Refined. Enlightened. Empowered. If we had to pick three words to describe the 2018 Dell XPS 13 in all its Alpine White glory, it would be those. On paper, this is the type of notebook you would expect to appear plain and inconspicuous. Rocking a quad-core CPU, three USB-C ports and even a microSD card port, it’s more powerful than it looks. It’s also light, weighing just 2.67 pounds (1.21kg0, so not only does it weigh less than Apple’s MacBook Pro, it’s more powerful and costs less, too.
Simultaneously, it has a surprisingly more contemporary look. You can just look at all the recent flagship smartphone releases, and you’ll understand that bezel-less displays are all the rage – Dell understands this too. The next-generation InfinityEdge display found on the Dell XPS 13 has bezels so narrow, you’ll forget they’re even there – it’s just futuristic. If you can look past the strange camera placement, it just might be the best laptop you can buy today, a sentiment that’s echoed across the internet.
All told, we’re intensely impressed by the new XPS 13, thanks in part to that dazzling new color option. 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 – more so than 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 was previously, 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.
Like many laptops in 2018, you can choose to buy a high-end 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 track, the only flagship laptop that can price match the new XPS 13 is the Google Pixelbook. The most recent MacBook Pro and the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 are each more expensive to start for similar or inferior hardware configurations.
This year is the first time that Dell as noticeably changed the XPS 13 design since it earned the top spot in our rankings. To start, it’s actually lighter and thinner than the 2017 model that launched just a few 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.
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 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
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this review