dell-xps-13_9350_18The Dell XPS 13 has been much talked about for its extraordinary compact size, for a 13-inch laptop, and the overall quality of its design and construction. It is a particularly good fit for business users, but consumers can also benefit from what it has to offer. In this review, we are testing the XPS 13 model 9350 which comes with the latest improvement from Intel, including a processor upgrade, and more stable Windows 10 drivers. Is the XPS 13 as good as it sounds? 

Design

dell-xps-13_9350_23Ever since this XPS 13 design came out, it was a hit with a lot of users. After all, what’s not to like: a 13.3” display in a body of a 12” laptop seems like a great idea for someone who is looking for a compact chassis, without the traditional downsides of the smaller real estate (= smaller display, trackpad, and keyboard).

From the outside, the Dell XPS 13 (model 9350) is very clean-looking. It is the quintessential business laptop, which looks durable and classy, thanks to its aluminum shell. It feels heavier than it looks, probably because of the more compact body. At 2.8 lbs, it is considered to be an ultra-light or, at least, a thin & light.

Although not the absolute thinnest, The XPS 13 can easily compete with laptops like the Lenovo YOGA 900. There’s a small difference which is partly due to the bump that the XPS 13 has in the back (to allow the air intake to function). In my opinion, a light weight is more important than thinness when it comes to real-world use – that’s what you need to focus on if you carry a laptop all the time.

dell-xps-13_9350_16The XPS 13 display doesn’t recline to 180 degrees (flat), and it will not turn into a tablet, but its smaller size helps it a little when used on a plane’s tray or in a packed conference room. In most “laptop situations” it’s perfectly fine.

Dell XPS 13 (top) and Lenovo Yoga 900 (bottom)

Dell XPS 13 (top) and Lenovo Yoga 900 (bottom)

I liked the smaller form-factor because it allowed me to carry this laptop in a smaller backpack which was just a little too small for a classic 13”. If I need to work in a crowded space (tradeshows like CES are the worst), like using a sling bag like the Maxpedition Lunada GearSlinger because I can quickly sling it in front of me so that I don’t inadvertently bump into someone.

When I go to places like MWC (Barcelona) where pickpockets are literally hunting journalists, it helps a little having my stuff in front of me. These sling bags tend to be just too small for regular 13.3” laptops, but your luck will vary with the brand. These are high-quality bags but were not designed for computer products.

I like that the XPS 13 isn’t prone to fingerprints or greasy hands in general. Both the aluminum shell and the soft-paint area around the keyboard and trackpad stay clean and non-slippery.

Ports

dell-xps-13_9350_13There are two full-size USB 3.0 ports, and one USB-C (+thunderbolt) port. Additionally, there’s an SD card slow, along with 3.5mm audio connector. The power supply isn’t USB-C based, and there’s an Noble-Lock anti-theft attachment (Kensington locks would not fit).

This is pretty much all I need, and I’m just waiting for even more USB-C/Thunderbolt options to appear. I haven’t had a chance to test a Thunderbolt display with the XPS 13, but the USB-C docks are one of the most interesting things for “desk” work. Dell has some cool docks too.

This is pretty much all I need, and I’m just waiting for even more USB-C/Thunderbolt options to appear. I haven’t had a chance to test a Thunderbolt display with the XPS 13, but the USB-C docks are one of the most interesting things for “desk” work. Dell has some cool docks too.

Keyboard

dell-xps-13_9350_22The Dell XPS 13 has a full-size keyboard, with keys that are about 20mm in diagonal, which is similar to other 13.3” laptops. When you see it for the first time, you may be tempted to think that the keys are smaller, but they are not.

Of course, the laptop key travel (how deep the key goes) is relatively short but remains within the norm for this category. I like the backlighting which makes keys clearly legible in a dark environment.

I typed some articles at CES with this laptop, and I’m pretty happy with the tactile feedback, although I would not “rave” about it. The MacBook Pro remains the reference for me (even though I’m a “PC guy”).

That said, I think that Dell can improve this in a couple of ways: I may suggest adding a very subtle curvature on the keys. Secondly, improving the tactile feedback would be nice – that’s pretty much all there is to a great keyboard.

Trackpad

dell-xps-13_9350_20At 105x60mm, the trackpad of the Dell XPS 13 is even bigger than the YOGA 900’s. Again, the slightly more compact width and length of the chassis do not affect the usability, on the contrary! The glass trackpad feels smooth and nice, and the click travel is a bit shorter than other laptops I’ve tested, but I didn’t think it made a big difference in my usage.

Display

dell-xps-13_9350_19As I said previously, the display diagonal of 337 mm makes it a real 13.3” laptop. The small bezel of about 3.5mm-4mm looks beautiful. This is one of the most striking features of this laptop, and what makes it possible to reduce the width/height of the chassis. The display resolution of 3200×1800 makes images and text look incredibly sharp. You will love it.

