Dell XPS 13 (2016) review: Powerful, light and well-made

dell-xps-13-2016-header.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent
  • $1,649.99

Pros

  • Intel 7th Generation (Kaby Lake) processors
  • Very good (although oversold) battery life
  • Slim and lightweight
  • Compact for a 13-inch laptop
  • Solid build

Cons

  • Rose gold chassis is an expensive option

A little less than a year ago ZDNet found the Dell XPS 13 to be a 'stylish slimline business workhorse with all-day battery life'. Dell has upped the ante with the 2016 model, bringing Intel's 7th Generation Core (Kaby Lake) processors into a mix of specifications that gives buyers plenty of choice.

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The XPS 13's screen fits into a compact chassis thanks to its thin-bezel InfinityEdge design. The thin top bezel means that the webcam is relocated to the bottom left corner.

Image: Dell

The XPS 13 is an ultraportable laptop that packs a 13.3-inch screen into a chassis that seems, on paper, to be too small for the job. The secret here is what Dell calls InfinityEdge which results in 5.2mm of bezel on the top and sides, and around 20mm along the bottom of the screen.

Compare this to the bezel on HP's EliteBook 1030 G1, which is referred to as 'near edge-to-edge', where we find a bezel measuring 5mm on the sides, 13mm at the top and 18mm along the bottom.

Overall, the XPS 13's chassis measures 304mm wide by 200mm deep by 9-15mm thick. Compared to a sheet of A4 paper, the XPS 13 is 7mm wider and 10mm shallower.

As well as being small,the XPS 13 is also lightweight: non-touch versions start at 1.2kg, while a touchscreen brings the starting weight up to 1.29kg.

This is a very tough laptop. The aluminium chassis is solid and I found it difficult to flex the screen between my hands. The Corning Gorilla Glass NBT touchscreen provides added strength and scratch resistance, and Dell emphasises the palm rest's carbon fibre construction, saying it has the strength of aluminium but is lighter, and feels cooler. I can attest to the cooler finish, and would add that its slightly soft, rubberised finish is also welcome.

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The 13.3-inch screen is available in touch and non-touch versions, at FHD (1,920x1,080) or 3,200 by 1,800 resolution. We reviewed the high-res touchscreen version.

Image: Dell

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The screen is superb, although it's reflective, which is a bit of an annoyance. However, the tiny bezel somehow makes it feel more pleasant to work on than screens that sit inside a wide, dark frame. My review unit had a resolution of 3,200 by 1,800 pixels (276ppi) and delivered fantastic detailing. Lower-resolution FHD (1,920 x 1,080, 166ppi) screens are also available.

The narrow upper bezel means the webcam has been relocated from the middle of the upper bezel to the bottom left corner of the screen, which has some usability consequences.

When positioned in my normal typing position, in the middle of the laptop, I found my head sat slightly right of centre in the webcam image. It didn't take much manoeuvring to get my head central -- I just had to learn to sit off-centre when using the camera.

Eyes were more of a problem. When the webcam is in its usual position, you seem to be looking ahead at your interlocutor. In this case looking ahead delivers the effect of staring off into the middle distance. Additionally, the camera's view is not head-on to full face, but angles upwards from the chin. If you're a regular video conferencing user you might want to check this out and make sure you're happy with it.

dell-xps-13-2016-keyboard.jpg

The keyboard is backlit and well set up for touch-typists, although the cursor keys are somewhat cramped.

Image: Dell

The keyboard has a slender Enter key and somewhat cramped cursor keys. The Fn keys are slightly narrower and somewhat shorter than the main keys, which those with stubby fingers might find a little tricky to use. To be fair, these compromises are down to the relatively small keyboard area, and the main keys are all well spaced and large enough to hit accurately.

The overall feel of the keys is slightly less robust than I like, but that's a matter of personal preference, and I was able to touch type at my normal speed. There's a keyboard backlight, which can be toggled through two brightness levels and turned off via a Fn key.

The trackpad is wide enough to take the cursor right across the width of the screen in one sweep, and was nicely responsive.

One of the star attractions of the 2016 Dell XPS 13 is Intel's 7th generation (Kaby Lake) processor, which should contribute towards battery life (see below). But don't expect to use this laptop for intensive graphics work: the GPU is upgraded to Intel HD Graphics 620, but, like other CPU-integrated graphics, it's no substitute for a dedicated graphics chipset.

Our review sample ran a 2.7-3.5GHz Core i7-7500U with 8GB of RAM, and there are also Core i5 options in the lineup. Indeed, there are no fewer than 11 different configurations of the new XPS 13 available on Dell's UK website. One of the reasons for this is the option for a rose gold chassis.

For example, my review unit most closely matched the model retailing for £1,329 (inc. VAT, or £1,107 ex. VAT). That model is identical to the £1,299 (inc. VAT, or £1,082 ex. VAT) version apart from its rose gold chassis colour -- it looks great, but does add a fair bit to the price.

Compared to the £1,329 model, our review unit had the benefit of an upgrade from the Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro. In fact, there are no Windows 10 Pro versions available off the page, although you can opt for Ubuntu Linux.

SSD storage capacity across the 11 off-the-page configurations ranges from 128GB to 1TB; our review sample had 256GB.

dell-xps-13-2016-side.jpg

The XPS 13 has USB 3.0 ports on each side, plus a USB-C Thunderbolt port, an SD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack. An optional USB-C adapter provides HDMI, VGA, Ethernet and further USB 3.0 connectivity.

