LAS VEGAS -- The first thing you'll notice about the Dell XPS 13, being shown here at the 2015 International CES, is the screen. It's at once small, and not: the 13-inch, 3,200x1,800 quad-HD display is tucked into a body that's almost too compact to contain it. Dell claims it's the smallest 13-inch laptop on the planet, and explains that its diminutive size is the product of lots of research and engineering wizardry -- much is explained by the nigh-invisible 5.2mm bezel that borders the screen.
It's a gorgeous screen, too. The 400-nit panel is bright, and Windows 8 looks stunning on the aforementioned quad-HD display. There is no 4K-resolution option; I was told that'd be overkill, depleting battery life and inflating the cost without adding much additional value. But it hasn't been ruled out entirely, so it's entirely possible we might see something in this design sporting a 4K resolution someday. The touchscreen model has a glossy coating, but if you omit touch you can opt for an anti-glare coating instead.
And then you'll pick it up: at 2.6 pounds it's just a bit lighter than Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air, and while Lenovo's 13-inch, 1.72-pound LaVie Z clearly has it beat in the weight game you certainly won't be disappointed here. Nor will you be disappointed by the build quality. The machine is thin -- 0.6 inch at its thickest and tapering down to 0.33 inch -- but sturdy.
I've had a few opportunities to handle the device, and while I was admittedly always within arm's reach of Dell representatives it effortlessly resisted my attempts to bend and flex it. The carbon fiber finish and anodized aluminum base look and feel fantastic -- there's no doubt that this is a premium product.
Keyboards and touchpads are always tricky to get right, but the XPS 13's input options don't disappoint. The touchpad is responsive, obeying every swipe without a fuss. The keyboard's chiclet-style keys are spacious and comfortable, and (more importantly) offer a satisfying amount of travel with every press. I'll need to spend far more time before I can render anything like a verdict on the typing experience, but color me impressed at first blush.
Dell claims its people saw up to 15 hours of battery life in their tests, and naturally, I wanted to know how that's possible. I was told that it's a combination of things: a proprietary lithium polymer battery and Intel's energy-efficient Broadwell processors helps, but that number was achieved on an entry-level model. That means no touchscreen and a 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution display, and not the quad-HD option.
I look forward to seeing how much staying power we can eke out of a unit with all of the trimmings, but for folks who aren't necessarily a fan of touchscreens and don't feel the need to spend extra for that higher resolution, that staying power will prove compelling.
So who's the XPS 13's target audience? Starting at $799, it's far pricier than something like the $250 Toshiba Chromebook 2, but well equipped to give pause to someone who might be considering a MacBook Air. And Dell isn't shy about admitting that the company is aiming directly at consumers who might be tempted by Apple's wares. It's a lofty goal, as Apple's laptops are popular with good reason. But the XPS 13 is undoubtedly a stunner, and if the performance can keep up with how good the machine feels -- something we'll find out in our tests -- Dell will have a real winner on its hands.