Dell XPS 13 (2016)
This is a review of the 2016 Dell XPS 13 model. Click the following link to read our review of the very latest, 2017 Dell XPS 13.
The Dell XPS 13 epitomizes laptops in a way that Apple should envy at this point. For the past few years, it’s become the ‘default’ notebook here at TechRadar, and we assure you that’s not because of popularity and name recognition alone. This thing sets a standard for fast mobile computers that you won’t be embarrassed to carry around in public.
Better yet, by our own contention, it’s the best laptop to date. At a time when 2-in-1 devices have begun to emerge and everyone wants their hands on the latest novelty, however, it’s also strikingly conservative. Sure, it feels like a top-quality machine, but if you’re looking for groundbreaking, you might be wary that something better will come along.
Inevitably – as new technology develops – that will happen, but the Dell XPS 13 is the safest bet you can bank on. The keyboard is comfy, albeit conventional, the border-less screen is sharp on the high-end and there aren’t any risky design choices that will turn you off. It’s practically the antithesis to the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar in that it has all of its ports and the function keys are all present.
At the same time, the Dell XPS 13 is mighty powerful, and though we’ve yet to get our hands on the latest version, it is available with 8th-generation Intel processors as an option. In fact, there are so many variables with the Dell XPS 13 that it’s tough to generalize. Of course, every model comes with USB ports and an SD card reader, but the guts differ drastically based on how much money you’re willing to spend.
Price and availability
There are various avenues for buying the Dell XPS 13, so stick with us. While it starts at $799 (£999, AU$1,899), that only fetches you a dual-core Intel Core i3 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage paired with a full HD, 1,920 x 1,080 InfinityEdge screen. That’s for a non-touch screen, too, if that matters to you.
Meanwhile, the UK and Australian versions of the Dell XPS 13 base model come sporting an Intel Core i5 processor – sorry, US readers, it looks like you’ll be given the short end of the stick.
Still, you can always configure your laptop with upgrades and, in classic Dell fashion, there are a multitude of these in tow. You can add a touchscreen, for instance, bearing a 3,200 x 1,800-pixel resolution. However, there’s a steep price difference in doing so, as this Core i5-equipped model also requires that you shell out a grand total of $1,299 (£1,249, AU$2,499).
As of late 2017, there are several configurations you can buy that feature 8th-generation Intel Kaby Lake Refresh processors. These start at $1,299 in the US and go up from there. In the UK and Australia, you can snatch one up for £1,149 and AU$1,999, respectively.
To be fair, there isn’t a lot to be said of the XPS 13’s design this time around, as very little, if anything, has changed. You still have the 13.3-inch display as sharp as QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800 pixels) with optional touch controls tightly packed within an 11-inch-wide frame.
And, you still have the beautiful, machined aluminum lid and base that beset a comfy, carbon fiber keyboard deck coated in soft-touch paint. Only this time, the lid and base come in rose gold – the salmon shade that’s all the rage in tech products these days – as well as the traditional silver option.
The machine somehow measures even thinner than the previous generation, though only by a hair: 0.33 inches (9mm) at its thinnest point to 0.6 inches (15mm) at its thickest. For those keeping score, the previous model came in at two hundredths of an inch thicker at the nose.
Dell has also lowered the weight of its leading laptop, but by such a small degree it would be impossible to notice: from 2.93 pounds (1.32kg) to now just 2.9 pounds (1.29kg) even for the touchscreen model. Short of a major breakthrough in the materials used to construct the XPS 13, we’re likely looking at the thinnest and lightest Ultrabook from Dell for a while. (Please, prove us wrong.)
All told, we’re still smitten by the XPS 13 design, and frankly we’re happy it hasn’t changed much, because it doesn’t have to. One small request: if Dell could at least center that bottom bezel-oriented webcam like it has on the new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, that would be clutch.
More ‘pro’ than the MacBook Pro?
During our time with the new XPS 13, we came to a crucial realization: this laptop can match and even surpass the 13-inch MacBook Pro in almost every regard. For 100 bucks less than Apple’s latest laptop, the XPS 13 offers a sharper screen, a stronger processor and the same amount of RAM and storage.
Oh, and this guy has a full-size SD card slot.
The MacBook Pro? You’ll get one more Thunderbolt 3 port – one of which needs to be used for charging – and little else for its starting price. On paper, it seems like the XPS 13 will give you a better time editing photos and video than its archnemesis. Well played, Dell.
Gabe Carey and Nick Pino have also contributed to this review.
First reviewed January 2017
The , for instance, starts at $899 (about £736, AU$1,206) for a QHD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels), non-touch screen with the same 7th generation Intel processor and amount of RAM as well as storage. It’s a bit better off in visuals and offer more ports overall, but lacks that SD card reader. From there, the Blade Stealth gains a beefier Core i7 processor and more RAM and storage for much less than Dell can currently offer, but will always lack an SD card reader. That said, the Blade Stealth can more easily play games using Razer’s Core graphics card box.
