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Dell XPS 13-9350 review: A stylish slimline business workhorse with all-day battery life

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Written by Cliff Joseph on
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8.5

Dell XPS 13 (2015)

Excellent
$1,059 at Amazon
Like
  • Smaller than most 13-inch laptops
  • Weighs just 1.3kg
  • Sixth-gen Core i5 CPU delivers good performance
  • All-day battery life
Don't Like
  • Battery life falls short of Dell's 18-hour claim
  • Moderate 1,920x1,080 resolution on entry-level model
  • Thunderbolt 3 port requires adapters for HDMI/Ethernet
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

The low-power Core M processors that Intel released towards the end of 2014 allowed manufacturers to deliver laptops that were remarkably slim and light (not to mention expensive), such as Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro and Apple's revamped MacBook. However, these slimline laptops were lightweight in other areas too, and neither performance nor battery life were quite as impressive as hoped.

Business users who need desktop-level performance from their laptops will still tend to choose devices powered by faster Core i5 and Core i7 processors, and the arrival of Intel's sixth-generation (Skylake) processors means that many manufacturers are now releasing updated versions of existing systems, such as Dell's popular XPS 13.

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Dell's XPS 13 (Model 9350) is powered by a 6th-generation Core i5 (Skyake) processor and features a Thunderbolt 3 port.

Image: Dell

Edge to edge

Dell claims that the XPS 13 is "the smallest 13.3-inch laptop on the planet", its compact design being made possible by the InfinityEdge display. Despite the grandiose name, this simply means that the XPS 13's screen is an edge-to-edge glass panel with only the narrowest aluminium frame on the left and right sides.

It's a small detail but it makes a big difference, reducing the total width of the XPS 13 to just 304mm. In contrast, the similarly-priced 13.3-inch MacBook Air measures 325mm wide - a full 2.1cm wider - and the chunky border running around the MacBook Air's screen also looks rather dated these days. In fact, the XPS 13 is only 4mm wider than the 11-inch version of the MacBook Air, which is no mean feat, given Apple's obsession with 'thin and light'.

The XPS 13 is also fractionally slimmer and lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air, measuring 15mm thick and weighing 1.3kg, compared to 17mm and 1.35kg for the 13-inch MacBook Air. Dell's system is well-balanced, and you can easily pick the laptop up with one hand, even when the screen is open.

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The XPS 13's keyboard is backlit, with 14mm-wide keys. The touchpad features palm-rejection to prevent unintentional clicks when you're typing.

Image: Dell

The XPS 13 feels reassuringly sturdy too, with the aluminium cover providing firm support for the glass screen panel. The keyboard also feels firm and comfortable, with an attractive soft-touch carbon-fibre finish. However, the compact design means that the individual keys are just 14mm wide, which might be a little tricky for less nimble-fingered users. Our only other minor complaint is that the internal speakers sound rather thin. The volume levels are adequate for listening to some streaming video, but the lack of bass means that you'll probably prefer external speakers for presentation work, or simply listening to some music in the evening.

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Options & pricing

The XPS 13 that we tested had a full-HD screen resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (166ppi), delivering a bright, colourful image that worked well for streaming video, browsing the web and running apps such as Microsoft Word and Excel. That model starts at £849.00 (inc. VAT, or £707.50 ex. VAT) with a 2.3GHz dual-core Core i5-6200U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, although our review unit doubled the RAM and storage to 8GB and 256GB respectively for £949 (inc. VAT, or £790.83 ex. VAT).

There's also a 'quad-HD' model priced at £1,049 (inc. VAT, or £874.17 ex. VAT) that provides much higher 3,200 by 1,800 resolution (276ppi), as well as a 2.5GHz Core i7 processor. The quad-HD model also offers one final upgrade option, with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD bringing the total price to £1,399 (inc. VAT, or £1,165.83 ex. VAT).

The base of the unit is fixed in place with multiple small torx screws, but a small panel on the base did lead us to hope that it might be possible for users to upgrade the memory for themselves. Unfortunately, that panel simply opens to reveal the serial number and service tags, so there's little scope for user upgrades or repairs.

Thunderbolt & Skylake

The sixth-generation Skylake processor used in the XPS 13 achieved scores of 3,000 for single-core performance and 6,330 for multi-core performance when running the Geekbench 3 test suite. Those scores give it a slight edge over the 2,594 single-core and 5,570 multi-core results for the current MacBook Air, and the XPS 13 is more than adequate for running mainstream productivity apps such as Microsoft Office.

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Coming soon: USB Type-C to HDMI/VGA/Ethernet/USB 3.0 adapter (top) and Thunderbolt Dock (supporting three HD or two 4K displays).

Images: Dell

Dell has even stolen a march on Apple by equipping the XPS 13 with a brand new Thunderbolt 3 port, which provides data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps. Apple, of course, jointly developed Thunderbolt with Intel, but is still using Thunderbolt 2 (20Gbps) in most of its laptops. Somewhat confusingly, the physical connector for the Thunderbolt 3 port is actually a USB-C connector -- visually similar to that used in Apple's recent MacBook update, although the new MacBook only supports USB 3.1 (5Gbps), rather than Thunderbolt 3.

The XPS 13 also includes two standard USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader, but lacks both Ethernet for connecting to an office network and HDMI for attaching external monitors. Those omissions could be problematic for some business users, but Dell has announced plans for a portable Thunderbolt adapter that will include both Ethernet and HDMI, as well as a desktop Thunderbolt Dock that will allow you to connect two 4K displays (prices TBA).

Battery boast

Although Dell's marketing department seems to have got slightly carried away with its claim of 'up to 18 hours of battery life', the XPS 13 can still deliver a full working day's-worth of uptime when you're on the move.

Our initial battery tests reported a respectable 8.5 hours of battery life when streaming video with the integrated 802.11ac wi-fi, and a last-minute BIOS update from Dell added a full hour to that. That will certainly allow you to get a full day's work out of the XPS 13, and you could probably stretch it closer to 11 hours if you're not using the wi-fi all the time. However, it's a shame that Dell muddies the waters with such hyperbolic claims for the XPS 13. The battery isn't replaceable, but Dell does provide an external battery pack that claims to provide an additional 10 hours of battery life, albeit at a cost of £117.71 (inc. VAT, or £98.10 ex. VAT).

Conclusions

Exaggerated battery life claims aside, the XPS 13 is an attractively-designed and competitively priced Windows 10 laptop. There are slimmer and lighter systems available, but not at this price. The XPS 13's performance and battery life make it a good mobile workhorse for business users who need to run Microsoft Office and other productivity apps all day long.

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