Dell XPS 13 9370 (2018) review: A superb small-format laptop, with one drawback

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  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent

Pros

  • Superb screen
  • Extremely small and light
  • 8th-generation Core processors
  • Up to 1TB SSD

Cons

  • Awkwardly located webcam
  • USB-C expansion only
  • Expensive

This latest version of Dell's XPS 13 has some hard acts to follow, including the 2-in-1 version of the XPS 13 I reviewed last year -- which itself followed on from earlier iterations that had all impressed. It's hard to lead from the front, so what has Dell done to refine what was already a top-notch laptop -- apart from moving to 8th generation Intel Core processors?

Dell's ambition with the XPS 13 has always been to put a powerful laptop inside a small chassis, and to make the resulting hardware light and portable. That has always been achieved, and here the aim is more about refining previous benefits rather than doing anything radically different.

So, the outward appearance of the Dell XPS 13 9370 is very recognisable.

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The 2018 XPS 13 has almost identical dimensions and weight to its predecessor and a minimal-bezel screen that results in a suboptimal camera placement, beneath the screen. The new model is powered by 8th-generation Intel Core processors.

Image: Dell

The first version of the XPS 13 was lauded as the world's smallest 13.3-inch laptop. This was followed by an updated model with an InfinityEdge screen bezel measuring 5mm on the sides, 13mm at the top, and 18mm along the bottom. Later came the XPS 13 2-in-1, which was lighter and slimmer than its predecessors, measuring 302mm by 199mm by 11.6mm, and weighing 1.2kg. The new XPS 13 9370 matches these dimensions almost exactly, the only difference being a starting weight of 1.21kg.

Dell has managed to reduce the screen bezel even further, bringing it to 4mm on the short and top edges. All of this is remarkable, although this design's one drawback remains: minimal bezels mean that the cameras -- for video calling and Windows Hello -- have to sit beneath the screen. The resulting unflattering 'up the nose' view may be enough to put frequent video-call users off this laptop. That's a shame given the XPS 13's many good points.

The machined aluminium chassis is sturdy and tough. I was able to flex the lid a little, but not enough to worry about, and the base is very tough. I'd certainly be happy carrying this laptop in a bag without a protective sleeve.

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The 2018 XPS 13 adds a model with a rose-gold lid and a white wrist-rest area.

Image: Dell

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The brushed silver finish to the lid is reasonably attractive, and is coupled with a hatched finish on the carbon fibre palm rest. It looks very similar to last year's 2-in-1 model. For those who want something a little more stand-out there is an option with a rose gold lid and a white glass-fibre palm rest.

As ever with Dell laptops there are multiple configurations available. Not all screens are touch-responsive and getting that feature is an upgrade on the entry-level price. At the starting price the screen resolution is 1,920 by 1,080, but this rises to 3,804 by 2,160 in some models -- including my touchscreen review unit. Watching video on this screen is an absolute pleasure; the near bezel-free surround is a boon to anyone who places a premium on multimedia.

Moreover, it isn't necessary to ratchet up the brightness to get the best out of this laptop. I found the default 40 percent setting for working on battery perfectly adequate.

Sound output is great too. Speakers sit on the left and right edges of the base, where they can propel sound outwards to deliver reasonable stereo effects. Listening to music and watching a movie were all satisfying, although there is a little distortion at top volume.

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Image: Dell

The keyboard is a pleasure to use. The keys are large, and very well sprung. There's barely any click when they are pressed, which means working in a quiet environment won't annoy other people. The trackpad is wide to match the screen's aspect ratio, and is smooth under the fingers and responsive. There's a two-level backlight that's easily managed on a Fn key.

The power key looks a little strange: it's an unmarked circle sitting top right of the keyboard that incorporates a fingerprint sensor. It's an unusual setup, but it works well enough, and is a great way to minimise visual clutter. A similarly minimal approach has been taken with the battery charge light on the chassis; it sits, glowing white while the laptop is charging, on the front centre edge of the chassis, unobtrusive but useful.

In another neat touch, there's a battery power indicator on the left edge of the chassis. Press a tiny button with your fingernail and up to five lights illuminate to let you know how much charge remains. If only all laptops had such a user-friendly feature.

Minimalism also extends to the laptop's connections: there are two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt and one with PowerShare, plus an audio jack and a MicroSD card reader.

Preconfigured versions of this laptop all run either Windows 10 Home or Ubuntu Linux, on Intel's 8th generation Core i5-8250 and Core i7-8550U processors. You can have either 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB of RAM, with SSDs ranging between 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. My review configuration married a Core i7-8550U CPU with 16GB of RAM, a 3840-by-2160-pixel touchscreen, a 512GB SSD, and Windows Home, and its list price is £1,699 (inc. VAT; £1,415.83 ex. VAT).

See also: New equipment budget policy

Battery life is very good. In one sample session I used the laptop in everyday conditions -- writing, browsing, and streaming -- for five hours and depleted the battery to 56 percent. This was on its recommended battery power mode, tweaked so that the screen never went off, and with the screen brightness set to 40 percent. On this basis, with my real-world usage pattern, all day computing on battery power is certainly a possibility.

The power brick is relatively small and light, so carrying it is not too much of an additional weight burden.

Conclusions

The latest incarnation of the Dell XPS 13 is a very impressive laptop indeed. I'd go as far as to say it is currently the best small-format laptop I've seen. The near bezel-free screen is sharp, bright and a pleasure to view, and sound output impresses too. The keyboard is beautifully weighted, and battery life impresses.

The only thing that would put me off is the camera location: I'd sacrifice some upper screen bezel for it to be moved there.

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