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Dell XPS 13 (2016, Gold Edition) review: The laptop with the golden touch

This updated Dell XPS 13 is colored gold and has a high price to match.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

5 min read

Picking the perfect portable laptop can be a trying task for both head and heart (and wallet). Some sentimental longtime favorites, such as the 13-inch MacBook Air, are still good general-purpose laptops, but with each year that goes by, the design gets older, and features fail to keep up with the times. Slick hybrids like the Lenovo Yoga 900 are powerful, slim, and play at the tablet game, too, but you'll pay for the privilege of folding the screen all the way back. Even the new Razer Blade Stealth manages to nail a lot of functionality for a decent price, but the gamer-centric design skews toward Call of Duty players.

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8.3

Dell XPS 13 (2016, Gold Edition)

The Good

This updated XPS 13 has a stunning nearly edge-to-edge high-res display, and an upgraded processor and graphics.

The Bad

This gold edition is very expensive, and battery life isn't as good as some other 13-inch laptops. The touchpad is tricky to use for some multitouch gestures.

The Bottom Line

The excellent Dell XPS 13 series gets a high-end upgrade in this gold edition with improved performance, but also a high-end price to match.

Shoppers are stuck between choosing based on price, features, or design -- and generally speaking, settling on two out of those three is the best one can hope for. The Dell XPS 13 came close to nailing the perfect formula last year, with an eye-catching barely there screen bezel, decent power, and a sub-$1,000 starting price in the US. But, that entry-level model skipped the touch screen, a must-have feature for a premium Windows laptop (while the more expensive touchscreen model also had less battery life).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Despite this, the XPS 13 became one of our favorite 13-inch class laptops, and the recent 15-inch version (naturally called the XPS 15) impressed with its own large screen and minimal bezel.

Rather than continuing to try squeezing out features to hit a more mainstream price, the latest version of the XPS 13 takes a more premium approach. The processor is a current-gen Intel Core i7, paired with 8GB of RAM and a big 256GB of solid-state storage. The touchscreen display has a very high 3,200x1,800-pixel native resolution, and the same very narrow bezel (Dell calls it the Infinity Display) that made last year's original such a standout. Graphics get an upgrade, too, adding the Intel Iris GPU, which isn't as good as having a discrete graphics card from Nvidia or AMD, but is a big step up from standard laptop fare.

Finally, as if to drive home all the premium features and upgrades, the aluminum outer shell is now gold-colored. And it's got a price to match, topping out the XPS 13 line at $1,649 in the US.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Yes, it's a premium price (for example, we've even seen some Oculus Rift-ready gaming desktops for less), but the gold XPS 13 has a great design, a fantastic keyboard, and even more than one year later, no one else has come close to matching the striking no-bezel look. If it's just too expensive, dropping the gold design, downgrading to a Core i5 CPU and losing the Iris graphics gets you down to a much more reasonable $1,399 configuration.

Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition)

Price as reviewed $1,649
Display size/resolution 13-inch 3,200 x 1,800 touchscreen
PC CPU 2.2Ghz Intel Core i7-6560U
PC memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz
Graphics 128MB Intel Iris Graphics 540
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)


Going for the gold

While the gold chassis is a selling point, the look is actually rather muted in person. It's gold-ish, rather than bright and in your face. It's also not the first time we've seen this in a laptop, as gold hues are available as an option in the Apple MacBook and LG Gram, although it's still rare. Still, it's a nice break from the usual silver/gray look of most laptops, just don't expect it to read as especially bling-y.

Color aside, this new update doesn't stray much from the original. It's still a wedge-shaped laptop with a wide touchpad and generous keyboard, with enough ports and connections to keep most users happy. New is a USB-C port, used for data and video, but not power (other systems such as the 12-inch Apple MacBook and Razer Blade Stealth also use USB-C for power).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Just as it the original XPS 13 did, this system has a relatively small footprint -- largely because there's no thick border around the display. The end result is that the XPS 13 has smaller dimensions than a MacBook Air, Lenovo Yoga 900 or Microsoft Surface Book, while weighing just about the same, 2.8 pounds (1.27kg) in this case. That makes the XPS 13 feel a little heavy when picked up, because you're packing the same weight into a smaller volume of space. Plus, recent lightweight laptops such as the Razer Blade Stealth and Lenovo LaVie have really spoiled me when it comes to laptop weight.

The keyboard is miles ahead of the especially shallow ones on the Razer, LaVie, 12-inch MacBook and other superslim laptops, with a deep, satisfying click, a strong backlight and full-size versions of the shift, tab, and other vital keys. The touchpad is a good size, but, as in the original XPS 13 and the recent XPS 15, there's a floating quality to it that annoys me more every time I use it. Using a two-finger scroll too frequently accidentally reads as a pinch-to-zoom request, and the pad itself moves almost imperceptibly under your finger before actually registering a click -- which makes very precise tapping difficult at times.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The excellent screen makes up for it, however. The 3,200x1,800 resolution is close enough to 4K to satisfy most high-res needs, and with the display going nearly to the edge of the outer shell, it really stands out. Touch response is excellent, and the bright image doesn't wash out, even from side angles.

Faster than ever

Most of the similar laptops we've tested have a current-gen Intel Core i7-6200U or 6500U processor (the "U" indicates it's a low-voltage chip that uses less power, but also isn't as fast as the CPUs in larger laptops). The high-end Dell steps up to Core i7-6560U, which helps it beat the Razer Blade Stealth, most-recent MacBook Air, and other laptops in our performance tests.

The Iris graphic chip here -- a name used to denote Intel's higher-end integrated GPU -- works fine for high-res video and some basic gaming, but isn't going to turn this into a portable PC gaming rig. Less demanding newer games, like The Witness, worked fine at low detail settings and 1080p resolution.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life was better than I expected, but not fantastic. The new gold XPS 13 ran for 6 hours, 12 minutes in our streaming video battery test, which is acceptable but not especially impressive. The Lenovo Yoga Y900 ran for almost two hours longer, and the MacBook Air for almost twice as long. A very high-res screen always has an impact on battery life, so consider a 1,920x1,080 display if you need an all-day laptop.

Conclusion

The XPS 13 line remains one of our top picks for a 13-inch laptop, because of its striking display, overall solid design and a good set of high-powered features at a reasonable price. This new-for-2016 update offers tweaks both inside (newer CPUs, Iris graphics) and out (the snazzy-looking gold color), but the super-premium price makes it a much tougher sell when there are so many excellent laptops in this category from $1,000 to $1,200 or so.

Yes, you can have your gold laptop, but you've got to really want it.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition) 466Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 505Razer Blade Stealth 515Lenovo Yoga 900 586HP Envy 13 626
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)


Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition) 7,236HP Envy 13 6,931Razer Blade Stealth 6,874Lenovo Yoga 900 6,713Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 5,672
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance



Streaming video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 608Lenovo Yoga 900 422HP Envy 13 358Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition) 312Razer Blade Stealth 192
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)



System Configurations

Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2HGz Intel Core i7-6560U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Graphics 540; 256GB SSD
Razer Blade Stealth Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5HGz Intel Core i7-6500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1024MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) Apple Yosemite OSX 10.10.2; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5250U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1536MB Intel HD Graphis 6000; 128GB SSD
HP Envy 13 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 128GB SSD
Lenovo Yoga 900 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5HGz Intel Core i7-6500U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 512GB SSD
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8.3

Dell XPS 13 (2016, Gold Edition)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Battery 7
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