This edition of the XPS 13 might be an iterative update, but the gains in features and performance are nothing to sneeze at. With this model, Dell ushers in the age of Haswell for its leading 13-inch personal laptop, not to mention a touchscreen. That said, this notebook was crafted with a heavy focus on portability.

At just 12.4 x 8.1 x 0.2 - 0.7 inches (W x D x H), the XPS 13 is "the most compact 13-inch ultrabook" around, according to Dell. Furthermore, Dell claims that its latest laptop offers the same size display as the 13-inch MacBook Air in a machine that's 14 percent smaller, thanks to a noticeably thin bezel.

The Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus comes in at 12.58 x 8.78 x 0.54 inches, so it's slimmer, but wider. Given that the MacBook Air measures 12.8 x 8.94 x 0.11 - 0.68 inches, Dell's display promise checks out, but Apple's laptop is still the thinnest on the block.

Dell XPS 13 review

And at 3.03 pounds, the XPS 13 holds more heft than the 2.95-pound MacBook Air, thanks to its touchscreen, but beats the Ativ Book's 3.06 pounds by a hair. Regardless, this is one of the most portable notebooks on the market. This laptop packs a lot for its form factor, but Dell cut one corner yet again that might make photo buffs groan. Here's a look at what the company managed to cram inside this clamshell.

Spec sheet

This is the XPS 13 configuration sent to TechRadar:

  • CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-4500U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.0GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • RAM: 8GB DDR3
  • Screen: 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 with 10-finger touch support
  • Storage: 256GB mSATA SSD
  • Ports: 2 USB 3.0 (both with charging), mini DisplayPort, headphone/mic jack
  • Connectivity: Intel dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Webcam: HD widescreen camera with dual microphone array
  • Weight: 3.03 pounds
  • Size: 12.4 x 8.1 x 0.2 - 0.7 inches (W x D x H)

Given that showing of specs, it should be no shocker that, at $1,649 (about £1,004, AU$1,843), this is the most expensive XPS 13 available. Since Dell only offers three terribly rigid configurations, I can only point at the included 3-year service package for driving up the price a bit. Mind, though, that every configuration – starting at $1,049 – comes packing that 1080p screen, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

Dell XPS 13 review

The Ativ Book handily bests Dell's displays with 3200 x 1800 touch panels across the board. But this notebook asks for $1,799 (around £1,100, AU$2,006) just to match what's inside this XPS 13, namely its SSD, 8GB of RAM and Core i7 CPU. And while this machine packs micro HDMI, it can't say the same for AC networking.

To match this XPS 13's beefy Core i7 chip, RAM and SSD size, the MacBook Air would cost you just $1,549 (about £947, AU$1,724) in comparison. However, the Air's 1440 x 900 panel doesn't hold a candle to either laptop's display. Plus, neither laptop offers Dell's 3-year support contract, which includes in-home servicing and 24-hour phone support.

Most folks won't need the oomph of a Core i7 chip and that much storage, given the advent of streaming entertainment. Going with the mid-range XPS 13 model would shave off a cool $350. This will net you a 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U that can throttle up to 2.6GHz, the same amount of RAM and half the SSD space with a much more approachable price tag of $1,299 (around £792, AU$1,450).

Dell XPS 13 review

The cheapest Ativ Book 9 Plus goes for $1,399 (about £853, AU$1,567), matching this XPS 13 configuration point for point with the exception of its QHD touchscreen. A similarly-configured MacBook Air would cost just $1,199 (around £731,AU$1,338), though without a fancy 1080p touch panel.

What the XPS 13 is sorely lacking is an SD card reader (found in both competing machines), which could be a damper for even casual photographers. But if that's the biggest compromise you'll need to make, then pick up an SD card-to-USB adapter.

That you can't ditch the touchscreen upon checkout is more of a dig for me. In fact, the ability to configure at least a few points when purchasing an XPS 13 from Dell would have been ideal. But let's focus on the experience with the product at hand, shall we?