The world of laptops is moving fast, and the end of 2012 saw a raft of new designs that aim to get the best from Windows 8.
The Dell XPS 13 was one of the highlights of last year, so it’s no surprise that Dell has continued with its flagship Ultrabook and given it the Windows 8 treatment.
The Dell XPS 13 is a pleasure to look at, and at first glance it’s hard to see the differences between it and an Apple Macbook. The lid is adorned with aluminium giving it a solid and high quality finish with rounded edges and minimalist design.
Inside, however, is a soft rubber coating, reminiscent of the interior of an expensive car. It’s light too, weighing just 1.4kg, but it’s not quite as thin as the likes of the Acer Aspire S7 or the Macbook Air.
Those are its closest rivals in terms of price and design, but unlike those models, the Dell XPS 13 packs in blockbuster specs that deliver incredible performance.
Multitasking made easy
There’s an Intel Core i7 processor, which is the best chip you’ll find in any Ultrabook. It will handle pretty much anything you can throw at it; video and picture editing are all staples of the XPS 13’s diet, as is multitasking all kinds of desktop and Windows 8 apps.
There’s also a whopping 8GB of RAM, which help to keep the system responsive, and a massive 256GB solid state drive. This last addition is one of the big selling points, as it marries incredible speed with a realistic amount of storage for all your files and programs.
The £1,199 price tag isn’t small change, but Dell is treating customers who buy into the premium Ultrabook experience to a host of great specs that simply can’t be found in competitors’ machines.
Battery life is staggering; we looped an HD video for 325 minutes before it ran out of power, which is one of the best laptop performances we’ve seen. This puts the Dell XPS 13 in the same league as most dedicated tablets for longevity, and means it’s a great buy for anyone who wants a reliable companion on the move.
One slight disappointment, however, is the screen. Dell has been adding wonderful full HD screens to its XPS 12 and XPS 15 products, but the XPS 13 only gets a 1,366 x 768 panel. This is something of a letdown when you consider that Sony, Asus and Acer have all made 1080p panels a fixture of the Windows 8 experience.
Not only is the panel lacking the resolution boost that we’ve come to expect from Windows 8 machines, there’s also another glaring omission. Windows 8 is designed to work best with touchscreens, and this has led to a raft of tablet/laptop hybrids, like Dell’s own XPS 12, and standard laptops like the fabulous Asus Vivobook S200. It’s a natural evolution of the laptop and really works with Windows 8’s large, tiled interface and apps.
Unfortunately, the Dell XPS 13’s panel is as touch-friendly as a starving hyena. The result is a user experience that feels dated and flat. We sorely missed being able to pinch and zoom web sites using the screen, and couldn’t get the most from the apps on the ever-expanding Windows Store.
Of course, not everyone wants to embrace the touchscreen future, and many people prefer the simplicity of the traditional laptop experience, and fortunately, the XPS 13 excels in this area. The chiclet keys are wonderful, with plenty of travel and wonderful cushioning which makes it easy to type on for long periods.
The trackpad is adorned in the same rubber material as the rest of the XPS 13’s luxurious body, and is accurate and responsive, offering a wonderful experience whether you’re sat at your desk or working on the train. The Dell also excels if you spend a lot of time working on the move.
There’s no wasted space, with the 13-inch screen crammed into the dimensions you’d expect from a 12-inch machine. It’s tiny, yet spacious, with no bezels to add unnecessary bulk.
The Dell XPS 13 is still one of the best laptops you can buy, offering top performance, brilliant battery life and excellent build quality. However, in 2013, touchscreen technology is no longer an expensive luxury. It’s the bread and butter of the Windows 8 experience, and Dell has let us down by not offering the option on its flagship Ultrabook.
While we love the Dell XPS 13, we’d recommend holding off for a touchscreen version, or trying the Acer Aspire S7 if you want to get the most from Windows 8.
By James Stables, TechRadar