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Review: Dell One-Ups Apple's MacBook With New XPS 13

The CRN Test Center loves the design, performance and portability of Dell's redesigned laptop.

While Apple has gotten plenty of praise for the eye-appealing design of its 12-inch MacBook, the laptop's horsepower and keyboard quality have been notably lacking.

With the newly redesigned XPS 13, Dell has a laptop that both rivals the MacBook on style and far surpasses it in areas like performance and overall usability.

[Related: 5 Things To Know About Dell's Redesigned New XPS 13]

At the CRN Test Center, we rank the new XPS 13 among the best-looking laptops we've tried out to date, with its rose gold exterior and newly added "alpine white" woven glass fiber on the palm rest, keyboard and display bezel. It's glorious--and distinctive from anything Apple has right now. (There's also a standard model with a silver exterior and black interior.)

Speaking of the bezel, Dell has shrunk the XPS 13 bezel around the display even further from the previous model, which already sported one of the smallest laptop screen borders out there. The result is that the new XPS 13 feels even more futuristic, with the display now almost inseparable from the rest of the world.

And while Apple boasts that the MacBook measures just 0.52 of an inch thick, the new XPS 13 is even thinner at 0.46 of an inch.

Overall, the new XPS 13 design feels like something Apple should have thought of for its MacBook, but didn't.

Display, Keyboard, Speed

Then there are all of the other advantages the new XPS 13 has over the MacBook. The screen is larger, at 13.3 inches, and arguably better quality with its new 4K option and support for HDR. The display is super-bright and colorful, and when paired with the slim bezels of the InfinityEdge design, the screen just draws you in.

The keyboard is another top feature. It's amazingly comfortable to use thanks in part to its deep keys--an impressive feat for a laptop that's so thin. Apple, by contrast, made compromises with the MacBook that led to a keyboard that's excessively shallow and problematic for many users.

Then there's the horsepower. A speedy eighth-gen Intel Core i7 processor and 16 GB of RAM made our tryout model of the XPS 13 a breeze to use while multitasking. The MacBook can't keep up with its far slower Intel Y-series chips.

It helps that the Precision Touchpad on the XPS 13 is terrific, per usual--and our model also came with a touch screen that makes the laptop even more versatile in terms of navigation, working on documents and so forth.

In addition, the XPS 13 touch model is now lighter at 2.68 pounds, compared with 2.9 pounds previously, and smaller all around thanks to the shrinking of the bezels and thinner design.

Battery Life, Ports, Webcam

There are some trade-offs that need to be pointed out, though.

The 4K touch display takes a toll on the battery life, and we got just 6.5 hours on a charge in our tryout, with heavy usage and the brightness set to 75 percent. Accepting a lower brightness, or opting for the longer-lasting FHD model, will probably be necessary if you often find yourself needing a full day or more of battery.

Then there's the port situation. Dell has followed Apple's example and eliminated USB-A and other ports in favor of USB-C with the new XPS 13, which includes three USB-C ports along with a microSD slot. The moves are necessary for enabling such a thin laptop design, but there are users who won't be thrilled.

Dell did take steps to remediate what was possibly the biggest drawback of the previous XPS 13 models, the webcam placement. Prior models had the webcam on the lower left corner below the display. That placement has allowed for the minimal bezel above the display, but it produced an awkward angle for videoconferencing.

The new model has the webcam in a better spot, centered beneath the display, but it's still not ideal. The webcam in our model actually captured the top of the keyboard unless we tilted the display back a fair amount. And it still doesn't make you look great.

Dell assures us that the company is eager for smaller webcams to become available that can be integrated into a better location on future XPS 13 models. Right now though, maintaining the tiny top bezel on the XPS 13 is the priority.

Pricing

None of those issues are serious enough to stop us from highly recommending the new XPS 13. The pricing is also reasonable--with the FHD model (Core i5, 8 GB of RAM) starting at $1,200.

Our 4K model, with Core i7 and 16 GB of RAM, is priced well above that at $1,900. But you'll pay even more for the fastest available 12-inch MacBook, $1,950--and that price won't get you a 4K touch screen or a great keyboard.

The bottom line: We've found Dell's new XPS 13 to be a powerful machine for productivity, combined with one of the user-friendliest designs available right now. We're huge fans.

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