"YOU WILL LOVE IT"It uses an LCD IPS display, which brings wide angle viewability without color distortion. The black levels are very good, and the colors are well saturated as well.

At 278 NIT, the screen is plenty bright, and I found myself using it at 25% most of the time. Your own usage may vary, mainly depending on where you are. For my part, I mostly work under artificial lighting (conferences, tradeshows) and not outdoors.

Talking about outdoor usage, keep in mind that this display has a reflective treatment. It’s great under regular or dim lighting conditions because it makes the contrast and saturation seem better. However, if you work in a very bright environment (outdoors, photo studio, near a window), you will have more glare. The solution to that is to use a matte display – but that’s not an option here, and in general, I recommend the reflective glass to most people.

Internal hardware

Our unit is a Dell XPS 13 Touch (Model 9350) which uses an Intel Core i5-6200U (2.3GHz – 2.4GHz) processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. It is priced at $1449.99 on Dell.com at the time of publication. The non-touch version has a 1080p display and goes for $1149.99. The 128GB non-touch model is worth $999.99.

For performance/price and value/price, would normally use the 128GB version’s price, but the 256 GB storage should be faster because it is a PCI-E SSD (vs. the 128GB SATA SSD). This will impact storage and system benchmarks.

The upgrade to 8GB/256GB/Core i7-6500U (up to 3.1GHz) will raise the price to 1649.99. We will also use this to compare with the Lenovo YOGA 900 and other potential competitors.

Performance

Regarding performance, you can expect most laptops using the same Intel Core processors to land within 5% of one another, even when comparing Core i5 and Core i7 versions – this isn’t as great as one may think. Just look at the raw numbers:

xps-13-pcm8-work

Performance / price

Absolute benchmark numbers are deceiving. When it comes to performance, it’s all about the ratio between performance and price, or performance and weight. That is the real differentiator. The data shows that while the Dell performs well, its performance level can be seen as a bit pricey when compared to others. The HP Envy 13-td000 (Core i5) is priced very competitively — but that one may have a harder time to compete with the Dell design (subjective matter).

xps-13-pcm8-work-price

Performance / weight

The Dell XPS 13 (9350) comes back roaring when we look at performance from a mobility (weight) standpoint. It shows a good mix of light weight (2.8 lbs) and speed, which is challenged by the Yoga 900, but not as much by the HP Envy 13t-d000.

It’s great, but when compared to a specialized laptop such as the Microsoft Surface 4 Pro, pretty much everyone else will lose. The Surface 4 Pro does, however, have other tradeoffs that you may or may not want. That’s why we think most people won’t choose between the XPS 13 and the Surface 4 Pro.

xps-13-pcm8-work-weightxps-13-pcm8-work-weight-surface4pro

Battery life

When it comes to battery life, the single most important factor is the battery’s capacity. Computers in this category run on very comparable hardware (CPU, GPU) and software (Windows 10), so unless the OEM has done something truly horrible (or wonderful), the capacity of the battery is the main differentiator. There are a few ways to look at it: absolute capacity, capacity relative to the price and weight. All three are important for different reasons.

xps-13-9350-battery-capacity

The absolute capacity will pretty much dictate how long the computer will stay alive with YOUR usage pattern. Most synthetic battery benchmarks will show unrealistic numbers, so much so that the common wisdom is “take whatever the OEM says, and divide by two”. These synthetic tests should not be used to estimate real-world usage, but “lab” tests to isolate a specific piece of the computer.

xps-13-9350-battery-capacity-pricexps-13-9350-battery-capacity-weight

The Dell XPS 13 (9350) has a 56Wh battery, which is a great capacity. It also has a decent capacity for the price, and for the weight. It’s not “the best” in any of these, but it performs well-enough in all those aspects.

Conclusion (excellent)

The Dell XPS 13 (9350) is an excellent laptop. I had a great time using it at CES 2016 and to me, there’s no situation that’s more “real world” than that. I appreciate very much that the chassis is smaller than other 13.3 laptops, and I liked the very good industrial design and the solid feel it has.

The XPS 13 (9350) is comfortable to use and is objectively the equivalent of a real 13.3 laptop. I was reasonably happy with the keyboard, and the display is beautiful – no doubt about that.

Other laptops have slightly better keyboards, a slightly larger battery, or can feel a bit more comfortable, but for everything else, the XPS 13 is extremely competitive.

This computer is a great “do-it-all” computer that I have no problem recommending if you like the design. The compact size and design are its best features. You may want to look at the Yoga 900 for its 360-degree and larger battery, or the HP Envy 13t for its affordability. But if you decide to pick up the Dell XPS 13, you will be happy.

Overall product rating: 9/10

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