PROS / Powerful components and a compact, lightweight design balance performance and portability.
CONS / The webcam is awkwardly positioned, making video conferencing a challenge.
VERDICT / The Dell XPS 13 is notably small in a category defined by portable designs, but this excellent ultrabook also boasts some of the best performance we’ve seen.
Dell’s premium ultrabook, the Dell XPS 13 (9350), updates its flagship laptop with upgraded specs and improved performance. With high-end construction and potent processing power, the XPS 13 is an elegant system that gives the best ultrabook laptops a run for their money.
The model we reviewed is outfitted with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U processor, which is one of Intel’s 6th-generation chips, codenamed Skylake. It’s paired with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD).
The base model of the XPS 13 is much more affordable, in part because of a more modest part selection: a 6th-Generation Core i3 CPU, 4GB of memory and a smaller 128GB SSD. You can also opt for a 1920 x 1080 non-touch display to prioritize battery life over display quality. If you want the top-of-the-line version of the XPS 13, you can get it equipped with an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB PCIe SSD, but it comes at a much higher price.
Our review unit, being one of the few systems to offer Intel’s latest Skylake processors, offers superb performance. In Geekbench 3 it posted a respectable score (6,374 points), and it completed the Laptop Mag spreadsheet test in an impressive 4 minutes 28 seconds. Graphics performance was equally solid in tests, thanks to the integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 offered with the Skylake processor.
The XPS 13 has one particularly impressive design feature, and that is Dell’s Infinity Display technology, which surrounds the 13.3-inch display with vanishingly thin bezels. Removing the extra space around the display gives the ultrabook an ultra-compact size of 11.98 x 7.88 x 0.6 inches, effectively fitting a 13-inch system into the footprint of a smaller system. Portability is further enhanced with more than eight hours of battery life.
The narrow-bezel design isn’t without its faults, though. In order to fit in an integrated webcam without disrupting the slim bezels, the camera is situated below the display, in the lower left corner. The positioning is awkward, with an up-the-nose angle and off-center placement that pulls your gaze up and away to the screen. Those who rely on regular webcam use may want to spring for an external camera to alleviate these issues.
The construction is also very light, with a blend of carbon fiber and aluminum that weighs in at 2.9 pounds. CNC-milled aluminum panels cover the lid and underside of the exterior, while the bulk of the chassis is made of light and rigid carbon fiber. The palm rest is covered with a layer of clear soft-touch texturing, which feels very comfortable while leaving the distinctive look of the carbon fiber construction shining through.
The keyboard has a relatively short 1.2 mm of key travel, but it still manages to be comfortable to type on. Two levels of backlighting also let you adjust the glow of the keys for better readability in dark or dim environments. The touchpad measures a compact yet comfortable 4.1 x 2.3 inches, and the matte surface feels smooth while responding well to multitouch gestures like two-fingered zoom and scrolling.
The display itself is quite impressive, with a 3200 x 1800 resolution, one of the highest resolutions on the market. It’s not all pixels, either: The display boasts a better-than-average brightness of 336 nits and a Delta-E color accuracy rating of 3.13. (Closer to 0 is best.) The display looks larger than its 13.3-inches thanks to its slim bezels, and the panel offers touchscreen support.
The XPS 13 does well in the connectivity department, with two standard USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader and a headset audio jack. Dell steps things up further with a USB Type-C port that offers Thunderbolt 3 support. The new port is a forward-looking choice, with data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps and support for multiple display outputs from the one port, even at 4K resolution. Unfortunately, it means that you’ll need an adapter (sold separately) in order to use any common video connection, like HDMI or mini DisplayPort. For networking, the laptop has standard 802.11AC Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
Dell covers the XPS 13 with a standard one-year limited hardware warranty, but Dell offers extended coverage plans for an extra fee. Dell also offers several avenues of support, with helpful support materials on its website, and live chat for those times you need a live person. Unfortunately, Dell’s phone support isn’t as helpful, and in Laptop Mag’s independent testing, our colleagues there ranked Dell seventh out of 10 for quality of tech support.
For its mix of high-end performance, premium design and impressive display, the Dell XPS 13 (9350) gets high praise. It’s one of the best ultrabooks we’ve reviewed, and edges ahead of many competing systems thanks to its compact portable design, nearly bezel-free display and impressive Skylake-powered performance.