Dell Incorporated, easily one of the world’s most prestigious manufacturers and best-recognised brand-names, needs little introduction.
Founded in Austin, Texas, USA back in 1984 by Michael Dell, who had dropped out of university to focus on his company, Dell Inc. rose to prominence over the years and became a Fortune 500 company, comfortably sitting at number 41.
Dell is also fondly known for their subsidiary, Alienware, which produces high-end and often insanely expensive enthusiast computers.
Today we’ll be taking a look at Dell’s high-end XPS (Xtreme Performance System) 13 laptop. The XPS series caters to the high-end line of performance computer users.
Design and build quality
Designed to be an “Ultrabook” – what Intel likes to call laptops that have been designed to be lighter and more compact without compromising performance – this featherweight champ weighs in at a petite 1,356 grams, with a slim 6-18mm frame, housing the 13.3-inch.
With a sturdy and perfectly smooth silver aluminium covering, the build quality is top notch, clean and crisp. At the bottom of the device, surrounded by a composite carbon fibre base, is an aluminium plate with the XPS logo embossed on it that gives it a very classy, professional feel.
The front of the XPS 13 has a thin white power light that gently pulses at standby and turns off along with the device. As the battery runs dry, the colour changes to a rather mesmerising neon orange, like heated steel. It works somewhat artfully with the aluminium cover.
A battery indicator with five white pinprick LED lights line up along the right side of the laptop. Pushing the button beside them will cause them to light up and indicate the remaining charge. Also on the right side of the device is a USB 3.0 port and a Mini DisplayPort.
On the left is the power input, a USB 2.0 port with PowerShare and a single headset jack. The power button is neatly nestled beside the Escape key alongside the keyboard.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The plastic used as the palmrest is a mag alloy with “soft touch paint” which gives it an amazingly smooth, velvety matte finish.
The keyboard is very comfortable, spill-resistant and compact without managing to feel cramped. Key presses are responsive and there’s enough tactile feedback to give a satisfying pleasure from every key click. The keys are all smooth, in line with the feel of the rest of the device and its compact design means that Dell opted to omit media keys.
The touchpad, while basic, is glass-integrated – giving it a wonderful feel – and perfectly responsive; blending in well with the overall design of the device. It also supports gestures, as you’d come to expect.
I’ve read some criticism that the touchpad is overly sensitive but I found it to be just right. You need to actually touch the pad for it to acknowledge movement, as opposed to reports that the cursor sometimes jumps all over the show before even placing your fingers down.
While our review unit sported an Intel i5-2467M Dual Core processor (1.60GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 2.30GHz), it is possible to upgrade it to an i7-2637 Dual Core (1.70GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 2.80GHz).
The XPS 13 comes standard with a 128GB solid-state drive that can be upgraded to 256GB. It also comes with 4GB dual channel DDR3 on-board RAM at 1333MHz.
Also standard is a 1.3 megapixel webcam with dual-array digital microphones – one on either side of the webcam. The quality was decent through Skype: listeners can make out what you’re saying but don’t expect the same quality as you would get with a good headset microphone with decent noise cancellation – it sounds terribly dull and washed out.
Wi-Fi connectivity comes via Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 802.11 a/g/n with Intel’s Smart Connect Technology (basically just a snappier way to tether to your device) and Bluetooth 3.0.
The XPS 13 is also Intel Wireless Display (Wi-Di) ready, meaning that it’s possible to wirelessly share your display to compatible devices through the use of an adapter.
One thing that can be said on behalf of this laptop is that its sound is top-class. Sound is very clear and detailed thanks to its two 1.5w rear speakers. You’ll definitely be surprised by how great they sound.
Connectivity and I/O
As previously mentioned, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB and a Mini DisplayPort are all present. What isn’t present, however, is a card reader. Quite strange for what can be viewed as a mobile device that doesn’t have an optical drive and is likely to be favoured by photographers and media lovers.
Possibly the most attractive feature about this little beast is its display. The clarity is simply amazing thanks to its WLED or White Light Emitting Diode back-lighting. It’s basically just a slightly more elaborate way of saying that it uses LED back-lighting and the terms are used interchangeably.
Using Gorilla Glass for added protection against scuffs and scratches – something I’m ecstatic about – the WLED display measures 13.3-inch at a native resolution of 1366×768. High-definition video and photos look life-like and picture perfect.
The only bit of disappointment to be had for enthusiasts is that the XPS 13 makes use of an Intel HD 3000 GPU. It would’ve been nice to see NVIDIA or AMD get in on this.
Performance and Battery Life
Considering the use of an SSD, a dual-core Intel i5 processor running at 1.6GHz and 4GB of DDR3 1333MHz RAM, performance is pretty much what you would expect from a high-end laptop from Dell – brilliant.
HD video runs smoothly, programs load up instantly, and Windows 7 Professional starts up from a cold boot and is fully loaded in 14-seconds flat. Not shabby at all.
The battery was amazing. It lasted six hours while looping a 1080p HD video. Criticism? It’s integrated and its inevitable replacement, as battery life wears down over time, would necessitate taking the device in to a service centre.
It’s very difficult not to love this laptop. It sports excellent build quality, fantastic performance, great battery life and manages to look and feel classy, expensive and tasteful – what you would expect from Dell, really.
However, the lack of an SD card slot on an “Ultrabook” is a bit curious. I would have liked to see a SIM card slot and modem as well for added connectivity while mobile. All the same, I’m hard-pressed to find much fault with this device.
The recommended retail price for the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook laptop is R14,999 for the Intel i5 variant, and R 18,999 for the Intel i7 variant.