Dell XPS 13 (2020) review: A top-quality ultraportable gets even better

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  • Editors' rating
    9.0 Outstanding

Pros

  • Compact and light, yet durable
  • Superb minimal-bezel 13.4-inch screen
  • Responsive keyboard
  • Webcam above the screen
  • Multiple configuration options

Cons

  • Short on ports
  • Moderate audio quality

The new 2020 version of the Dell XPS 13 is a premium ultraportable laptop with a starting price of £1,399 (inc. VAT; £1,165.83 ex. VAT), rising to £1,799 (inc. VAT; £1,499.17 ex. VAT) as the features are piled on. In the US, the price range is $1,199.99-$2,149.99. Back in 2018 I found the Dell XPS 13 near-perfect, so it's a very hard act to follow: how does the latest model measure up?

Given that mid-range laptops can handle everyday computing needs with relative ease, premium ultraportables are an increasingly hard sell. A top-end system needs to get design, battery life, screen and keyboard quality, and internal features spot-on while shoehorning everything into the smallest possible chassis for the screen size on offer.

In terms of design, Dell is bang on here. The XPS 13 (2020) is small and extremely light. The starting weight of 1.2kg for units without a touch-screen and 1.27kg for touch-screen models like my review unit isn't quite as close to the 1kg mark as some might like, but Dell is forgiven for this because the aluminium chassis is very solid. I couldn't bow the lid in my hands at all, and the palm rest was rigid under pressure too.

My review unit had a silver lid and black interior, with the signature woven carbon fibre composite patterning to the palm rest that lends it both a distinctive appearance and a non-slip feel. There is also a silver (lid) and white (palm rest) version of the XPS 13 (2020).

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The 13.4-inch XPS 13 (2020) runs on 10th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 CPUs with integrated UHD Graphics or Iris Plus Graphics. Screens are available with FHD+ (1920x1200) or UHD+ (3840 x 2400) resolution.

Image: Dell

Dell is doing its bit to avoid environmentally unfriendly materials in the build, and says 90% of this laptop is recyclable. The ethic is extended to the packaging, which is 100% recyclable. One day all laptops will at least meet this standard, and many more should be publicising credentials like this today.

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Left side (top): USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 and MicroSD card. Right side (above): USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 and 3.5mm audio in/out.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The XPS 13 (2020) will just about hide under a pad of A4 paper, as it measures just 296mm wide by 199mm deep. It's thin too, being just 14.8mm at its thickest point, tapering towards the front. This thinness means there's minimal space for ports and connectors, and all you get is a pair of USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, one on each side, with a MicroSD card slot on the left and a 3.5mm headset jack on the right. Either of the USB-C ports can be used to charge the battery, and Dell provides a USB-C to USB 3 converter in the box. Don't look for a SIM card slot on this ultraportable though: there's no mobile broadband option for the XPS 13.

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The 13.4-inch screen sits in a surround that's as close to bezel-free as I have seen. Dell does not give bezel measurements for its Infinity Edge display, but does quote a 91.5% screen-to-body ratio. Even the bottom bezel, which can often be relatively large in minimal-bezel laptops, is impressively small here, and I measured the side bezels at around 3mm.

The screen in my review unit was a touch panel with 3,840-by-2,400-pixel resolution (UHD+, 338ppi). There are also non-touch and 1,920 x 1,200 (FHD+, 169ppi) options. All of the XPS 13 (2020) screens have 500-nits brightness and some are anti-reflective, some anti-glare. I found the screen on my high-end review unit to be very responsive to touch and pin-sharp in viewing, if somewhat reflective. 

The audio subsystem delivers plenty of volume, but the stereo speakers are lacking in bass tones. It's fine for work-based video calling (a necessity at the current time), but if you want to use your laptop for either work presentations or catch-up video viewing, you may need an external speaker, or to look elsewhere.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)

On the subject of video calling, we're pleased to see that Dell has relocated the webcam to the small bezel above the screen -- a welcome move from its position beneath the screen in the previous version, which delivered a less-than-flattering 'up the nose' camera angle unless the laptop was raised up on a stand or a pile of books. A sliding privacy cover would be a nice touch, but sadly Dell doesn't include one. There's also an infrared camera for Windows Hello login, or you can use the fingerprint scanner that's neatly disguised in the on/off button that sits in the top right corner of the keyboard.

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The keyboard is backlit, responsive and comfortable to type on at speed. It's also relatively quiet.

Image: Dell

The backlit keyboard has an extremely light touch, and the keys have the nice bounceback I find conducive to fast touch-typing. The action is about as close to silent as it gets, with just a slight 'thunk' sounding as each key is used. If you work in quiet environments, you'll appreciate this. The comfortable wrist rest houses a large and responsive touchpad that worked faultlessly during the review period.

There are no fewer than 11 preconfigured iterations of the XPS 13 (2020) available off the page. All run on 10th generation Intel Core processors and include Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5, but they vary considerably in other specifications -- some even running Ubuntu Linux. As usual with Dell, you can mix and match specifications to customise the configuration.

