Dell XPS 13 (InfinityEdge touch Late 2015) review

Dell's ultraportable is sleek and powerful

IT Pro Recommended
Price
£958
  • Lightweight; Sturdy; Attractive; Comfortable keyboard and touchpad; Good battery life
  • Display scaling issues; Sleep bugs

In previous years, Dell's enterprise-grade laptops were a definite case of function over form, lacking the style and panache of some of their rivals. Not any more though. Not only does the XPS 13 boast impressive performance and features, it's also one of the most stylish notebooks around.

Read our review of the Dell XPS 13 (late 2016) model here

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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 casing of the XPS 13 is reminiscent of the MacBook's light lid and chassis aluminium, but where Apple has gone for soft, subtle rounded edges, Dell's machine displays its sharp edges proudly. A carbon fibre wrist rest and keyboard surround complete the XPS 13's modern look.

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The result is a pleasing blend of tough rigidity and weightlessness, making the 1.3kg ultraportable fittingly easy to take around with you wherever you're going. By using both carbon fibre and aluminium, it's an unusually classy and distinctive device, too.

The XPS 13's 13in screen doesn't seem intrusively large; rather it reminds you of an 11in or 12in device, largely thanks to Dell's decision to cut down the width of the bezels wrapped around the screen with a new InfinityEdge design. While it only leaves 5mm between the edge of the screen and the edge of the lid, it's actually still a decent border while maximising your screen space.

Still, the narrow bezel does mean you're more likely to damage that big screen if you ever drop the device. It's also slightly awkward to pick up by the lid - every time you do you're likely to accidentally tap things on the touchscreen display. You can disable the touchscreen of course, using the BIOS, or get a non-touchscreen model, but it's an unfortunate downside nonetheless.

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

Touchscreens are becoming ubiquitous on modern laptops, even those without a convertible or detachable display. However, they can be very handy for making quick selections or dismissing pop-ups, they're hardly something you're likely to use for prolonged periods, as the angle can be more than a little awkward.

Thankfully, this is made up for by the excellent keyboard and trackpad. The large keys have plenty of travel and feedback, so typing is a pleasure, and the touchpad is leagues ahead of some of the terrible examples we've had foisted on us over the years.

It's smooth and responsive with accurate tracking, and handles Windows 10's multitouch gestures with aplomb. The only minor hiccup is the fact that the keyboard backlighting's brightness is controlled through the BIOS settings, which is as baffling as it is inconvenient.

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.

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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

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.

This review was originally published on 24 December, 2015, and has since been updated to refer to newer models

Verdict

Despite a handful of flaws, this is one of the best Windows ultraportables available

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

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