Dell XPS 13 (InfinityEdge touch Late 2015) review

Dell launches gold XPS 13 variant at New York Fashion Week

, Reviews
22 Jun, 2016
4
Price 
£958
ex VAT
Pros 
Lightweight; Sturdy; Attractive; Comfortable keyboard and touchpad; Good battery life
Cons 
Display scaling issues; Sleep bugs
Verdict 
Despite a handful of flaws, this is one of the best Windows ultraportables available

While other laptop manufacturers have been seemingly content to ape the look and feel of Apple’s market-leading MacBook laptops, Dell has thankfully taken a different path with its XPS range. The latest XPS 13 ultra portable has a distinct look and feel that sets it apart from other similarly sized laptops.

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18/02/2016: As if the Dell XPS 13 wasn't stylish enough, it's now available with a special edition gold casing.

Launched at New York Fashion Week, the new variant comes courtesy of fashion designers Opening Ceremony, in partnership with Microsoft and Dell.

"Opening Ceremony's founders, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, are both Dell users and with gold being a central theme of their new line, it made for a perfect opportunity to debut the Dell XPS Gold as well as support our most fashionable customers," Dell PR manager Lauren Mauro told Digital Trends.

Not only is the new gold version significantly more swanky-looking, it's also had an internal upgrade, too. The XPS 13 Gold now includes Intel Iris Graphics 540, which will supposedly grant a 40 per cent performance boost over the basic Intel HD Graphics.

Aside from that, the internals are basically standard. It's only available in one flavour, however, with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 3,200 x 1,800 InfinityEdge display.

Carbon Fibre and InfinityEdge

In previous years, Dell laptops have often been notable for their technical horsepower, rather than their eye-catching designs. This is now a thing of the past, however, and the XPS 13 is a genuine rival to Apple's notebooks - commonly seen as the high water mark of laptop design.

The lid and chassis of the XPS 13 are made of lightweight MacBook-style aluminium, but the edges and corners are much more sharply defined than Cupertino's offerings, and the wrist rest and keyboard surround are also constructed of carbon fiber.

This makes the XPS 13 both light and rigid, and with a weight of just 1.3kg, it's no struggle at all to carry around for the day. Not only that, but the blending of aluminium and carbon fibre build materials make it one of the classiest and most distinctive devices around.

Although the XPS 13's screen measures 13in across the diagonal, you wouldn't think it on first glance. Instead, it has much more in common with the footprint of 11 or 12in laptops.

That's because Dell has drastically slashed the size of the bezels surrounding the display, using something it calls an InfinityEdge design. There's just 5mm between the edge of the lid and the screen, which gives it a striking and futuristic appearance.

On the other hand, we are slightly concerned that a narrower bezel could result in greater damage to the display should you drop it. On top of this, when trying to pick up or hold the XPS 13 by the lid, it's very difficult to avoid inadvertently tapping things via the touchscreen. Of course, the touchscreen can be disabled via the BIOS, or non-touchscreen models are available from Dell.

Regardless, it’s a great looking laptop screen - very bright with top-notch colour accuracy. One annoyance was the dynamic contrast, a feature more commonly found on TVs. As its name suggests, this automatically adjusts the contrast to suit your lighting conditions. We’d prefer the option to have manual control over it though, if only for delicate photo editing work where we’d rather not leave anything to chance.

Another somewhat problematic screen feature is the very high resolution of 3200x1800 pixels. Although this means text can be very sharp while high-resolution images look fantastically detailed, a lot of Windows programs still have scaling issues on such a high resolution, high pixel density screen. Wildly differing text sizes in different programs remains a frequent, recurring problem.

One design quirk of the screen’s narrow bezels is the placement of the webcam in the bottom left hand corner of the screen rather than its more usual place in the middle of the top bezel. Although unusual, it still works well enough for video chats.

Touchscreen, keyboard and touchpad

Upright touchscreens on non-convertible, non-detachable laptops such as the XPS 13 can be uncomfortable to use for long periods of time so it’s likely you’ll only use it occasionally. Thankfully, there’s no need to use it frequently anyway as the touchpad and keyboard are both very good.

The keys are large with plenty of feedback and travel, so typing was a pleasure. Bizarrely, the brightness of the backlit keys is controlled in the BIOS - hardly convenient. The touchpad was a vast improvement over the spate of terrible to mediocre touchpads we’ve seen in a lot of Windows laptops over the past few years. Smooth and responsive with accurate tracking, it also coped well with the multitouch gestures in Windows 10.

Battery life and performance

The XPS 13 is no workstation laptop, but it’s still more than powerful enough to take the place of bigger, more space hungry desktops and laptops for most office workers thanks to its 8GB of memory, 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 6500U dual core processor and 256GB SSD.

The power efficiency of the Skylake-class processor helped the XPS 13 achieve just over 11 and a half hours in our light usage battery test and five and a half hours in our more heavy duty battery test. Although we’ve seen other Core i5 and i7 equipped laptops last even longer (with previous generation Broadwell chips no less), this is still enough for all but the most red-eyed of working days.

One potential drain on battery life is the XPS 13’s intensely irritating habit of not falling asleep properly, or waking from sleep without user input. This happened to us on more than one occasion - pulling out a blazing hot laptop with fans at full blast and the battery having lost a significant chunk of its charge is very inconvenient to say the least. We suspect this might be due to a buggy graphics card driver, as was the case with last year’s version of this laptop. If so, we hope this will be fixed pronto via a software update.

Thunderbolt 3 and options

The late 2015 XPS 13 is the first laptop we’ve seen to come with Thunderbolt 3. At 40Gbit/s on paper, it’s more than twice as fast as the already blazing Thunderbolt 2. Unlike the first two generations of Thunderbolt though, Thunderbolt 3 uses the new USB Type-C connector instead of Mini DisplayPort. Although somewhat confusing, this not only means you’ll be able to use USB-C peripherals with the XPS 13, but this should hopefully boost the availability of Thunderbolt 3 devices - Thunderbolt 2 peripherals remain disappointingly thin on the ground.

Thunderbolt 3 isn’t just for future-proofing - it’s of practical use now as it’s the only video-out port on the XPS 13. You’ll need adapters, which are sold separately, but you’ll be able to connect HDMI or VGA monitors and projectors as needed as well as Ethernet adapters should you need wired networking. Dell hasn’t skimped on more traditional connections - there’s a pair of USB 3.0 ports, as well as a full-size SD slot, a Kensington security slot, power and headset connectors.

If this laptop’s £958 ex VAT price is too dear, you can shave it down to £791 ex VAT by opting for a 1080p display. You can cut it down ever further to £708 inc VAT, but this cheapest model only has 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD - hardly a future-proof configuration. On the other hand, if money is no object, £1166 ex VAT gets you a plentiful 16GB of memory and a roomier 512GB M.2 SSD. This configuration is worth considering as upgrading the XPS 13 after the fact is a little tricky.

Conclusions/h2>

Despite its sleep and display issues, the latest Dell XPS 13 is a great laptop. We wish its battery life was even longer, but this ultra portable is still well suited for productivity on the go. A great quality screen, top notch keyboard and a stylish, sturdy casing make this InfinityEdge laptop great value.

Specifications 

Processor: Dual-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U

RAM: 8GB

Dimensions: 304x200x15mm

Weight: 1.29kg

Screen size: 13.3in

Screen resolution: 3,200x1,800

Graphics adaptor: Intel HD Graphics 520

Total storage: 256GB SSD