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Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) review: Drop the high-end display in Dell's XPS 13 for better battery life

Aesthetically, the design suffers, and you also lose out on touchscreen controls. Traditionalists will tell you touch in a laptop is unnecessary, but when navigating Windows 8, I always find myself reaching for the screen at least a few times per session, so skip the touch at your own peril.

As it is, you're stuck between a lower-res, non-touch, matte screen and a high-res touchscreen with a glossy surface, and nothing in between. If I were designing an XPS 13 configuration that included the best of both worlds, I'd ask for a 1,920x1,080-pixel touch display under edge-to-edge glass.

Ports and connections

Video mini-DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections and performance

With a body this small, some ports and connections are simply going to have to go. Here you get a mini-DisplayPort connection, two USB 3.0, and audio and SD card ports. No HDMI, no Ethernet. You do, however, get something I think more laptops need, which is a light-up battery meter on the left side, although the button you press to turn it on is overly recessed and hard to hit.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Dell offers a few optional accessories, which may make up for some of the omissions. The $59 (AU$89) port adapter is a small square box that connects via a built-in USB cable, and offers an HDMI output, Ethernet jack, VGA output and one USB 2.0 port. The $107 (AU$169) portable power companion is a USB-tethered 12,000mAh battery pack that looks and feels like a small portable hard drive.

Both XPS 13 models include Intel's new Broadwell Core i5 CPUs, which are the fifth generation of Core i-series chips. We've previously tested the new Core M variant, which is a Broadwell chip for thinner, lighter, tablets, laptops and hybrids, as featured in the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro in late 2014. We liked that the Core M allowed for inventive fanless designs, but it certainly felt more sluggish for everyday work tasks than a standard Core i5 would.

The Dell XPS 13 models we reviewed both use the new 2.2GHz Core i5-5200U. We compared it with other 13-inch systems with 2014 Core i5 CPUs and found that the Dell XPS 13 slightly outperformed the competition in our challenging multitasking test and was at least competitive in single-app tests. There wasn't a huge overall difference between this and other standard fourth-generation Intel Core i5 CPUs, such as the one found in the Surface Pro 3 , but it was significantly faster than the new Core M. The XPS 13 with the lower-resolution screen was a few seconds faster on the multitasking test, perhaps reflecting the extra horsepower required to drive a 3,200x1,800-pixel display, but the difference wasn't significant enough that you'd notice in everyday use.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life got a big boost in this lower-end version of the XPS 13. The 3,200x1,800-pixel screen version ran for 7 hours and 2 minutes in our video playback battery drain test, which was nearly the same score as the Surface Pro 3, but this 1,920x1,080-pixel version, without a touchscreen, ran for 12 hours and 6 minutes, which is a very impressive score. It's hard to believe that a simple change of screen panel could have such a huge impact, so perhaps there's some further optimization going on under the hood. In any event, this is as close to an all-day, travel-ready laptop as you're going to find without switching to an OS X system.

Conclusion

This version of the Dell XPS 13, one of the standout products at the 2015 International CES, costs less and runs for much longer on a single battery charge when compared which the premium configuration we originally tested. That makes it sound like a clear-cut winner, but there are a few important caveats.

The display has a lower resolution, and it loses its touch capabilities, which can come in handy when trying to navigate Windows 8. The edge-to-edge display, which helps maintain the illusion of a bezelless design is missing here, and the inset panel doesn't look as clean and seamlessly designed as the more expensive version.

Still, aesthetic and touch considerations aside, this version of the XPS 13 offers great build quality and engineering, plus amazing battery life, for a great price.

Handbrake Multimedia Multitasking test

Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch)
428
Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen)
441
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
478
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
523
Lenovo Yoga Pro 3
682

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
236
Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen)
243
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
253
Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch)
263
Lenovo Yoga Pro 3
263

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Apple iTunes encoding test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
76
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
108
Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch)
112
Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen)
113
Lenovo Yoga Pro 3
142

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
986
Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch)
726
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
448
Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen)
422
Lenovo Yoga Pro 3
346

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Dell XPS 13 (2015, non-touch) Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2,000MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 128GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (2015, touchscreen) Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.2GHZ Intel Core i5-5200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD 5500 Graphics; 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 1.9GHZ Intel Core i5-4300U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD 4400 Graphics; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) Apple OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks ; 1.4GHz Intel Core i5-4260U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000; 128GB SSD
Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.1GHz Intel Core M-5Y60; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5300; 256GB SSD

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