Here are the entry-level and top-end off-the-page models:

  • Intel Core i5-1035G1, Windows 10 Home, 13.4-inch 1,920 x 1,200 non touch screen, Intel UHD Graphics, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD
    £1,399 (inc. VAT; £1,165.83 ex. VAT)
  • Intel Core i7-1065G7, Windows 10 Home, 13.4-inch 3,840 x 2,400 touch screen, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD
    £1,799 (inc. VAT; £1,499.17 ex. VAT)

My review unit was the top-of-the-range Core i7/16GB RAM/1TB SSD model with the high-resolution touch screen. Not surprisingly, this performed very well when running my usual mainstream productivity workloads.

The 52Whr battery performed pretty well, too. In one five-hour stint involving writing into a web app, streaming music and watching the occasional video, the battery went from 95% to 57%, depleting 38% of its capacity. This suggests a total figure of around 12.5 hours. I left the screen at the default brightness setting for this test, which was just a shade below 50%, but in everyday usage I'd want this at closer to 60% for comfort in my home office. This would reduce battery life, as would heavier-duty workloads. If this is likely to be a problem, consider opting for the lower-resolution FHD+ screen, which will demand much less from the battery.

Conclusions

Lack of ports and connectors on the XPS 13 (2020) will be an issue for some people, and the relatively poor audio quality may also rankle. Battery life may also be an issue with the high-resolution display if you turn up the brightness and/or run demanding workloads.

In all other respects this is a superb top-flight ultrabook: it's compact and portable, yet durable, and it's fast, with a great screen and an excellent keyboard. You'll have to spend a fair amount over the base price to get a high-resolution touch screen and more than 512GB of SSD storage though.

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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Bundled Services 1 Year Hardware Service with Onsite/In-Home Service After Remote Diagnosis
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i5 (10th Gen) 1035G1 / 1 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 3.6 GHz
Number of Cores Quad-Core
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Intel Smart Cache, Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
Cache Memory
Installed Size 6 MB
Storage
Interface PCIe
RAM
Memory Speed 3733 MHz
Configuration Features provided memory is soldered
Technology LPDDR4X SDRAM
Installed Size 8 GB
Rated Memory Speed 3733 MHz
Memory
Technology LPDDR4X SDRAM
Speed 3733 MHz
Environmental Parameters
Humidity Range Operating 10 - 90% (non-condensing)
Display
LCD Backlight Technology WLED backlight
Resolution 1920 x 1200 (WUXGA)
Widescreen Display Yes
Image Aspect Ratio 16:10
Monitor Features 35 ms response rate, 60 Hz refresh rate, anti-glare, ±85° horizontal viewing angle, ±85° vertical viewing angle
Type LED
Diagonal Size (metric) 33.96 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation WUXGA
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel UHD Graphics
Memory Allocation Technology shared video memory (UMA)
Sound Stereo speakers, dual array microphone
Hard Drive
Type SSD
SSD Form Factor M.2 2280
Capacity 256 GB
Hard Drive Features NVM Express (NVMe)
Input
Type keyboard, touchpad
Communications
Wireless Protocol Bluetooth 5.0
Wireless Controller Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Processor
CPU Type Core i5
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 1 GHz
Card Reader
Type card reader
Supported Flash Memory microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC
Battery
Capacity 52 Wh
Cells 4-cell
Technology lithium ion
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 45 Watt, 20 V, 2.25 A
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces 2 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 2/Thunderbolt 3/DisplayPort 1.4 (Power Delivery)
Headphone/microphone combo jack
Memory Card Reader Yes (microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC)
Header
Brand Dell
Product Line Dell XPS
Packaged Quantity 1
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 5.0, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac Wave 2, IEEE 802.11ax, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Miscellaneous
Integrated Options Lid-open sensor
Security Fingerprint reader
Compliant Standards BFR-free, PVC-free
Included Accessories USB-C power adapter
Monitor
Diagonal Size 13.4 in
Image Brightness 500 cd/m2
System
Notebook Type thin and light
Platform Windows
Hard Drive Capacity 256 GB
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Dimensions & Weight
Width 11.6 in
Depth 7.8 in
Height 0.4 in
Audio Output
Compliant Standards High Definition Audio
Environmental Standards
ENERGY STAR Certified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 2.88 lbs
Power
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Windows 10 Home 64-bit Edition
Type McAfee LiveSafe (12 months subscription), Microsoft Office (30 days trial)
Video Output
Graphics Processor Series Intel UHD Graphics
Video Memory
Memory Allocation Technology shared video memory (UMA)
Input Device
Backlight Yes
Interfaces
USB-C Ports Qty 2
USB-C Features USB Power Delivery
Comment Power Delivery
Shock & Vibration Tolerance
Shock Acceleration (Operating) 110 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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