Review: Dell’s XPS 13 Ultrabook

Ultrabooks are fast becoming the must-have laptop for the busy worker or the quick browser. With their incredible boot-up and shut down speeds, they are becoming faster, quieter and thinner. Dell’s XPS 13 falls squarely into the Ultrabook mould, and provides a quick and easy computing experience.

Ultrabooks are fast becoming the must-have laptop (image: Engadget)

The design of the XPS is sturdy, with all the parts fitting snuggly into their respective holders. The matte silver finish on the lid is a nice touch too, as it will also keep the dust bunnies at bay for some time. The same can be said for the bonded Corning Gorilla Glass, machined aluminium, and matte black carbon-fibre on the business end, with a 13-inch screen that neatly occupies the room an 11-inch normally would.

But the way in which Ultrabooks are designed does not leave a lot of room for manoeuvring. There is a certain set of rules that manufacturers need to comply with in order to be called an Ultrabook, and unfortunately some of the changes will leave users wanting more. One thing that the XPS misses is a healthy helping of USB ports.

With only one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 port, not a lot can be done if users make use of a USB-powered mouse. That leaves one USB port open, and will often be used with a 3G dongle or the likes, having no other port open for a flash drive. There is also a HDMI port to connect the XPS to a bigger screen such as a projector or HDTV.

There is also no network port, so users will have to rely on Wi-Fi only, are spare a open USB port for the 3G dongle.

Although the keyboard is slightly smaller than a full-size laptop, the keys do work rather well – which is incredibly important. Other Ultrabooks suffer from the chicklet key syndrome, where the keys are flimsy and don’t register the necessary strokes. The individual keys sit snug in their respective sockets, which provides for an enjoyable typing experience.

As with most Dell products, they can be customised to a degree, and while the XPS doesn’t feature a rainbow-like selection of keyboard lighting, users do have the option to turn on or off the keyboards backlighting.

Turning it on makes working in the dark or a darkly-lit room a breeze, as the individual keys are lit up from behind, making them very easy to see. And with the crystal clear screen, everything will be displayed in incredible detail.

The entire XPS is also very lightweight, and has to be so in order to be called an Ultrabook. So it’s to no surprise that it weighs very little and is easy to cart around. With that said, it’s on 6mm thick, which also contributes to its weight loss.

But users shouldn’t be fooled by its light weight and fast response time – the inner workings of this little machine packs a rather heavy punch. It features a Intel QS67 i5 or i7 chipset, 1.3MP webcam with dual array digital microphones, Intel Centrino Advanced-N Wi-Fi adapter and the 47WHr battery will provide just under 9 hours’ worth of power. Issues such as RAM need to be determined when purchasing the XPS, as several configurations exist.

With no optical drive (DVD-ROM), the XPS won’t be used to play games on (although users can if they wanted to), but is instead aimed at being a work horse. The Ultrabook performs well when put under a bit of pressure, and completes task successfully.

If users are in the market for a new laptop, it might well worth it to consider an Ultrabook – they are faster, thinner and quieter and in most cases more portable. When searching for an Ultrabook, there are far worse options out there than Dell’s XPS 13.

Our score: 8.1/10

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor