Refined. Enlightened. Empowered. If we had to go with three words to describe the new Dell XPS 13 in all of its Alpine White glory, it’d have to be those. The Dell XPS 13, at least on paper, appears to be the kind of device you’d expect to appear plain and inconspicuous. With 8th-generation Intel Kaby Lake Refresh processors, three USB-C ports, Windows 10 and even a microSD card slot, it’s more powerful than it looks. It’s also extremely lightweight – coming in at just 2.67 pounds. So, not only is it cheaper than the MacBook Pro, but it’s also easier to carry around.
The Dell XPS 13 tops this all off with a more modern aesthetic. Just look at all the recent flagship smartphone releases, and you’ll know that bezel-less displays are in vogue – Dell realized this from the get-go. The next generation InfinityEdge display on the new Dell XPS 13 has bezels so thin, you’ll forget you’re even looking at a screen. If you can get past the weird camera placement, it just might be the best laptop on the market – a sentiment echoed across the web.
We are enamored with the Dell XPS 13, thanks in part to that new Alpine White finish. In fact, we’re so impressed by Dell’s new XPS 13 design that it’s earned TechRadar’s Best in Class award for laptops once more – and it’s still the best 13-inch laptop on the market today. However, even though it does come with the biggest design revision in years, you’re going to have to pay a premium – which is higher than it’s been in the past.
Here is the Dell XPS 13 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U (quad-core, 8MB cache, up to 4.0GHz)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 16GB DDR3 (2,133MHz)
Screen: 13.3-inch, Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) UltraSharp InfinityEdge touch display
Storage: 1TB PCIe SSD
Ports: 2 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 1 x USB-C 3.1, micro SD card reader, headset jack
Connectivity: Killer 1435 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
Camera: Widescreen HD (720p) webcam with 4 array digital microphones
Weight: 2.67 pounds (1.21kg)
Size: 11.9 x 7.8 x 0.3-0.46 inches (3.02 x 1.99 x 0.78-1.16cm; W x D x H)
Price and availability
It’s a little more expensive than it’s been in the past, but the Dell XPS 13 makes up for the higher price tag by noticeably boosting the performance and design.
Thankfully, this time even the least expensive edition comes rocking a quad-core processor, namely a 1.6GHz (up to 3.4GHz with Turbo Boost) Intel Core i5-8250U. It’ll set you back $999 (£1,269, about AU$2,190), but you’ll also be in for a 1080p non-touch display, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage.
Similar to most flagship laptops in 2018, you can choose to beef up your configuration, complete with the specs that you need for your daily workload. If you need a faster processor, there are two models featuring a 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U (4GHz with Turbo Boost) to pick from.
In total, the Dell XPS 13 we reviewed here would set you back $2,349 (£1,899, about AU$3,004), which is a lofty sum to pay for the average user. It does, however, come with a 4K display, 1TB of storage space and 16GB of RAM. While we enjoyed the display on its own, other accounts have stated that it looks worse than the base model’s 1080p screen because of its lower color accuracy and contrast.
Another issue is the fact that the Rose Gold on Alpine White version of the Dell XPS 13 is a bit pricier than its standard, silver-on-black model in the US, by adding an extra $50 regardless of configuration. Worse yet, this edition is only available in the US at the time of writing.
All configurations for the new Dell XPS 13 include three USB-C ports (two of which are Thunderbolt 3), a microSD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack.
For anyone keeping score, the only flagship laptop that can match the Dell XPS 13 in price is the Google Pixelbook. Both the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 and the MacBook Pro are more expensive to start for similar or inferior hardware configurations.
This is the first time that Dell has noticeably changed the Dell XPS 13 since it earned the top spot in our rankings. For starters, it’s surprisingly thinner and lighter than the 2017 model that came out just a few months before the Dell XPS 2018.
Dell slimmed down the XPS 13 chassis to be 30% thinner at just 0.3 inches (3.4mm) at its narrowest point and a touch lighter at merely 2.67 pounds (1.21kg).
Now, the second most notable of changes to the XPS 13 design is bound to be the brand new Rose Gold on Alpine White color option. While pretty much every laptop manufacturer has a rose gold color option in 2018, Dell takes it to another level with an all-new set of materials for the complementary-colored keyboard deck on the XPS 13.
Dell is particularly proud that the new keyboard deck houses a crystalline silica material that has the white color literally woven into it like a fabric, in nine composite layers.
This is the first time woven glass fiber has been, well, woven into a laptop. Plus, the base has a titanium oxide coating which gives it a pearlescent sheen, not to mention stronger stain-resistance than most.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for the plastic that borders the edges of the laptop’s display. Over the past few weeks of use, we’ve found that this softer plastic has grown a little gray compared to the plastic that borders the edge of base.
Of course, this XPS 13 model also marks the turning point on what might be its biggest bugbear: the webcam placement. Better yet, the new IR lens works well for speedy logins using Windows Hello, the biometric security system that uses your webcam to sign you in. However, the red flashing of the infrared lights is a little intense.
That said, the 720p webcam produces about as sharp of visual as that of the latest MacBook Pro, but isn’t a 60 frames-per-second lens like that on the Pixelbook. The Surface Book 2 beats them all with a 1080p camera.
The webcam comes equipped with four microphones – placed within the lip of the base of the laptop – for stronger video chatting input as well as far-field communication for yelling at Cortana from across the room. These mics pick up clearer voice audio over video chats than some of its competitors.
However, they won’t be challenging the likes of Google Home and Amazon Echo anytime soon. While the microphones can pick up our ‘Hey, Cortana’ commands from a few feet away in front of the laptop, trying them from behind the laptop at the same distance is a bust.
Another major improvement upon this year’s design is the display. The screen is now available with an optional 4K Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) resolution beneath a glossy, IGZO touchscreen. That’s sharper than any of the previously mentioned, competing laptops.
The touchscreen is coated in a 0.65% anti-reflective coating that aims to offset the downfalls of all touchscreens and screen glare.
We didn’t really notice the difference while using the laptop for the past few weeks, but the brightness scaling of the Dell XPS 13 is great enough to call out. Putting the screen as low as 10% brightness doesn’t affect our ability to read and write on the Dell XPS 13.
With a 1,500:1 contrast ratio and 100% sRGB color profile, blacks look as if the backlight shuts off in those spots during darker scenes in videos and photos and colors pop with vibrancy. At the same time, the touch display is snappy and fluidly responds to any and all gestures.
First reviewed January 2018
Bill Thomas and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this review