Dell XPS 13 review

Making the best laptop in the world even better

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Best in Class

Our Verdict

Moving the webcam position, adding facial login and a four-mic array, giving Intel’s chips more headroom to perform even better and adding a 4K screen have all evolved the XPS into an even more formidable flagship laptop. In directly addressing the concerns of users, the Dell XPS 13 laptop is refined further than ever before.

For

  • Centered IR webcam
  • Gorgeous new design
  • Beautiful optional 4K display
  • Impressive performance

Against

  • Steeper starting price
  • White option is pricier
  • Still gotta’ move that webcam

If Steve Jobs were in charge of designing a Windows PC, it would look something like the latest Dell XPS 13, a laptop whose woven glass fiber is set to revolutionize the way laptops are manufactured from this point moving forward. It wants you to forget everything you knew about the Dell XPS 13 before it in favor of a design that’s sleek, but not slick, and packs cutting-edge performance along with a divisive new starting price.

Dell, however, wants to ensure you that it’s worth it to get this XPS 13 over everything else. It poses a legitimate argument, too. From the next-gen InfinityEdge display, which is now so close to being bezel-less it’s not even funny, to the 4K, ultra high-definition resolution that it bears, this rendition of the Dell XPS 13 marches to the beat of a different drum. It’s also one of the only laptops that makes an effort to introduce HDR-like colors and faster video streaming by way of its Dell Cinema software functionality.

All told, we’re deeply impressed by the new XPS 13, thanks in large part to that display and a beautiful, new color option called Rose Gold on Alpine White. In fact, we’re so impressed by Dell’s design revisions that it’s once again earned TechRadar’s Best in Class award for laptops.

That said, if you want in on the deepest revision on the XPS 13 design in years, you’re going to have to pay up – and more than before.

Dell XPS 13 2018

Spec Sheet

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

Not as cheap as it once was, the Dell XPS 13 makes up for its less accessible price tag by making the performance difference worth it. 

This time, even the most affordable option is equipped with 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.

Like most laptops these days, there is the option to purchase a high-end configuration, complete with the specs that you need for your daily duties. Should you crave a faster processor, there are two models featuring a 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U (4GHz with Turbo Boost) to choose from. 

Better yet, the cheaper of those models – which normally retails for $1,399 (around £1,005, AU$1,797) – will be only $999 in the US come Presidents Day.

Annoyingly, the new color option, Rose Gold on Alpine White, is a bit pricier than its standard, silver-on-black model in the US at another $50 regardless of configuration. Worse yet, this option isn’t available outside 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 those keeping score, the only flagship laptop that can price-match the new XPS 13 is the Google Pixelbook. The latest MacBook Pro and 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 are both more expensive to start for comparable or worse hardware options.

Dell XPS 13 2018

Design

This year marks the first time that Dell has tangibly changed the XPS 13 design since it graced the top of our rankings. First off, it’s actually thinner and lighter than the previous model released just months ago.

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 most notable of changes to the XPS 13 design is bound to be the brand new Rose Gold on Alpine White color option.

While almost every laptop maker has a rose gold color option these days, Dell took it to the next level with an all-new set of materials for the complementary-colored keyboard deck.

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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.

Dell XPS 13 2018

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.

dell xps 13 2018

Display

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 haven’t noticed much difference while using the laptop for the past few weeks, but the brightness scaling of the device is fantastic enough to call out. Putting the screen at even 10% brightness doesn’t detract from our ability to write and read on this laptop.

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. Meanwhile, the display responds snappily and fluidly to touch gestures.

First reviewed January 2018