made my final decision a few weeks back and last weekend I went down to my local Microsoft Stores to buy the Dell XPS 13 Signature Edition Laptop with a Core i7 processor and 256 GB of storage.
This edition of the laptop is listed online at $1,599 but there is a $100 discount at their brick and mortar locations. I’ll be writing a full review after I’ve used it as my primary device over the next few weeks but I wanted to give a quick first impressions.
The Dell XPS 13 made a splash at the 2015 CES because of the incredibly thin bezel for its infinity display. And because of this bezel, the engineers at Dell were able to pack a 13.3 inch laptop display into the form factor of an 11 inch ultrabook. As with any new and sleek ultrabook with good first impressions, the first question asked is could it be a Macbook Air or new Macbook killer?
I won’t get into a whole Apple vs PC debate in my full review as I feel at the end of the day, regardless of the newest Apple and PC hardware you are comparing, it’s a question of what better suits your needs, the Apple ecosystem and Apple’s Continuity, or the promise of Windows 10, universal apps, and Windows Continuum. That’s a personal preference of software and I’m going to keep this to a hardware focused review. However, in my full review, I will detail why I chose the Dell XPS 13 over a number of other ultrabooks and two in one devices.
The size is definitely the first thing that impresses you as you take it out of the box. Before you even open up the clamshell, the dimensions of the XPS almost make you wonder for a second could there even be a 13.3 inch display in there? When you do open it there isn’t the least bit of disappointment. At first it is almost surreal to be looking at a laptop with nearly no borders around the display but after the first few minutes of use that surreal feeling quickly changes to a feeling why would I ever want a laptop that has a bulky border.
For a tablet or two in one with a detachable keyboard, I don’t think you would not necessarily want something with such a thin bezel as you need something to grab onto. But for a traditional clamshell laptop form factor, I no longer think you can make a convincing case of why to keep that bulky overhang around the display when the primary purpose of an ultrabook is to be compact with not an inch wasted.
The model I purchased comes with an UltraSharp QHD+ infinity touch display with a resolution of 3200x1800 in a 16x9 aspect ratio. The colors are rich and crisp, even reasonably so when I drop the brightness below 50% to preserve battery. I wasn’t sure the touch display was necessary at first but I am completely convinced it’s a great feature. It has become an intuitive value add as I found a new appreciation for Windows 8.1’s ease to navigate with a touch screen. I also found the touchscreen very useful after installing the technical preview of Office 2016, which is touch friendly.
There are two notable downsides to the display. First, there is a reflective glare, more so than with other laptops I’ve used, which is most likely because of the Corning Gorilla Glass that protects the display. Secondly, as always, more pixels requires more power from the battery. But I find the glare acceptable and I’ll get into the issue of battery life later.
The build quality is exceptional. The smooth and sleek styling of the aluminum shell doesn’t feel slippery in your hands and has a nice clean finish that is beyond what Dell has produced in the past. Below is a picture of the XPS next to my HTC One (M8) for Windows to give a sense of scale on how slim the body is.
The carbon fiber interior makes for a nice palm rest with again adding to the overall impressive look of this thin machine while ensuring strength and rigidity.
The Signature Edition of the Dell XPS I purchased comes with an i7-5500U processor that runs at 2.4 GHz with a potential to boost up to 3 GHz under load. For memory it has 8GB of pretty standard DDR3 1600MHz of RAM and for storage it has a 256GB SSD drive with 3 in 1 SD card reader if you need extra room. So far the performance has been phenomenal as it boots to Windows in a little over 10 seconds. It is also quick and responsive even when simultaneously running a browser with a dozen tabs, a few Office applications, and Xbox Music. I look forward to stress testing it and running some benchmarks to see specifically how it compares to the rest of the field and handles my normal workload.
While both the Microsoft Store and Dell boast that the XPS gets 15 hours of battery life, so far in my first few days of use I’ve experienced about half of that. Granted I have the Core i7 version, which will draw a little bit more power because of the processor’s higher clock speed, and the 3200x1800 touchscreen is going to draw a lot of juice as well. And I know it’s pretty common for manufactures to overstate expected battery life because they have their own unrealistically minimal stress testing.
However, overstating it by nearly double is excessive. I would be upset by the overstatement if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t need more than 7 hours of battery life at a time before I can get to my charger or hook it up to an external battery. If I had to guess, the overstated battery claim was probably a sticking point in a memo from the marketing department to help position the XPS 13 as a Macbook killer.
So far everything about the XPS 13 impresses me, from the QHD+ display with a minimal bezel, to the keyboard and trackpad, to the speed from the Core i7 and SSD storage. If you are looking for a top of the line Windows ultrabook this laptop should definitely be on your short list.
I look forward to putting it under working conditions and making sure it can help me through everyday workloads and stresses while I’m on the go. Look for my full review in the coming weeks and feel free to post any questions you may have about the XPS 13.