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Laptops

Dell XPS 13 ultrabook

A promising first ultrabook from Dell, with a slim design and pleasurable build quality. Fingers crossed Dell can keep the price down.

It's said that at CES 2012, you're never further than three feet away from an ultrabook. Intel's new brand for thin and light upmarket laptops has reached pandemic proportions at this year's show, with a plague of the svelte PCs overrunning Las Vegas.

Dell, that least exciting of computer makers, has inevitably been infected, and has brought along this XPS 13 machine -- we gave it a quick hands-on.

The XPS 13 will be available early in 2012, starting at $1,000 (£650).

Design

The lid of the XPS 13 has the same matte silver finish and curved edges that made the MacBook Air so appealing, but with Dell's dreary circle logo instead of the half-eaten apple.

Dell XPS 13 top
The smooth matte silver and rounded edges may remind some of Apple's slender laptop, but we couldn't possibly comment.

Measuring 18mm thick at the back, it tapers to just 6mm at the front. Waving it around, it felt very light -- it weighs just under 1.4kg, which isn't as dainty as the excellent Asus Zenbook, but is terribly portable nevertheless.

We were charmed by its large trackpad and backlit keyboard, whose isolated keys felt easy to type on in our very brief hands-on. It feels a well-made machine.

The 13-inch screen is covered edge-to-edge in Gorilla Glass for added toughness, and in our experience, added reflectivity and fingerprint-gathering. The 1,366x720-pixel resolution is pretty standard for the size.

Dell XPS 13 screen
The Gorilla Glass screen means it'll survive little bangs and scrapes untouched, but it is more reflective than more businessy matte screens.

Specs and battery life

As always with Dell, there are several customisation options for the innards, although not its usual plethora of choices. Intel Core i7 or Core i5 processors are available, but only integrated Intel HD3000 graphics -- this is not one for gamers. It comes with 4GB of RAM as standard, which married with those multi-core CPUs should make browsing, watching video and multi-tasking a particularly gusty breeze.

Unusually for Dell, storage options are either 128GB or 256GB solid-state drives -- you can't spec this with a normal hard drive. This makes the whole thing more expensive, but also means it's much faster to boot up, and won't corrupt if you drop it. Storage is augmented by 100GB of cloud backup so you can keep music, films and data online.

Dell XPS 13 ports
The XPS 13 forgoes an Ethernet connection to keep trim, but does cram in two USB ports.

The XPS 13 sacrifices ports for portability. There are just two USB ports, although one is USB 3, plus a MiniDisplay port and a headphone jack. There's no Ethernet, so you'll have to rely on Wi-Fi -- not great if you often stay in hotels -- and no SD card slot.

Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium runs the show. Dell reckons you should be able to squeeze nearly 9 hours of battery life out of the XPS 13, a claim we're eager to trash with our wounding battery tests.

Outlook

A good first ultrabook effort from Dell, we particularly like smart design touches such as the backlit keyboard. Dell's likely to keep the price competitive, so this could prove one of the better options at the cheaper end of the ultrabook scale. So that's what? A mediocrebook? A bargainbook? Let's hope the latter.

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