Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook Review
Dellís previous efforts in the slim and light product space have been varied and numerous but they lacked focus. There were some great offerings like the Vostro V131 but others which ultimately fell flat. In an effort to rectify this situation, the new XPS 13 Ultrabook was introduced and like many of its forefathers, it pushes a high level of mobility but marries that with lead edge industrial design and top tier product protection.
Letís start things off by focusing solely upon Intelís Ultrabook platform. An Ultrabook is supposed to offer what many have been looking for in a compact notebook: affordability, great battery life, advanced connectivity options, the illusion of great performance though the use of an SSD and most importantly, a compact design that can easily be carted around just about anywhere. However, some manufacturers have strayed a bit too far off course for our liking and have released products the barely meet Intelís minimum platform specifications or cost a small fortune. Dellís XPS 13 on the other hand is what we would consider a poster child for the Ultrabook philosophy.
In an effort to appease casual users and performance oriented clients alike, Dell has paired up their XPS 13 line with a number of configurations, all of which offer very little in the way of flexibility. At the lowest end $999 price point, Dell includes an Intel i5 2467M low voltage processor, 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. There are a few other configurations which substitute the i5 or a higher performance i7 processor and the SSD for a 256GB unit and if you want the best of the best, itíll cost you an astronomical $1500. All of these come in the same chassis so the limited connectivity options you see above wonít change as you go up-market. Our unit came with the basic $999 layout though it can be found on sale from time to time for as little as $875.
As with many Ultrabooks, there are some tradeoffs here. The aforementioned limited I/O connectors are the most glaring difference between the XPS 13 and a full sized notebook but the limited capacity 128GB SSD may be a concern for some as well. We should also mention that Dell includes Bluetooth v3.0 within the Centrino wireless module rather than the newer 4.0 protocol. The difference between the two Bluetooth protocols boils down to range rather than features so most wonít notice much in the way of performance discrepancies.
To us, one of the most important features of this Ultrabook is the warranty which Dell includes. Much like their professional Vostro lineup, Dell has gone the extra mile by adding a year of on-site tech support (yes, a technician will really come to your house if the issue canít be diagnosed over the phone) and North America-based phone support. To sweeten the pot, the XPS 13 also comes with one year of LoJack for Laptops and protection against accidental damage as well. In our opinion, this is one of the best warranties around since Dell is among a few manufacturers left that actually provides reachable customer service agents.
Like most other Ultrabooks, the XPS 13 is a relatively small notebook which weighs in at a mere 2.99lbs, making it highly portable. A machined aluminum top cover thatís been anodized a simple silver colour tops things off on the right foot. It feels great, wonít slip out of your hands at an inopportune time and doesnít pick up fingerprints like so many other finishes.
In the past, weíve remarked about how Ultrabooks typically fall into one of two categories: those with budget-focused, lackluster quality and others with high quality construction that are a pleasure to work with. With its nearly seamless construction and high strength exterior finishes, the XPS 13 clearly sets the benchmark in this category. Even when lifted with one hand while the lid was opened, it didnít exhibit the slightest bit of protest or hint of chassis flex. In our opinion, this is one of Dellís best built products to date.
Speaking of high quality, Dell has incorporated a magnesium palmrest with soft-touch paint which keeps blemishes and greasy palm stains to a minimum. This finish continues around most of the XPS 13ís flat surfaces and gracefully blends into the brushed aluminum frame.
Amazingly, the chassis rigidity doesnít lead to an overly thick profile. At a mere 18mm with its small rubber feet and a 6mm body-only profile, this is one of the thinnest Ultrabooks available.
When it comes to the connectors on Ultrabooks, one canít be picky since a slim chassis doesnít normally allow for an extensive selection of I/O options. Dell has been extremely stingy though. One side houses a USB 3.0 port and a mini DisplayPort while the other has a USB 2.0 port with PowerShare (which can charge your devices when the XPS 13 is in standby mode, provided it is enabled in the BIOS) and a combo 3.5mm headphone / mic connector. Thatís it.
The standard multi card reader is MIA which is (in our opinion at least) a big loss, making it impossible to back up your travel photos and seriously curtailing the XPS 13ís on-the-go usefulness. Unlike the ASUS 13z, Dell also doesnít include a mini DisplayPort to VGA adaptor, though one can be purchased from Dell.com for a cost of $40. Do you want wired internet LAN? Forget about it since an adaptor isnít available. Thereís no HDMI port either which means a lack of outputs to a supporting HDTV unless your TV is one of the rare ones that include a DisplayPort input.
The XPS 13ís base is composed of a soft, rubber-like finish on top of the carbon fiber composite material. This makes it easy to hold, nearly impervious to scratches and it wonít just slip off your lap when in use. It is simply brilliant to hold and absorbs impacts quite well. Small integrated rubber strips further aid stability. There is also a ventilation grille located here which could cause a number of issues like a lack of fresh air when the XPS 13 is used on a soft surface and excess heat being directed at a userís lap. In the temperature testing section, weíll look a bit closer at this.
Finally, Dell has incorporated the required Windows 7 and Intel logos into a flush mounted aluminum panel which can be removed to view the Windows serial number. This is actually a great addition since it ensures the Windows activation number and Dell service tags will never be rubbed off.
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