Good Sides: Dell’s revamped XPS 13 has a nearly borderless display, a very small body for a 13-inch laptop and the latest Intel CPUs. Battery life in this lower-end configuration gets a big boost.
Bad Sides: Dropping the higher-resolution screen and edge-to-edge glass overlay means the look is not as slick, and losing touch makes Windows 8 harder to use.
Dell wowed the crowds at CES 2015 with its newly redesigned XPS 13 laptop, which squeezed a 13-inch laptop into what felt very close to an 11-inch body, and more importantly, cut the bezel surrounding the screen down to the barest minimum.
We said at the time that this was a system that moved the needle on laptop design, taking a cue from the past few generations of television design, where screen bezels have already been squeezed to nearly nothing. Dell called it the infinity display and described it as “virtually borderless.”
Our initial review was of one of the higher-end configurations, with a 3,200×1,800-pixel touchscreen and Intel Core i5 CPU, all for a total price of $1,399 (AU$2,099 in Australia), while the base model starts at $799 in the US, and AU$1,499 in Australia. The UK configurations are slightly different, and all models include the higher-res touch display, more RAM and larger SSD hard drives, and start at £1,049.
We liked the higher-end model we originally tested and reviewed, appreciating its slick design, decent performance and extreme portability. What we didn’t see was a big performance boost from the new fifth generation of Intel’s Core i-series CPUs, or battery life that was more than average.
Dell followed up by sending us a lower-end version of the XPS 13, this time without the touchscreen and with only a standard 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution, but with the promise of much-improved battery life. Trading down the resolution doesn’t seem like a big loss in a smaller 13-inch system, but not having a touchscreen is a setback for anyone looking to use Windows 8 effectively, especially considering that the touchpad on the XPS 13 is one of the system’s few weak spots.
More importantly, the non-touch display in this $899 configuration loses the edge-to-edge glass overlay that the touch version had. The screen bezel is still very thin, but it lacks that unified, tied-together look and feel you get from a single plane covering the entire front-facing panel of the laptop.
But that trade-off in design and touch brings with it a notable benefit. This version of the XPS 13 ran significantly longer in our battery life tests, running for more than 12 hours on a single charge, while the high-res version ran for about 7 hours on the same test. That’s a major boost, and it puts the XPS 13 in MacBook Air territory.
Saving several hundred on this configuration and getting radically improved battery life seems like a win-win situation, but I do miss the slick glass overlay and the touchscreen. If Dell had an in-between version with a 1,920×1080-pixel touchscreen and battery life somewhat close to that 12-hour mark, that might be my perfect 13-inch Windows laptop.