The particular model I am reviewing comes with a 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM, a full HD display (1920x1080), a 7th gen Intel Core i7 processor and Windows 10 Home installed. Note that this review is not about Windows 10 or anything about it; I will focus largely on the interaction with the laptop directly and its performance for my daily use.
Form Factor & Design:
Some folks may disagree with this being the most important of the rated key factors, but I find this to be the biggest make-or-break item when considering a laptop for purchase. If it’s ugly, I don’t want it. If it isn’t slim and light and an awesome color, I move on. For the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, all expectations are met or exceeded. It has a bit of a wedge design (like the Macbook Air does), but with less of a difference from the front of the device to the back.
Since it is a 2-in-1, the device can be used as a laptop at any angle up to 180 degrees, but can also be completely reversed to be used in “tablet mode.” I’ve never been a big fan of 2-in-1’s in tablet mode because they are so much thicker than tablets, but the XPS 13 does a fine job in that arena. It’s also a great way to circumvent the warm bottom in the event you’re lying in bed watching a movie and the device is sitting on any part of your body.
Let’s talk about heat…this thing gets warm…like, really warm, on the bottom. It’s a fanless model, so it makes sense (it is the form factor / design that contributes to this), but I’ll always take a little bit of fan noise over uncomfortable-to-touch heat production. Most specifically, for any application heavy lifting you’re not going to want this thing sitting on your lap.
The hinge is what I consider the most typical hinge type for a 2-in-1, with two hinge pieces on either side of the laptop that allow for the 180-degree screen rotation. The hinge feels solid, with very little screen wobble even when using the touch screen, and the device closes with a pleasant and satisfying snap. My only complaint about the closing mechanism is that it doesn’t really allow for one-handed operation upon opening.
I’ve been using Dell computers pretty regularly for the last 10 years, so I’m well-adjusted to how their keyboards and trackpads have changed over time. Also bear in mind that while my primary work laptop is a Dell Latitude, my personal laptop is a newer MacBook Pro (with the latest generation butterfly switches). I tend to prefer chiclet-style keyboards with less travel instead of more, and I (like most regular Mac users) have been ruined for any trackpad that isn’t provided by Apple.
Considering all of that, I have been very impressed overall with the XPS 13’s input array. The keyboard has slightly more key travel (1.3mm) than I tend to like, but it’s not too much to cause any typing fatigue. The keys are spaced well, but they do seem a slight bit shorter than standard “full” laptop keyboards—I would imagine this is in order to accommodate the machine’s footprint. The keys are backlit with multiple lighting levels, which doesn’t do much for me but is a nice feature to offer.
The glass trackpad is one of the best, if not the best windows machine trackpad I’ve ever used. It is very responsive and extremely accurate, and responds well to the Windows 10 trackpad gestures that will make most Mac users feel right at home. There is also a right-click area of the trackpad in addition to the two-finger right-click option we’re all used to. My only complaint is the size of the trackpad; given one of its purposes is to replace a mouse, I expect it to be substantial for maximum comfort and ease of use. Gesture support is great, but could be even better if the trackpad were just a hair larger, although this may impact the device’s entire footprint.
The model I tested came with an FHD touch display, however, I would have preferred to see the available QHD display in action. Regardless, it is a solid screen; crisp, bright (I always felt that Dell displays on maximum seem nearly radioactive) with good color contrasts. Not at all stealing from Samsung (or Samsung not stealing from Dell, perhaps), the InfinityEdge display is well-executed well with exceptionally small bezels around the sides and top of the display (note the integrated 720p webcam is along the bottom of the lid which may be a not-so-preferable angle for you frequent Skypers). But, there’s really nothing about the display itself to dislike.
My only concern with it is the weight of the lid, and its proportion to the rest of the machine; as this is a touch screen you have to expect that you’ll be poking at the lid from time to time. And, due to the aforementioned solid hinge, sometimes when the lid is at greater angles from the base, using the touch screen causes the base of the machine to raise ever so slightly. Not a huge deal for sure, but if you are a frequent touch screen user (I’m not a big fan and stick to the keyboard and trackpad for input in most scenarios), this may start to get on your nerves. Personally, I think a thinner lid with a slightly thicker base would help alleviate the awkward ratio, as well as possibly improve one-handed opening. Then again, I’m not an engineer.
Ports on this machine are really good considering the segment competition; it has two USB-C ports (only one can be used for charging), a micro-SD card slot and a headphone jack. Dell is also kind enough to include in the box a standard full-size USB-A to USB-C dongle for those who haven’t yet made the switch. I think USB-C has received some bad press of late, but in a year or two all of these giant USB cables and SD cards will be well behind us. I really like what USB-C is doing for consumer electronics and certainly don’t mind a few dongles here and there until it is fully adopted.
Also along each side are stereo speaker grills, and the speaker performance is fine; plenty to get you through if you need to (although headphones are always the best option, whether Bluetooth or wired).
Battery life has been good, and about what I’d expect from an ultrabook battery in 2017. I tend not to stress test batteries on any review items because every user’s experience, based upon individual use, will result in different battery performance. Needless to say, I didn’t have to charge it nearly as much as I thought I would, and it charges relatively quickly.
There is also a fingerprint scanner that is integrated with Windows Hello, and its performance is the best I’ve experienced from a laptop fingerprint scanner (this includes the latest MacBook Pro with Touchbar, which is accurate but a little laggy); it was extremely responsive and wait times for my fingerprint to register were pleasantly brief.
Performance from this machine, given its specs, were exactly what you’d expect: top notch. Of course, it doesn’t come cheap as the approximately $1500 price tag definitely classifies this as a “high end” ultrabook. Still, the specs and feature set packaged in the body of a very small thin-and-light laptop made largely of metal makes this a device that is both excellent for regular use and one that you’d want to be seen with at your local Starbucks. The case tends to get a bit smudgy if you have regularly clammy hands, so be sure to carry around some microfiber cloths so you can clean it frequently, as oil wear spots are not unusual in my experience with Dell machines.
If the model fits in your price range, I think any buyer of this machine would be extremely pleased. At the price, though, it would be nice to include the QHD panel, but the FHD screen gets you everything you need on a 13.3” display. And, aside from the heat issue which you’ll encounter on any fanless laptop, there isn’t much to complain about here. I think this machine as reviewed would make an excellent competitor to the 13.3” Macbook Pro with touchbar, and is a couple hundred bucks cheaper to boot…which is everything we have come to expect from Windows laptops.