Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook Now on Sale for $999

Dell's entrant into the Ultrabook fray is now available. The XPS 13 has a smaller price and footprint than the Apple MacBook Air, but Dell is hoping for its same wow factor.

The Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook€”a lithe and lovely laptop that Dell hopes will bring about a rebirth of its brand image within the consumer space, and very well may do exactly that€”is now available.

The XPS 13 weighs less than 3 pounds, is less than a quarter of an inch at its thickest point and features a 13.3-inch high-definition WLED display, with edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass. The look of it quickly brings to mind the 13.3-inch Apple MacBook Air€”which actually has a larger footprint than the Dell. By some engineering and design hocus-pocus, Dell has squeezed the 13.3-inch display into a 12-inch chassis, for what it says is a footprint similar to that of an 11-inch laptop. Stack the XPS 13 on top of the MacBook Air, and Apple's beauty suddenly looks, well, larger.

The XPS 13's perks and specs have been well-documented by this point: Dell introduced it at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. And while they're notable€”more than eight hours of battery life, up to an Intel Core i7 processor, Intel HD 3000 graphics, up to a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) option with Intel Rapid Start Technology and 100GB of cloud storage through Dell DataSafe among them€”it's the notable attention to design that was lavished on this machine, and the balance of brains and beauty, that may enable Dell to succeed in its goal.

The XPS 13 is made of lightweight, precision-crafted machined aluminum with a carbon-fiber base, has a full-size, backlit chiclet keyboard and a glass, integrated-button touch-pad with multi-gesture support. The surface materials are said to feel rich and soft and to look understated while impressive.

Endpoint Technologies Analyst Roger Kay, writing on the Forbes site, enthused: "Starting with the bottom ... one can see right away that this is a different type of animal. The dark-gray carbon-fiber base is a study in meditation. The polymer is clear, letting the viewer see the weave of the fiber itself in what Dell calls an 'authentic material statement.'"

PCWorld's Jason Cross wrote, "It€™s a system that is so un-Dell-like (and I mean that in the best possible way) that I€™ve actually carried it around the office to show it to co-workers, most of whom are similarly impressed."

CNet called it the "first Very Important Laptop of 2012."

Walt Mossberg, with All Things D, wrote that he found it to be "solid and well built, speedy and with a good, backlit keyboard, a bright screen and good looks." Yet a major downfall was battery life. Despite Dell's advertised 8 hours, 53 minutes with a six-cell battery, Mossberg's aggressive testing yielded just under four€”the worst battery life he's seen on an Ultrabook to date.

By his same tests, the Lenovo IdeaPad U300 turned in after five hours and the MacBook Air after nearly six.

Other complaints have been about Dell's decisions to leave off a Secure Digital card slot and€”while not a whole-hearted complaint€”to debut the device before the arrival of the Intel's Ivy Bridge chips.

Dell may assuage some critics on the price front, however, offering the XPS 13, with the Intel Core i5 processor and 128GB SSD drive, at a starting price of $999. Apple's 128GB 13-inch MacBook Air, by contrast, starts at $1,300€”though it was introduced eight months ago, and who knows what Apple has up its sleeve in the coming months.

For the first 10,000 customers to purchase an XPS 13, Dell will also sweeten the deal with a free T-Mobile Mobile HotSpot€”good for connecting up to five WiFi-enabled devices€”and 90 days of free 4G mobile broadband service.