Dell's XPS 13 Laptop: Legit Power in a Small Package

eWEEK PRODUCT REVIEW: Although it looks like a lightweight laptop, the XPS 13's got 16GB of Intel’s new-gen Optane RAM and a half-terabyte of on-board storage, so if you need to keep video--and everybody’s keeping video these days--it’s optimal for that.

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The appearance of Dell’s newest big power-yet-little-size laptop, the XPS 13 (13 inches is the size of the screen), belies the power and punch it packs inside its elegant skin.

At first glance, it has the look of a basic workday notebook with maybe 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but not so. Although it looks like a lightweight laptop, it's got 16GB of Intel’s new-gen Optane RAM and a half-terabyte of on-board storage, so if you need to keep video--and everybody’s keeping video these days--it’s optimal for that.

Dell also added its new InfinityEdge display to watch all that video, which renders the laptop virtually borderless--the first of its kind. Those additional micro-inches on the borders make a noticeable difference.

As most companies tend to do, each succeeding edition of a product is usually--or at least should be--a little better than the previous one. That’s how IT, and the world in general, is supposed to work. In the impressive new XPS 13, you have a laptop notebook with a large-enough display and a comfortable-to-use keyboard and touchpad.

The XPS 13 comes with a 10th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, and its parent company claims about 12 hours of battery life. Of course, battery life is never a given, but the unit I tested never had to be recharged during eight-hour usage sessions. So maybe 12 hours without a charge is, in fact, reachable. 

Keyboard, touchpad

The XPS 13's edge-to-edge keyboard features slightly larger keys--9% larger. This is good for older users. The board is backlit and is bright enough for a user to determine every key character in the dark. Well-designed input.

As for the glass Precision touchpad, which most younger users prefer, they’re getting a slightly larger space to navigate. With an area of 4.4 x 2.6 inches, the touchpad is 17% larger than previous versions, so there’s more room for control. You can perform Windows 10 gestures, such as pinch-zoom and three-finger swipe rather easily.

With dimensions of 11.6x7.8x0.6 inches, the 2.8-pound XPS 13 is one of the smallest, yet most solid, small portables available. When it comes to weight (3 pounds or less), it's similar to comparable laptops such as the Microsoft Surface Pro, Apple MacBook Pro, HP SpectreX360 and MSI Prestige.

Security

There’s no separate fingerprint reader anymore. The XPS 13 has one embedded one in the power button for login using Windows Hello. 

Ports

One critique is that the XPS 13 lacks input/output ports. It has only four: a Thunderbolt 3 port on the right next to a headset jack; on the left, there’s another Thunderbolt 3 port and a microSD slot. That's it, so if you're planning to use a mouse or external hard drive, you're going to need to buy a USB Type-C hub or a Thunderbolt-to-USB converter.

Display

In the XPS 13, users get a 13.4-inch, 1920x1200 touch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. The webcam remains in the center of the top bezel, as it does in earlier XPS editions. Dell's CinemaColor utility and Dolby Vision (to enhance the HDR) add improved visuals by adjusting contrast, saturation and white balance via a number of presets (movie, evening, sports and animation).

Overall performance

The Dell XPS 13 packs a seriously good power plant. Running an Intel Core i7-1065G7 (Ice Lake) processor with 16GB of RAM, the laptop allows you to watch movies and multitask on a dozen or more other apps at the same time. Yes, you read that correctly; I’m a longtime multitasker from way back. No hitches in the movie, either.

Webcam

Dell is known for having some of the smallest integrated webcams in the market. The 0.1-inch, 720p webcam does a good job capturing colors; discrete detail, however, is average at best. But this factor generally isn’t enough to discourage a buyer; after all, no one expects Zoom meetings to be sharper than a good smartphone camera or a SLR device.

Software, warranty

Dell always bundles useful branded software with its laptops. Dell Power Manager enables users to manage power consumption via preset profiles to extend battery life. Customer Connect can find a Dell technician if you need system assistance. 

The company recently updated Dell Mobile Connect so it now works well with an iPhone. Users now can swap images, documents and videos between smartphone and laptop. Third-party apps include 20GB of free Dropbox storage for a year. 

The Dell XPS 13 ships with a one-year hardware warranty with onsite and in-home service after remote diagnosis.

Summary

You get what you pay for, always. Pricing ranges from $1,150 to $1,749, depending on seller and configuration, and any of the models will be an excellent addition to your office, home or home office. Since more people are now using a home office than ever before, the XPS 13 would fit in well wherever it’s needed, because it’s small, powerful and dependable. I had no issues with it during my two-month test time. 

Dell XPS 13 specifications

Price: $1,749
CPU: Intel Core i7-1065G7
GPU: Intel Iris Plus
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 512 M.2 NVMe SSD
Display: 13.4-inch, 1080p
Battery: 12:39
Size: 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 2.8 pounds

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...