Dell XPS 13 9310 review: Still the Windows 10 ultraportable to beat

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  • Editors' rating
    9.0 Outstanding

Pros

  • 11th generation Core i7 processor
  • High-resolution (4K+/UHD+) IPS touchscreen
  • Good CPU and GPU performance
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Slim but solid build

Cons

  • Only two (Thunderbolt 4) ports
  • Lid is tricky to open
  • No mobile broadband option
  • Battery life could be better

Last year ZDNet gave the mid-2020 version of Dell's 13.4-inch XPS 13 a glowing (9/10, 'Outstanding') review, and chose it as the best laptop for knowledge workers requiring an all-round combination of design, features, performance, battery life and usability. How to improve on that? The latest 9310 model doesn't make any radical changes, merely updating the Intel Core processors to the latest 11th-generation (Tiger Lake) and adding a variant with a 3.5K OLED touchscreen. 

We looked at a Core i7 model with a 4K+/UHD+ IPS touchscreen, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. 

The XPS 13 9310 remains an excellent ultraportable, but of course there's plenty of competition in the 13-inch space -- not only from Windows-based rivals, notably from Lenovo and HP, but also from Apple's M1-based MacBook Pro and MacBook Air

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Dell XPS 13 9310: Now with 11-generation Intel Core processors and Iris Xe Graphics.

Images: Dell

Design 

Design-wise, the XPS13 9310 looks identical to last year's model, with a compact footprint (295.7mm wide by 198.7mm deep) and a slim profile (14.8mm at the back, tapering towards the front). The weight, as before, ranges from 1.2kg for non-touch models up to 1.27kg for variants with a touchscreen. 

My review unit had a silver aluminium chassis and a black carbon fibre composite material surrounding the keyboard and touchpad. This has a woven finish and is attractive, tactile and durable. There's a second colour option: 'Frost' on the outside, arctic white on the inside. 

I have only a minor criticism of the XPS13's design, which is that it's slightly awkward to open. There's no indent on the keyboard section at the front (as you find on a MacBook, for example), so it's hard to get a purchase between the lid and keyboard sections with your finger – especially as the hinges are solid (as they should be). Otherwise, it's stylish and compact, and the build quality is excellent. 

Features 

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As noted above, the major change in the XPS 9310 is the upgrade to 11th-generation (Tiger Lake) Core processors with integrated Iris Xe Graphics. In the US you can get preconfigured variants with Core i3-1115G4Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1185G7 processors, starting at $949 (Core i3, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, FHD+ non-touch display) and rising to $1,799 (Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, UHD+ IPS touchscreen). Different configurations offer different customisation options for the screen (touch, non-touch, IPS, OLED) and SSD (up to 2TB), but RAM doesn't go above 16GB. 

In the UK, prices start at £1,064 (inc. VAT) for a Core i5 model with 8GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and an FHD+ non-touch IPS display, rising to £1,949 with a Core i7, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a UHD+ IPS touchscreen. My review unit, just to be awkward, ran on a Core i7-1165G7, which no longer appears to be available in either the UK or the US. 

The screen has minimal bezels (hence Dell's InfinityEdge branding), resulting in a claimed screen-to-body ratio of 91.5% -- although our measurement puts it at (a still-impressive) 88.7%. The 720p webcam, which sits in the top bezel, supports Windows Hello facial recognition but, unlike some rivals, doesn't have a privacy shutter. Biometric authentication is also available via the fingerprint reader, which is integrated into the power button in the top right corner of the keyboard. 

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The minimal-bezel InfinityEdge screen comes in FHD+ (1920 x 1200), 3.5K (3456 x 2160, OLED) or 4K+/UHD+ (3840 x 2400) resolutions.

Image: Dell

My review unit had the highest-resolution display available -- 4K+/UHD+ (3840 by 2400 pixels, 338ppi). The IPS touchscreen, which is protected by Gorilla Glass 6, offers 500 nits maximum brightness, is certified for DisplayHDR 400, and supports 100% of the sRGB colour gamut and 90% of DCI-P3. Despite an anti-reflective coating, it's moderately shiny, but I wasn't troubled by reflections during testing in my home office, where a 60% brightness setting was perfectly adequate, even near a window. Although the 13.4-inch screen isn't large, its 16:10 aspect ratio gives some extra depth compared to a 'consumer' 16:9 device when you're working with documents or spreadsheets -- although not as much as a 3:2 screen, as found on Microsoft's Surface Laptop 4, for example. 

You don't expect an ultraportable to be overburdened with ports and slots, but even so, the XPS 13 9310 has a fairly minimal – if up-to-date – selection: two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, one on each side (either of which can charge the 52Wh battery), a MicroSD card slot on the left side and a 3.5mm combo audio in/out jack. For wireless connection, there's Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 and Bluetooth 5.1, but no mobile broadband option. 

Performance 

My Core i7-1165G7/16GB RAM/512GB SSD review unit felt snappy in general use, especially when running typical knowledge-worker workloads such as document creation/editing, spreadsheets and photo editing. Graphics performance, powered by Intel's integrated Iris Xe Graphics, was creditable too, and a distinct improvement on the Iris Plus Graphics in the previous-generation model. 

