With an aluminium alloy on the lid and magnesium everywhere else, the XPS 13 is nicely finished. You can poke and prod as much as you like, wherever you like—nothing moves, shakes or rattles. But don't let the matte wrist support fool you, because it does collect smudges. You'll have to wipe it down with a cloth every now and then if you want it to retain its initial charm.
We were a little disappointed with the keyboard. We liked the fact that the keys are backlit and quiet, but it has more of a "plasticky" feel than you get with competitors like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A. And bigger arrow buttons would have been more practical.
The touchpad is nice and smooth; your fingers never really stick on it. Just don't forget to turn on the up-to-four-finger multitouch functions—the multiple-finger zooming, scrolling, navigating and so on aren't on by default, so you have to activate them one by one in the driver.
We were also disappointed with the connectivity. Now, we're used to criticising ultrabooks for their scanty ports, but the XPS 13 really takes the cake. There's no card reader or RJ45 (Ethernet) port, just two USB ports (1 x 2.0 and 1 x 3.0) and a headphone/microphone combo jack. Dell also apparently decided that Mini DisplayPort is more useful than HDMI, even though far less people ever actually use it.
So if you want to go through Ethernet you'll have to get a USB-to-Fast Ethernet adapter (for £32 on the Dell website). Once you've done that, you'll only have one free USB port left! Scanty indeed. If it's HDMI, VGA or DVI you want, you'll have to buy one of the adapters from the website: Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI, Mini DisplayPort-to-VGA, Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI... You get the idea. Depending which adapters you choose, each one will add another £30 to £45 to your bill.
Yet another disappointment was the clearly improvable heat situation. The noise level on the XPS 13 may be moderate, but the temperature is anything but. Certain spots on the top get as high as 69° C (156° F). As you can imagine, it isn't very comfortable on your lap.
The screen doesn't exactly counterbalance the computer's other shortcomings. The colours are entirely false (Delta E of 13) and the contrast is an astonishingly low 250:1, no matter how you set the brightness (maximum 287 cd/m²). Like the Samsung 15" Series 9, the low contrast only degrades the already narrow vertical viewing angles (it's a TN screen). So if you aren't sitting straight in front of the ultrabook the image deteriorates rapidly. These results automatically drop our rating for the XPS 13 down to three stars.
The headphone output is well designed, with accurate reproductions, good stereo rendering and higher volume than most of its competitors.
Green = good, orange = tolerable, white = unacceptable.
The speakers, unfortunately, are the exact opposite: they saturate and hiss even at low volume. To make a long story short, you're better off wearing your headphones.
Our Review Model:The model we were sent to review features an Intel Core i7-2637M17U processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset and a 256 GB solid-state drive. So far we've discussed features that are common to all versions of the XPS 13; what follows applies only to the version we tested, as the specs can depend on the country or region you live in (see above inset).
The Intel Core i7-2637M may be a low consumption processor, but you'd never know it. Productivity software, web browsing, multimedia and even processor-heavy tasks are all a cake walk for it. There's big power in this little machine.
The 256 GB solid-state drive gives the XPS 13 good overall responsiveness and a 20-second start-up (including time to connect to Wi-Fi). Shut-down takes only 5 seconds and coming out of sleep mode is practically instantaneous.
The XPS 13 is nothing special when it comes to gaming. Like most ultrabooks, the graphics rely on nothing more than an Intel HD 3000, which is enough to run older games without too much trouble, but for anything recent you'll have to make some major cutbacks in the quality to get an acceptable frame rate.
However, it decodes 1080p video effortlessly without hiccups or choppiness.
The battery life isn't as long as the HP Folio 13 (6 hours), but it can play video for 5 hours and 20 minutes (with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off, the screen at 100 cd/m² and headphones in). That's about the same as the Asus Zenbook UX31E. Naturally, for an ultrabook, the size (316 x 205 x 6 ~ 18 mm) and weight (1.36 kg) allow it to fit easily and discreetly into any average-sized backpack.
- Very thin and light (1.36 kg)
- CPU / RAM / SSD performance
- Battery life (5 hrs 12 min)
- Headphone output
- Low connectivity (no SD card reader) forces you to buy extra adapters (VGA, Ethernet, etc.)
- Glossy screen with a mediocre image
- Low gaming capability
- Heat (69° C / 156° F on top)
- Speakers saturate quickly
The XPS 13 gets good overall performances from its CPU (video games excluded) and the finishing is nice, but the near-Saharan heat levels, pitiful display and anemic connectivity give this ultrabook a three-star rating, at best.