Meanwhile, the is a convertible 2-in-1 that doesn’t start for nearly as cheap as the XPS 13 at $1,049 or AU$2,199 (about £859) for the same processor and RAM capacity, but it offers double the storage behind an FHD touch display. From there, the Spectre x360 also gets more powerful innards for less and tops it off with a sharper UHD (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) screen for less than the highest-end XPS 13. This machine also lacks the SD card reader.
All told, the new XPS 13 can fit the mold of both a creative professional and the casual user’s life more readily than these two aforementioned laptops. But, that comes at the cost of a price curve that isn’t as generous as its rivals.
It all comes down to what you want out of your next laptop. If that’s versatility between professional and personal use, then the XPS 13 is tough to beat.
The XPS 13 sent to us for review came packing the 2.7GHz, dual-core Intel Core i7-7500U processor powering the 3,200 x 1,800 resolution touchscreen with 8GB of RAM behind it. As you can see from the benchmarks, this chip has no problem gobbling up the various tests thrown its way.
Getting back to general performance, we encountered zero issues with the XPS 13 during our usual workload. That’s 10-plus Google Chrome browser tabs with various spreadsheets, documents and webpages therein alongside the Slack chat client.
And, speaking of photo editing, the XPS 13 handled Lightroom with nary a problem. In fact, editing photos through a QHD+ screen helps take far better advantage of the RAW image files than even a QHD display. Exports tend to choke the system slightly, but that’s to be expected on most devices short of those with gobs of memory and desktop-grade processors.
All in all, expect some top-notch performance from this nearly top-end, $1,599 (£1,179, AU$2,499) version of the XPS 13. Though, we wouldn’t expect drastically worse output from the Core i5 variety.
Dell, like all the other laptop makers, promises some insane longevity from the XPS 13, to the tune of up to 22 hours from the FHD model (Core i3) and 13 hours from the QHD+ version (Core i5) in the MobileMark 14 test. Since we’re testing the Core i7 variety with the QHD+ screen, we haven’t enjoyed nearly as long of battery life from the XPS 13.
Of course, that’s not to say the numbers we’ve recorded aren’t impressive. A score of 4 hours and 3 minutes is actually more than acceptable from the notoriously unforgiving PCMark 8 battery test. Better yet, the XPS 13 lasted a cool 7 hours and 13 minutes playing Guardians of the Galaxy at 1080p on loop. That’s just minutes from the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s figure of 7 hours and 24 minutes on the same test.
Both tests are conducted with the screen and volume at 50% with all radios but Wi-Fi deactivated as well as keyboard backlighting disabled.
If you were to use the Windows 10 Battery Saver mode throughout your use of the XPS 13 while away from an outlet, surely you could squeeze at least another hour out of the device. At that point, you’re looking at all-day battery life, the gold standard for laptops today.
All in all, the new XPS 13 does exactly what it needed to do to remain king of the hill in the laptop world in our eyes: improve and refine. By virtue of sticking to some old guns in an SD card slot and barrel connector for power, while adopting fresher tech at a slower pace (Thunderbolt 3 USB-C), the XPS 13 is better suited for a wider swathe of individuals than most of today’s top laptops.
The fact that the XPS 13 hasn’t changed all that much in a sea of laptops, which can’t seem to stop going thinner and adopting the newest tech wholecloth, and it actually works to its benefit. Dell is clearly aware that, frankly, some legacy features are still more attractive than the new hotness, like SD card slots and dedicated power ports. Couple that with the latest processor and a seriously sharp screen for one of, if not, the laptop to beat.
There isn’t much that left us sour regarding the XPS 13, save for one feature that sorely needs a change: the webcam. For at least the past two iterations now, the XPS 13 webcam has been relegated to the far bottom-left end of the screen bezel. Frankly, holding video meetings or just calling friends or family over Skype is neither a productive or fun experience with the webcam oriented this way. We can only hope the XP 13 2-in-1 webcam design will bleed over into this model in the next revision.
Aside from that one mostly harmless shortcoming, the Dell XPS 13 persists as a thoroughly impressive piece of consumer computing hardware. Best of all, few modifications had to be made to get it to that point.
With this update, Dell manages to either meet or beat the new MacBook Pro, spec-for-spec, for 100 bucks less. If you’re torn between this laptop and Apple’s latest, we hope we’ve now made that decision easier for you.
But, even against the spate of Windows-bound laptops that have adopted burgeoning technologies whole cloth, the XPS 13 stands out with a healthy balance of old and new tech inside a device that’s comfortable to use for as long as it can last – a long time. For that reason, the Dell XPS 13 wins our Best in Class award.
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