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Dell XPS 13 (2018) review: A redesign that's almost on the nose

Before you even ask, yes, the otherwise excellent new Dell XPS 13 still has its up-the-nose webcam.

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
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Dan Ackerman
Joshua Goldman
6 min read

Update: Summer 2018

The redesigned 2018 Dell XPS 13 was unveiled in January 2018 and released that same month. Pricing is unchanged since its launch, starting at $1,000. Although midrange configurations have seen temporary price cuts around $100, the top-end configuration keeps its price of $2,100 (or $2,150 if you opt for the white-and-gold version).


Dell XPS 13 (2018)

The Good

The new XPS 13 body is smaller, with better internal cooling and a sharp-looking all-white interior. The nearly bezel-free screen still looks great and there's a fingerprint reader hidden under the power button.

The Bad

The system's biggest quirk, a below-the-screen webcam, remains. Touch isn't standard, and most of the ports have been replaced by USB-C.

The Bottom Line

With a new design that catches up to the competition, Dell's XPS 13 remains one of the best all-around 13-inch laptops, but everyone's biggest gripe remains unchanged.

Touted as "the world's smallest 13-inch laptop," the XPS 13 is our top choice for a premium Windows ultraportable laptop at its size, due in part to its speedy performance and 12-hour battery life. That's not to say it's without competition, though. 

HP's premium Spectre 13 is similarly priced and, like the XPS 13, runs on the Intel's eighth-gen processors and is available in a gold-and-white body. HP also updated its Envy line of premium laptops including a 13.3-inch model that starts at $1,000. Asus offers a nice alternative to those models with its 13.3-inch Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN. It's not as small, but beats them both by having discrete graphics instead of less-powerful integrated graphics. 

As for Apple, there haven't been any significant changes to its lineup in some time, so if you're dead set on having a MacOS laptop, you'll want to hold off.  

The best 13-inch laptops you can buy right now

The full review of the Dell XPS 13, originally posted March 7, 2018 and last updated June 22, 2018, follows.

Long a favorite in the CNET Labs, the Dell XPS 13 was one of the first laptops to challenge the tyranny of the screen bezel. At least in a PC. Big-screen TVs have been shaving away at the thick borders around screens for years now, but for laptops, it was something of a revelation.

It also helped that the XPS 13 was a great all-around computer, with a slim, sharp-looking body, good performance and battery life, and a wide set of configuration options.

In the couple of years since then, the XPS 13, always a bit on the heavy side, had started to feel a little dated. New MacBooks , new Spectre systems from HP and other premium competitors were moving the ball further on design, even as this remained a solid, if less-exciting choice.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For 2018, Dell has issued a substantial reworking of the XPS 13, with a new design that cuts down on overall size, adds new CPU options, and improves cooling and efficiency with more heat pipes and thermal insulation.

We tested two different configurations of the XPS 13. One has an 8th-gen Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1,920x1,080 non-touch display, for $1,249. The second has a Core i7 CPU/16GB/512GB setup, with a 4K touch display, for $2,099. The least-expensive configuration is $999, less than half the fare of the high-end version. International configurations are slightly different, but start at £1,249 and AU$2,099. 

Overall, it's a solid evolutionary step for a storied laptop. Most of the changes are for the good, a few feel like step back, and a couple of the system's most irritating quirks remain, annoyingly, unchanged. 

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5, 2018)

Price as reviewed $1,299
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 1,920x1,080 display
CPU 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8520U
Memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2018)

Price as reviewed $2,099
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 3,840x2,160 touch display
CPU 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U
Memory 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

The nose knows

Those quirks include the single biggest issue everyone has with the XPS 13: its unique up-the-nose webcam. By making the screen bezel so thin, there's no room for the traditional webcam above the screen. That's OK with me, but our age of YouTube stars and Skype calls insists that every laptop have video capabilities, so that webcam has to go somewhere.


The webcam (still) sits below the screen. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Despite an all-around makeover of the physical design of the system, the camera remains stubbornly anchored to the blank expanse below the screen. That means any attempt to use it results in a less-than-flattering view, emphasising one's neck, chin and nostrils.

Unless, that is, you're attempting to type while you Skype. In that case, it's some giant fingers in the foreground, with your nostrils stuck in the background.


