Review: Dell's XPS 13 Puts The 'Ultra' In Ultrabook

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Dell Ultrabook, Dell XPS 13

Of all the devices the CRN Test Center has looked at that call themselves an Ultrabook, the Dell XPS 13 bears the most similarities to Apple's MacBook Air. That's a good thing: The XPS 13 is fast, thin and light, and it winks instantly to life the moment its razor-thin lid is opened for business.

The Dell XPS 13 also reliably delivers a good five to six hours of constant use on a single charge of its battery, according to most accounts (although we had a different experience), and is what we believe to be the best Ultrabook device we've seen for a much-needed laptop-industry shot in the arm.

The first thing we noticed about the Dell XPS 13 out of the box was how relatively small it was compared with other 13-inch Ultrabook devices we've tested. Chalk that up to an (almost) bezel-free design that has its edge-to-edge Corning Gorilla Glass encased by a thin rim of machined aluminum, similar to many tablets. Overall, the Dell XPS 13 is about a half-inch shorter in length and width than the Acer Aspire S3, which the CRN Test Center also liked.

To be exact, the Dell XPS 13 measures 12.4 x 8.1 inches, compared with the Aspire S3's 12.75 x 8.5 inches and the MacBook Air's 12.8 x 8.94 inches. In terms of thickness, Apple has the edge with a 3mm to 17mm range compared with Dell's 6mm to 18mm spread. At a starting weight of 2.99 pounds, the Dell XPS 13 weighs about the same as devices from Apple and Acer, due in part to a lightweight and durable carbon-fiber base.

NEXT: Dell XPS 13 Performance

Dell Ultrabook, Dell XPS 13

In terms of performance, Dell's Ultrabook is light-years ahead of Acer's. Granted, the Dell XPS 13 is equipped with an Intel Core i7 (Model 2637M at 1.7GHz) compared with Acer's Core i5 (at 1.6GHz), but all other specs were on par including memory (4 GB) and operating system (64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium).

The Dell XPS 13 turned in a peak Geekbench 2.2 score of 7,457 compared with Acer's 5,657. Both systems had nagware disabled and Windows performance settings set to maximum. During our battery test, which disables all power-saving features, the Dell XPS 13 delivered just 3 hours and 23 minutes.

As for comfort during use, Dell wins hands down. The Dell XPS 13's wrist rests have a comfortable rubbery texture, which also helps ensure a firm grip when moving the system or handing it off to a colleague. Two rubber strips keep the unit from creeping around while typing or if placed on an uneven surface. The roomy glass touchpad is 4 x 2.5 inches, which makes easy work of far-reaching finger gestures. The system cold-boots in 12 seconds and wakes from sleep in about 2 seconds, long before the hand begins to input.

As for ports, the Dell XPS 13 offers few. The left edge is home to a headphone jack, USB 2.0 and power input (which protrudes less than some but is still inferior to Apple's MagSafe connector). On the right edge is a USB 3.0 SuperSpeed port, mini Display-Port slot and a battery status button. That's it. There are no ports on the front or back edges, lending itself to a cleaner look and a less cluttered appearance.

The one complaint we had about the Dell XPS 13 was its viewing angle. From straight on, the 300-nit display shines brightly its 1,366 x 768 (720p) pixels. But once the angle exceeds about 45 degrees in any direction, the colors and luminance shift significantly. Typical of TN display panels, the problem is particularly noticeable when moving from side to side.

The Dell XPS 13 is available with Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, with Intel HD 3000 graphics, starting at $999. It includes Windows 7 Home Premium, Wi-Fi a/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, 4-GB DDR3 1,333MHz SDRAM, backlit keyboard, 128- or 256-GB SSD, HD audio, stereo speakers, 1.3-megapixel Webcam, 100 GB of cloud storage and a 12-month Skype Premium subscription. Dell's Ultrabook also is among the very first to implement Intel's Smart Connect technology, which updates content even when the system is asleep. The CRN Test Center recommends the XPS 13 Ultrabook from Dell.

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