The Dell XPS 13 has been one of my favorite laptops since the company first revamped the line with a near-edgeless display and super-slim design in 2015. And like Apple and its MacBooks, Dell has decided to offer incremental, but meaningful updates to the XPS 13 over the years.
Which brings us to the latest incarnation of the Dell XPS 13. Available starting at $999, the 2018 version of the XPS 13 includes a thinner display bezel, improved performance, realigned webcam and, most noticeable of all, a beautiful rose gold and white color combination to compliment the current silver and black offering.
Dell’s clearly got a winner on its hands, and when it comes to the competition for your cash, this notebook comes out on top.
Dell’s latest XPS 13 is the first to be made available with a rose colored chassis and white keyboard deck, for an extra $50, of course. The styling has received rave reviews around my office, save for the white keyboard deck and palm rest, which at least one coworker found off-putting.
The reason you don’t see many white palm rests is because they tend to stain easily. To ensure the XPS 13’s palm rest stays clean, Dell manufactured it with woven glass fiber. I’ve had the notebook for a few weeks, and haven’t noticed any stains from things like sweat, oil, food or drinks, which would typically accumulate on my laptops’ palm rests.
(Ed.’s note: That’s gross.)
Outside of its new color scheme, the updated XPS 13 trims about 0.14 inches off of last year’s model, making it one of the thinnest 13-inch laptops on the market. In fact, the XPS is slimmer than all of Apple’s (AAPL) MacBooks, as well as Microsoft’s (MSFT) Surface Laptop and Surface Pro with that device’s keyboard attached.
In reality, though, the weight and thickness of most modern laptops have reached a point where you won’t notice much of a difference between one or the other. It’s more about bragging rights now than anything else.
Since its debut, the redesigned XPS 13’s claim to fame has been its near-edgeless InfiniteEdge Display. For 2018, Dell went even further in its attempt to make the laptop’s bezels disappear by shrinking them by 23%. I didn’t notice the change at first sight, but if you’ve got a 2017 or older model, you should see the difference.
The base model XPS 13 comes with a 13.3-inch, non-touch, 1,920- x 1,080-pixel resolution panel. You can, however, upgrade that to a 13.3-inch, 4K touch screen panel with a 3,840- x 2,160-pixel resolution. The Surface Pro comes with a 12.3-inch, 2,736- x 1,824-pixel display, while the Surface Laptop gets a 13.5-inch, 2,256- x 1,504-pixel screen.
Apple’s MacBook features a 12-inch display with a 2,304- x 1,440-pixel resolution. The MacBook Pro gets 2,560- x 1600-pixel panel. All of these screens, with the exception of the base XPS’s, are more than crisp and sharp enough for everyday users and photo editors.
The one notebook that falls short is the MacBook Air, which is still rocking with an ancient 1,440- x 900-pixel resolution screen. Going from my trusty Air to any of these other laptops is always a shock when I see how their screens compare with Apple’s offering.
Colors look absolutely stunning on the XPS 13, thanks to its 1,500 to 1 contrast ratio, which makes blacks look infinitely deep. Even desktop icons pop on this display. Especially dark shows like “Stranger Things” also look fantastic, but you do end up seeing reflections in the panel.
There’s just one problem with the XPS 13’s screen: it messes with the position of the laptop’s webcam. With such a small bezel, there’s no place for Dell to fit a webcam above the display. With older models of the 13, Dell moved the webcam just below the bottom left corner of the panel. Naturally, that resulted in whoever you were talking to getting a weird look up your nose.
For 2018, however, Dell centered the bezel below the screen. It makes for a slightly better experience, but anyone you talk to is still going to get a great view of your nostrils. And forget about typing while using the webcam. Unless you recently got a manicure, you’re not going to want the person you’re chatting with to get an up-close look at your nail beds.
Power and battery life
My review unit came with an Intel (INTC) Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage space, a 4K touch screen, and handled all of my daily tasks with ease. I ran Chrome with 20+ tabs, streamed Spotify and was chatting on Slack and didn’t run into any issues. For the kind of power this XPS is packing, it would be more of a story if it did have a problem handling any of those simple processes.
For 2018, Dell said it managed to increase the XPS 13’s power by improving its internal heating system. It now uses Gore Thermal Insulation and a dual fan and dual heat pipe setup to help move heat away from the processor and graphics chip. Doing this allows the XPS 13 to maintain stable performance levels longer than competing devices.
But don’t expect to do things like play the latest and greatest games on the XPS 13 at their highest settings, though, as it only packs an Intel graphics chip. I managed to fire up “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” but the graphics were so low that every characters’ head looked like it was covered in individual pixels rather than hair.
If you really want to get your game on, you can plug an external graphics card into the XPS via its USB C port, and get gaming. Naturally, that requires you have a graphics card and adapter readily available, but it can be done.
The XPS 13’s battery was also a solid performer. I worked through my entire workday, eight hours or so, without having to worry about the machine giving up the ghost. That said, the XPS’s 4K display does eat through power faster than the standard 1080p screen, so make sure to take that into account when configuring your system.
Pricing and the competition
At its base price of $999, the XPS 13 comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a 1080p, non-touch display. 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is small potatoes in today’s world, though, so I’d recommend moving up to the $1,199 model to get 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
If you’re itching for more power you can get a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $1,399. If you want that sweet 4K display, you’ll have to add an additional $400. And if money is no object, you can get an XPS with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a 4K display for $2,299.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro is slightly more expensive in each of its configurations thanks to the fact that you’ll need to spend an additional $130 on a keyboard cover to use the device as a laptop. The Surface Laptop, on the other hand, starts at $799 with a much less powerful processor. For $899 you can get a similar configuration to the base Dell XPS 13, but you’ll also have to upgrade the machine from the Windows 10 S operating system it comes with to full Windows 10 for $49.
You’ll end up spending slightly less on the low- to mid-range Surface Laptop, but you don’t get that 4K display found on the XPS 13. And when you push the Surface Laptop’s specs to match the top-of-the-line XPS, you end up paying $2,699.
On the Mac side of things, a base MacBook Air starts at $999, but comes with a fifth-generation Core i5 processor. That’s three generations behind the processors available with the Dell. You do get 8GB of RAM for that $999 price, but with the older chip and lower resolution screen, it’s not really a bargain. What’s more, Apple is rumored to be updating the Air in the spring, so it’s probably not worth buying the Air until we find out more about Apple’s plans.
The MacBook, for its part, starts at $1,299 with a less powerful Intel m3 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. You’re basically paying for the MacBook’s slender frame and sleek design, but that’s a lot to ask. Jump up to a Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD and you’ll pay $1,399.
Apple’s MacBook Pros all start at higher prices than the XPS, with the base model coming in at $1,299. But the Pros are designed for use by professional video and photo editors and pack a heck of a performance punch, so it makes sense that they’d cost more.
Should you get it?
The Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows 10 laptop in terms of overall value and looks. It’s also less expensive than Apple devices, which makes it a solid option even for Mac fans. If you’re in the market for a new PC, and don’t mind its odd webcam placement, the new Dell XPS 13 is easily a top pick.
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