Dell XPS 13 review: A high-end ultrabook that hits all the marks

The all-matte-black interior is minimalist, with only a large clickpad-style touch pad and Dell's standard island-style laptop keyboard. The backlit keys have the slightly exaggerated rounded corners we've seen on the last few generations of Dell laptops, and typing is pleasantly quiet. Your only complaint might be about the half-height row of Function keys, or that the more useful functions of those keys, such as brightness or volume control, require you to also hold down the Fn key to access.

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The part we're most excited about in the new XPS 13 is the 13.3-inch display. Last year's version bumped the display from 1,366x768 pixels to a more appropriate 1,920x1,080, but without touch. Now, we finally have a full-HD display with touch, making it much easier to use with Windows 8. The screen is also bright with great color, and looks good even from very wide viewing angles. However, the edge-to-edge glass overlay is very glossy and picks up plenty of glare from nearby light sources.

Dell XPS 13
Video Mini-DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0
Networking Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery
Maybe it's the smaller chassis, but it seems like Dell had a hard time fitting in the standard set of ultrabook ports and connections. The nearly universal SD card slot is missing, and you only get a mini-DisplayPort video output, not the more common HDMI. You can forget about Ethernet as well.

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Our $1,349 configuration includes an Intel Core i5-4200U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. for most users that's more than enough power. Trading down to a Core i3/4GB RAM configuration for $1,049, but you also lose the touch screen, which doesn't sound like a great deal for more than $1,000. For a Core i7 CPU and big 256GB SSD, it's an extra $300.

In our benchmark performance tests, the XPS 13 performed very well, even beating the most recent 13-inch MacBook Air in some tests, although the margins were close enough that you're unlikely to notice a real-world difference among current high-end Core i5 ultrabooks.

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Battery life is a much more important number for a very portable system such as this. The XPS 13 ran for a very impressive 8:27 in our video playback battery drain test. That's not MacBook Air numbers, but it compares very favorably with other premium 13-inch ultrabooks from HP, Acer, and Samsung. Note that the original 2012 XPS 13 ran for about 4.5 hours on the same test, and the 2013 version ran for about 5.5 hours.

Conclusion
To give credit where it is due, Dell corrected the main issue we had with the last version of the XPS 13. It's still on the expensive side of what this particular set of components should cost, but keep in mind the aluminum/carbon fiber body is excellent, and the actual footprint is noticeably smaller than other 13-inch laptops.

For the first time, we can say that the Dell XPS 13 has earned a place among the best high-end 13-inch ultrabooks.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

HandBrake multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Dell XPS 13 (Fall 2013)

Part Number: FNCWP1238S
    MSRP: $1,299.99 Low Price: $1,599.99 See all prices

    Quick Specifications See All

    • Resolution 1366 x 768 ( HD )
    • Installed Size 8 GB
    • Color machined silver
    • Weight 2.99 lbs
    • Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 4000
    • CPU Intel Core i5 (3rd Gen) 3337U / 1.8 GHz
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