However, CPU performance, as measured by the cross-platform Geekbench 5 benchmark, doesn't match Apple's pace-setting M1 SoC, lagging 18% behind on single-core and 57% behind on multi-core scores. 

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Chart: ZDNet

The XPS 13 acquits itself better in the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test, where its Iris Xe Graphics propel it to 101fps compared to the M1 MacBook Air's 85fps. Bear in mind, though, that the MacBook Air was running this test using Rosetta 2 translation rather than as a native M1 app. 

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Chart: ZDNet  

To get an overall picture of the XPS 13 9310's performance, we turned to PCMark 10, which delivers an overall score along with subsidiary scores for different types of workload -- Essentials (app start-up, web browsing, video conferencing), Productivity (writing, spreadsheets, photo editing) and Digital Content Creation (video editing, rendering & visualisation). Here are the XPS 13's scores alongside those that PCMark recommends as a 'good' score: 

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Chart: ZDNet  

Dell's ultraportable clearly exceeds the recommendation in all categories, making it a particularly suitable platform for knowledge workers. It will handle moderately graphically demanding applications too, but power users and creators will need to look elsewhere. 

Battery life 

Battery life for the previous-generation XPS 13, based on a Core i7-1065G7 with a 4K+/UHD+ screen, came in at about 12.5 hours on a diet of mainstream productivity workloads. 

SEE: Windows 10 Start menu hacks (TechRepublic Premium)

With a similar mix of workloads – periodic runs of PCMark 10, some idle time with Wi-Fi on, and some media streaming – we recorded battery life of just under nine hours. Screen brightness was set at 50% and the default power plan ('Dell') was applied. All-day battery life may be possible with the high-resolution display, depending on what you're doing, but only just. If this is a problem, you may want to look at a model with a lower-resolution FHD+ (1920 x 1200) screen.

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The XPS 13's backlit keyboard has a high-quality feel and a positive action. Note the power/fingerprint reader button in the top right corner.

Image: Dell

Usability 

Once performance and battery life are taken care of, a laptop's usability largely revolves around its screen and keyboard, and the placement of its ports. We've covered the high-resolution, minimal-bezel 4K+/UHD+ IPS touchscreen, which is a pleasure to work with, and much the same can be said of the keyboard. 

The keyboard is backlit, toggled via a key in the Fn row, and has a high-quality feel and a responsive action, without being too loud in operation. We're used to heaping deserved praise on Lenovo's ThinkPad keyboards, but this is up there with the best of them. There will always be some aspects of a laptop's key layout that irritate people, at least until they get used to it; here it may be the location of the power/fingerprint sensor in the top right corner, which edges the Delete key one space to the left. The touchpad is a decent size, and works well too. 

Laptop speakers used to be something of an afterthought, but no more. With more remote workers spending time on video calls, and needing to relax with streaming media during downtime, a good audio subsystem is a must for a usable laptop these days. The XPS 13 9310 delivers plenty of volume given the compact chassis, although bass is inevitably less rich compared to systems with more physical volume to work with. The bundled MaxxAudio Pro software gives you the controls to make the most of the audio subsystem. 

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XPS 13: Also available in white.

Image: Dell

Conclusions 

Dell's XPS 13 has long been a highly regarded ultraportable, and the Intel Evo-branded 9310 version, based on 11-generation (Tiger Lake) Core processors, is no different. It's not perfect, though: there's a trade-off to be made between screen resolution and battery life, CPU performance has been overtaken by Apple's M1 SoC, and there are one or two minor usability niggles.

Overall, though, the Dell XPS 13 9310, like its predecessor, gets an 'Outstanding' recommendation from ZDNet.

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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i7 (11th Gen) 1165G7
Max Turbo Speed 4.7 GHz
Number of Cores Quad-Core
Cache 12 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Intel Smart Cache, Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
RAM
Configuration Features provided memory is soldered
Technology LPDDR4X SDRAM
Memory
RAM 16 GB (provided memory is soldered)
Technology LPDDR4X SDRAM
Speed 4267 MHz
Environmental Parameters
Humidity Range Operating 10 - 90% (non-condensing)
Display
Widescreen Display Yes
Image Aspect Ratio 16:10
Monitor Features 35 ms response rate, Infinity Edge display, Wide Viewing Angle, anti-glare, anti-reflective, ±85° horizontal viewing angle, ±85° vertical viewing angle
Type LCD
Diagonal Size (metric) 34 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation WUXGA
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel Iris Xe 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 512 GB
Hard Drive Features Class 40, NVM Express (NVMe)
Input
Type keyboard, touchpad
Communications
Wireless Controller Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Processor
CPU Type Core i7
Manufacturer Intel
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 (supports Thunderbolt 4, DisplayPort 2.0 Alt Mode) (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 IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11ax, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Miscellaneous
Color silver
Case Material aluminum, carbon fiber
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 512 GB
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Dimensions & Weight
Width 11.6 in
Depth 7.8 in
Height 0.6 in
Audio Output
Compliant Standards High Definition Audio
Environmental Standards
EPEAT Level EPEAT Gold
ENERGY STAR Certified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 2.65 lbs
Power
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Windows 10 Pro 64-bit Edition
Type McAfee (12 months subscription), Microsoft Office 365 Personal
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)