Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13 (2018) review: Dell's gorgeous ultraportable just got a little bit gorgeouser

Dell XPS 13

Slimmer, lighter and more attractive than before: the Dell XPS 13 remains among best Windows ultraportable money can buy

Darien Graham-Smith
11 Apr 2018
5
Price when reviewed 
1,549
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The XPS 13 is what you might call an iconic design. It’s striking, it’s attractive – and through the generations it’s maintained an unmistakeable identity of its own with its wedge-shaped body and almost bezel-less “InfinityEdge” display.

The new model shakes things up slightly, though. While it’s still clearly an XPS 13, it introduces a redesigned chassis, and a new finish – pristine white on the inside with a rose gold exterior. The overall impression is surprisingly tasteful, though if you prefer a more sober colour scheme, the old platinum and black design is still available too.

READ NEXT: Huawei Matebook X Pro review

Whichever you choose, the new casing is even thinner than last year’s model. It now measures just 7.8mm at the front edge, thickening to 11.6mm. That’s great, but note that it comes with a potentially controversial consequence: the old full-sized USB Type-A ports have finally gone. In their place sit a trio of USB Type-C sockets, two of which support Thunderbolt 3. Aside from those, a microSD card reader and a 3.5mm headphone jack are the only physical connectors.

Dell has also worked in a few invisible upgrades to the external features. The webcam, as usual, sits slightly uncomfortably below the screen, since there’s no space for it above, but now it’s gained compatibility with Windows Hello, so you can log into Windows 10 by just sitting down and gurning at it. Alternatively, you can authenticate with the dab of a digit onto the fingerprint reader that’s been retrofitted onto the circular power button - a bit like the one on the Huawei Mate X Pro.

The keyboard and trackpad haven’t changed, but that’s alright because they were great to begin with. Typing on the backlit chiclet keyboard is a pleasure. There’s only 1.3mm of travel, but it feels as positive and natural as much larger keyboards. And the touchpad works brilliantly, too, with its generous size and click-anywhere surface.

Buy the Dell XPS 13 now from Dell.com

Dell XPS 13 (2018) 9370 review: Display and sound

The screen has always been a defining characteristic of the XPS 13 and this latest 9370 model brings some subtle refinements. For a start, the maximum resolution has been upped. While the basic model still comes with a Full HD IPS screen, opting for the high-DPI version now gets you a true 4K display, rather than the 3,200 × 1,800 of previous models. Frankly, it’s doubtful you’ll notice the step up from 276ppi to 331ppi but it’s consistent with industry standards and it should play slightly more nicely with external monitor setups.

Perhaps more significantly the brightness has been hugely improved, too. With an i1 DisplayPro calibrator, I measured a maximum brightness of 454cd/m² from the Full HD model – a searing jump up from the respectable 290cd/m² of the 2017 edition and much closer to the MacBook Pro’s dazzling 542cd/m².

The display also comes with a new anti-reflective coating. This isn’t exactly transformative, but if you need to use your XPS 13 in bright sunlight it does cut down on glare. Factor in a strong contrast ratio of 1,565:1 and this year’s XPS 13 is overall far more usable in adverse lighting conditions than its predecessors.

There’s just one area where the XPS 13’s screen isn’t so great, and that’s colour reproduction. With an average Delta E of 2.49 and a maximum of 7.95, it’s some way off the sort of accuracy that professionals demand – and with only 90% sRGB coverage it doesn’t quite hit the spot when it comes to range, either. To be clear, it still looks fantastic for games, movies and everyday applications, but if colour accuracy is important to you then the Huawei Matebook X Pro is a better bet, with Delta E scores of 1.27 and 2.53 respectively and a superb 96.2% sRGB coverage.

Finally, let’s talk about sound. As with previous XPS laptops, the built-in speakers sound pretty good – not too tinny, with reasonable volume and, thanks to their positioning at the sides of the laptop, a nice wide stereo image. However, there’s nothing like the depth or solidity of the Matebook X Pro’s four Harman Kardon drivers. For music and immersive gaming you might want to get some external speakers, or grab a pair of headphones.

Buy the Dell XPS 13 now from Dell.com

Dell XPS 13 (2018) 9370 review: Performance

The new Dell XPS 13 starts at £1,249, which includes an Intel Core i5-8250U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB NVMe SSD. Step up to the £1,549 model and you’ll get an Intel Core i7-8550U processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD. Note that those prices are for the classic silver version with a Full HD display – if you want a 4K panel, a touchscreen or a rose gold finish, those all push up the price.

We tested the Core i7 model and, I have to say, I was impressed. In our media benchmarks, it achieved an outstanding score of 96, putting it on par with a desktop PC from just a few years ago. That’s a good way ahead of the HP Spectre 13 (1.8GHz Core i7-8550U, 8GB RAM) and Matebook X Pro (1.8GHz Core i7-8550U, 16GB RAM), ultraportable rivals that scored only 63 and 76 respectively. The NVMe SSD helps everything feel fast. In the AS SSD benchmark, the XPS 13 returned excellent sustained read speeds of 2,224MB/sec, along with decent write speeds of 444MB/sec.

Things were a little more even in the Geekbench 4 benchmark. Again, the XPS 13 fared impressively, scoring 4,744 in the single-core and 15,047 in the multi-core test but here the HP Spectre 13 came a lot closer, with 4,648 and 13,158, respectively.

The Dell XPS 13’s lead over its rivals is all the more impressive when you realise that these three laptops all have the same processor. The explanation, we presume, is down to cooling: Intel CPUs dynamically throttle their own performance if they get too hot and it appears that Dell has managed to come up with a design that allows the Core i7-8550U to run faster for longer. That being the case, it’s impressive how quiet the fan is. Under full load, the XPS 13 makes only a quiet hum and, in light use, it’s entirely inaudible.

Buy the Dell XPS 13 now from Dell.com

While CPU performance is undeniably strong, be aware that there’s no discrete GPU; for games and graphical applications, you’ll have to rely on the integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620. That’s fine for casual gaming: in the GFXBench Car Chase benchmark, the XPS 13 managed a respectable on-screen score of 31.9fps. But you’ll get nigh on twice the performance from the Huawei Matebook Pro X with its Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU.

And all of this good stuff doesn’t wreck the battery life. Even though the smaller chassis means that the XPS 13 9370’s battery is physically smaller than ever before, the laptop served up an excellent 10hrs 7mins of video in our battery test – an excellent result for a machine of this size, easily outlasting its rivals.

Buy the Dell XPS 13 now from Dell.com

Dell XPS 13 (2018) 9370 review: Verdict

Wisely, Dell hasn’t tried to completely reinvent the XPS 13, but there’s enough here that’s new to make this the most exciting revision in years. Performance and battery life are terrific, and the ultra-compact, display-centric design is now slimmer and brighter than ever. Some will grumble about the absence of USB Type-A ports, but if you really need to plug in a legacy peripheral there’s an adaptor in the box.

Of course, there are competing laptops to weigh up. The Asus ZenBook 3 and HP Spectre 13 are cheaper, although they can’t match the Dell’s performance. And the Huawei Matebook X Pro is a formidable rival, with a discrete GPU and a touchscreen.

If you don’t need those features, though, and you’re willing to pay the price, the new XPS 13 is a simply superb laptop. Whether you’re chiefly concerned with battery life, performance or sheer style, it’s a winner.

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