Dell has chosen to meet the opposition head on in the portability race, with a laptop that isn't thinner or even all that lighter, but rather more compact in width and depth. It's an impressive feat, to offer the same screen size in a smaller frame. Coupled with an incredibly attractive design, the XPS 13 is one of the master class ultrabooks.

However, the move for a smaller frame continues to cost the XPS 13 what some would consider a core feature: an SD card reader. (But if you're not a photo buff, then no harm, no foul.) This laptop also can't seem to match the 13-inch MacBook Air's nearly all-day battery life. Despite those two digs against the XPS 13 when stacked against its nemesis, I would still happily recommend this laptop.

For anyone seeking a premium Windows experience, the XPS 13 situates itself nicely between the MacBook Air and Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus. It possesses neither the Mac's endurance nor the Ativ Book's razor sharp touchscreen, but lands somewhere in the middle. All the while, this laptop would fit right in sitting next to either device.

We liked

Even in its mid-level configuration, you'll have a hard time wearing this laptop down. Between it's gobs of RAM, sizable SSD and Core i7 processor, the XPS 13 will handle almost anything you can think to throw at it. Want to stream House of Cards while live-tweeting your thoughts, lurking on Facebook and trading some blows in Hearthstone? No problem.

What's better is how sharp all of it will come through on the notebook's 1080p touchscreen. This is the resolution that most laptops should aspire to, not to mention come back down to, as it's the optimal pixel count for Windows 8.1. Dell also set the panel to 350 nits, which it claims is up to 75% brighter than the average 200-nit display, and it shows. Videos looked fantastic, with deep purples and vibrant reds throughout, while web content was sharp and smooth.

A poor typing and tracking experience can ruin an otherwise fantastic notebook. Thankfully, that is certainly not the case with the XPS 13. Both this laptop's keyboard and touchpad offer comfortable and accurate experiences. While the keyboard presents a brief learning curve with its seemingly unique key shaping and spacing, it's not a deal-breaker by a long shot.

Finally, that the XPS 13 fit a 13.3-inch screen in a device with dimensions that make it look more like an 11-inch laptop cannot be ignored. It's still an impressive feat, producing one of thinnest bezels on a laptop I've seen. This laptop isn't all that thinner than the competition, but its compact chassis should make more room in your backpack. And remember, neither Samsung nor Apple include a 3-year service guarantee in their laptops' prices.

We disliked

One of the major digs against the XPS 13 is that it's still without an SD card reader where both the Ativ Book and MacBook Air offer one and then some. It's a conceit that was probably made years ago to differentiate the device with a smaller form factor. Was it worth it? Well, I use an SD card reader often enough for me to miss it if it were gone.

If you're hoping for ultrabook-like battery life from the XPS 13, then you should level those expectations. At least in my own testing, I saw endurance times less than half of what the laptop's maker claims, though the parameters of my tests are certainly different from Dell's. While I saw battery life in line with some competing ultrabooks, it didn't come close to its archrival: the MacBook Air.

My last issue with the XPS 13 is that none of its configurations are customizable. What you see is what you get. I would remove the check in the box next to "FHD Corning Gorilla Glass display with 10 point multi-touch" upon checkout without a second thought, if it were there. Bringing touch control to the XPS 13 line was a must for Dell to remain competitive, but it's not something that should be imposed upon users.

Final verdict

The XPS 13 is one of those ultrabooks that the lot aspires to, and this edition maintains that status. Between its classy design and impressively tiny chassis, this laptop will turn heads with the likes of the Apple and Samsung laptops of the world. With this power-packed update, Dell offers one of the more premium typing experiences I've had with a Windows laptop.

However, the XPS 13 still lacks an SD card reader, not to mention it offers battery life that's unbecoming of a Haswell machine. (And, given that I find it largely useless, where's the option to ditch the touchscreen?) That said, smartphones are quickly replacing the point-and-shoot, and few folks travel regularly for leisure. So, those looking for a luxurious, reliable machine to rock at the coffee shop will find plenty to admire in the new Dell XPS 13.