A view from the nose-cam on the Dell XPS 13. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

If you're a regular video chatter, this may be a deal-breaker. As someone who does more typing and reading than chatting, I've been willing to overlook this particular quirk of the XPS 13, although this would have been a perfect opportunity to reimagine the layout, as some PCs now offer webcams that pop up from the top of the screen, or even from under the keyboard.

A touchy subject

Also high on my agitation list, the lower-end of two configurations of the XPS 13 we tested is missing a key feature found in nearly every even vaguely semi-premium laptop (aside from MacBooks) -- a touchscreen. According to the configuration options available on Dell.com right now, only the optional 4K display offers touch, which drives the starting price up to at least $1,599. Not only does that mean a touch-enabled laptop will cost a lot more, the 4K resolution also means a hit to battery life. You may not use a touchscreen on a Windows 10 laptop every day, but it's a feature that belongs in this price range, and anyone under a certain age practically expects every screen to be a touchscreen.

You'll also pay extra for the cool-looking new Alpine White woven glass fiber design. That's an additional $50, and includes a rose gold lid. Otherwise, you're getting a silver lid with a black carbon-fiber palmrest. The glass fiber is reportedly highly stain resistant, which is good for a white laptop surface, but I also miss the dark soft-touch finish on previous versions of the XPS 13.

But despite these quirks and annoyances, the XPS 13 is still a fantastic laptop, especially in its higher-end, touchscreen version. It's one of the few laptops that I found myself going back to again and again, for the very premium feel, excellent keyboard, and slim, highly portable design.

After working on laptops from HP, Apple, Asus and other companies with super-shallow keyboards, it's a refreshing change to have the hefty, deep keys of the XPS 13 keyboard. The glass touchpad is as good as Windows versions get, but as we've experienced in many other Windows laptops, two-finger scrolling is smoother in Microsoft's Edge browser than in the Google Chrome browser.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While previous XPS 13 models kept full-size USB ports and an  HDMI output even as other PC makers ditched these, the new XPS 13 finally gets on board the USB-C train, with three of those all-purpose ports, plus a headphone jack and microSD slot. So, be prepared to pack some dongles if you need physical connectivity. I did, however, like the Windows Hello fingerprint reader stealthily built into the power button, and the small light-up battery gauge on the left edge, which is a feature I'd love to see more often.

Along with the new body, there's an upgrade to the latest 8th-gen Intel Core processors. No surprises here -- both models we tested had excellent performance, with the Core i7 model outranking the Core i5 version. Battery life is where we saw the advantages of the lower-end model. With a less powerful CPU and standard HD screen, it ran for 12:18. The 4K display, as expected, ran for less time, at 9:08, although both can be considered very good scores. A version of the previous XPS 13 we tested late last year combined a higher-end Core i7 CPU and the lower-res screen for a similar 12-hour score. 

Screen star

The real star here is the screen. Both the HD and 4K displays looked clear, bright and colorful, if a bit on the glossy side. But they also really popped because of the superthin bezel around the display, especially now that the slim screen outline is white, which helps it further fade into the background.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The webcam issue feels like a solvable problem. If we can put a webcam into a pair of cheap sunglasses, there's got to be a solution to this. Another easy fix that would make the XPS 13 much more attractive would be to give every configuration a touch screen.

The nearly bezel-free look is not as exclusive to the XPS 13 as it was a few years ago, as other PC makers have adopted the same look. But it's still relatively rare, and the excellent implementation here is likely to cause some serious laptop envy anywhere you pull it out. 

Cinebench R15 Multi-core

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5, 2018) 629Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2018) 568HP Spectre 13 517Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2017) 401Razer Blade Stealth 341Microsoft Surface Laptop 320
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Geekbench 4 (Multi-core)

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2017) 13,385Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2018) 12,961HP Spectre 13 12,941Dell XPS 13 (Core i5, 2018) 12,855Razer Blade Stealth 8,028Microsoft Surface Laptop 3,675
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video-playback battery-drain test

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5, 2018) 738Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2017) 736Microsoft Surface Laptop 621Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2018) 548HP Spectre 13 490Razer Blade Stealth 482
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel UHD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (Core i5, 2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (Core i7, 2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Laptop Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Razer Blade Stealth Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD
HP Spectre 13 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD

Dell XPS 13 (2018)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Battery 8