Image: Dell

Ports and slots are the same as on last year's model, in the same places (on the left and right edges). There are two USB 3.0 ports, one on each edge and one with PowerShare. There's also a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm headset jack.

Depress a small button on the left edge and up to five tiny white LEDs illuminate to indicate the remaining battery charge. This is very useful for determining whether a recharge is required before leaving the home or office, without having to boot up the laptop. I don't understand why this feature isn't more common.

So, what about battery life? Last year we found that the XPS 13 would manage an 8-hour working day on battery power, which was fine, except that Dell claimed up to 18 hours for the 2015 model.

For the 2016 model, Dell claims up to 22 hours of use if you're working with the lower-resolution FHD display. The main product page is unforthcoming concerning the 3,200-by-1,800 display, but elsewhere I found a quote of up to 13 hours for the high-res screen and a Core i5 processor. With a Core i7 and the high-res screen, we can assume that the theoretical battery life is closer to 13 hours than 22.

During testing I worked pretty much non-stop for five hours using a range of online services, depleting the battery to 70 percent in the process. On that basis, a full 8-hour day plus an evening's work should be achievable, which is what business users probably want to know. Still, Dell should be much more explicit about battery life expectations across different configurations at its primary public-facing point of contact -- the product web page.

Conclusions

The 2016 Dell XPS 13 is a superb ultraportable laptop. Powerful, light and well-made, it's available in a range of standard configurations, each of which can be further customised. The rose gold finish seems an expensive luxury, but the choice is yours.

Dell should be more up front at its main web page about the differences in battery life expectation between configurations. Still, we found that a full working day and more is achievable from our high-end review unit, which combined the highest screen resolution and most powerful processor.

If you're in the market for an ultraportable, Dell's new XPS 13 is a good choice. You might also want to check out HP's EliteBook 1030 G1.

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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Bundled Services 1 Year Dell Mail-In Service
Operating System Windows 10 Home 64-bit Edition
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i7 (8th Gen) 8550U / 1.8 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 4 GHz
Number of Cores Quad-Core
Cache 8 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
Cache Memory
Installed Size 8 MB
RAM
Memory Speed 1866 MHz
Configuration Features provided memory is soldered
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Installed Size 16 GB LPDDR3 1866MHz
Rated Memory Speed 1866 MHz
Storage
Interface PCIe
Memory
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Speed 1866 MHz - 1866 MHz
Display
Resolution 3200 x 1800 (QHD+)
Widescreen Display Yes
Monitor Features 72% color gamut, Infinity Edge display, UltraSharp, Wide Viewing Angle
Type LCD
Touchscreen yes
TFT Technology IPS
Diagonal Size (metric) 33.705 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation QHD+
Environmental Parameters
Humidity Range Operating 10 - 90% (non-condensing)
Hard Drive
Type SSD
SSD Form Factor M.2
Capacity 256 GB PCIe Solid State Drive
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel UHD Graphics 620
Memory Allocation Technology shared video memory (UMA)
Sound Stereo speakers, array microphone
Audio Codec Realtek ALC3246
Features MaxxAudio
Input
Type keyboard, touchpad
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Wireless Controller Killer Wireless-AC 1535 - M.2 Card
Features Miracast
Processor
CPU Type Core i7
Processor Number i7-8550U
Generation 8
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 4.0 GHz
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Battery
Capacity 60 Wh
Cells 4-cell
Technology lithium ion
Card Reader
Type 3 in 1 card reader
Supported Flash Memory SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, SDXC UHS Memory Card
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 45 Watt, 19.5 V, 2.31 A
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces USB 3.0
USB 3.0 with PowerShare
USB-C Gen2/Thunderbolt 3/DisplayPort
Headphone/microphone combo jack
Memory Card Reader 3 in 1 (SD Card, SDHC Card, SDXC UHS Card)
Header
Brand Dell
Product Line Dell XPS
Model 13 9360
Packaged Quantity 1
Miscellaneous
Color silver
Case Material aluminum
Features Noble lock slot, battery life Indicator
Included Accessories power adapter
Theft/Intrusion Protection security lock slot (cable lock sold separately)
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Interface (Bus) Type M.2 Card
Wireless NIC Killer Wireless-AC 1535
System
Notebook Type notebook
Platform Windows
Hard Drive Capacity 256 GB
Monitor
Diagonal Size 13.3 ” QHD+ (3200 x 1800) InfinityEdge touch display
Image Brightness 400
Dimensions & Weight
Width 12 in
Depth 7.9 in
Height 0.6 in
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Environmental Standards
ENERGY STAR Certified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 2.84 lbs
Power
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Windows 10 Home 64-bit English
Type McAfee LiveSafe (12 months subscription), Microsoft Office (30 days trial)
Video Output
Graphics Processor Intel UHD Graphics 620 with shared graphics memory
Graphics Processor Series Intel UHD Graphics
Video Memory
Memory Allocation Technology shared video memory (UMA)
Input Device
Backlight Yes
Interfaces
USB-C Ports Qty 1
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Full Contract Period 1 year
Shock & Vibration Tolerance
Shock Acceleration (Operating) 140 g
Shock Duration (Operating) 2 ms half-sine pulse
Shock Acceleration (Non-operating) 160 g
Shock Duration (Non-operating) 2 ms half-sine pulse
Vibration Acceleration (Operating) 0.66 g
Vibration Frequency Range (Operating) RMS (random)
Vibration Acceleration (Non-operating) 1.3 g
Vibration Frequency Range (Non-operating) RMS (random)

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Dell XPS 13 Touch Laptop -DNCWTR753H

Part Number: DNCWTR753H

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