My configuration: Core i5, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD, 1080p matte display at $899 (Microsoft Store)
Things I Like:
The aluminum finish is extremely clean. It’s a tad darker than Apple’s aluminum finish and both the lid and bottom are solid with that cold metal feel upon touch. The palm rest area has an interesting carbon fiber pattern that adds a unique look and has a very nice soft touch finish. The Dell logos on the lid and beneath the screen is tidy and minimalist.
+Size & Weight:
I considered the MBP 13″ Retina to be one of the smallest 13″ notebooks but the XPS 13 is even smaller thanks to the extremely thin bezels. The XPS 13 may not be the thinnest but it has the smallest foot print of any 13″ notebook – it’s basically the size of the MacBook Air 11″. I am very much enjoying the compact size and the associated lack of weight (2.6 lbs for my model).
Fit and finish are impeccable. Despite the small size, the XPS 13 feels extremely solid. The carbon fiber palm rests feel sturdy and rigid and there is no creaking when I put pressure on them. The hinge is nice and tight and there is no screen wobble when typing. There are no gaps between the carbon fiber deck and bottom panel nor are there any between the screen and bezel. The keyboard is rigid on the perimeter and has minimal flex in the center.
I chose the 1080p non touch option because for me, 1080p on a 13″ screen is more than enough. Additionally, it’s matte! I’d pick the matte 1080p panel over the 3200×1800 glossy panel on any day of the week. Having no glare and gaining ~4 hours of battery life is worth more to me than an (unnecessarily) high resolution.
At $899, I was expecting the 1080p screen to be a cheap TN panel, but it’s not! The colors are pretty vibrant and the horizontal and vertical viewing angles are wide. Adjusting the screen angle produces minimal color shifts. With the default scaling to 150% DPI, text is sharp and easy to read. Overall, this is a much, much better panel than that of the MacBook Air’s – I’m absolutely impressed at what you get for this price.
Also, I’ll note that the screen tilts back at a farther angle than the previous model. Standing and using the XPS 13 is comfortable.
Most Windows PC touchpads are not so great but Dell has cooperated with Microsoft to make their “Precision” track pad for the XPS 13. Basically, the responsiveness is very close to the MacBook track pads and I haven’t experienced any errant cursor jumps while typing. Coming from a Mac, I got situated pretty easily – the only thing I miss are the touch gestures of OS X.
Pressing on the track pad actuates a rather loud click and the left and right buttons are marked by a painted line. I use tap to click on all track pads so the noise isn’t an issue for me. This is much better than the track pad on the Surface Pro 3’s keyboard cover. The XPS 13’s track pad has less friction and is bigger compared to the coarsely textured track pad of the SP3’s cover. The XPS 13’s track pad is thus much easier to use.
Speaking of typing, the keys offer decent travel for the thickness of the machine. I’d say the key travel is similar to the Macbook Air models but slightly shorter. The keyboard is definitely full sized despite the XPS’s compactness and I got used to it very quickly. I’d be pretty satisfied with this keyboard for long periods of work.
The top function rows are inversed – meaning if you press f1 you will mute the volume instead actually activating f1. The f1 key is activated by pressing fn + f1 and so on for f2, f3… I consider this a nice touch that saves time when wanting to adjust basic functions like display and keyboard brightness. However, if you wish to inverse this behavior, just press fn + esc to set the function keys as default.
My Core i5, 4 GB RAM, and 128 SSD model performs perfectly. I’ve not experienced any hiccups or crashes. I mainly use the XPS 13 for MATLAB, CAD through remote desktop connection, MS Office suite, and general internet and email browsing. I also watch the occasional YouTube video but I don’t play any 3D games.
Compared to my Surface Pro 3 (Core i3, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB SSD), the XPS 13 is smoother in every day operation. The Surface Pro 3 suffers from throttling with the Core i5, i7 models so I opted for the lower end Core i3. The Core i3 SP3 unfortunately stutters from time to time and 1080p YouTube videos are slightly choppy. With this experience in mind and the fact that Broadwell only offers at most a 10% performance increase over Haswell, I would steer clear of the Core i3 XPS 13. The $100 upgrade to a Core i5 is a must if you want absolutely smooth performance.
There are people who clamor for 8 GB or 16 GB RAM minimum, but in my experience, you don’t really benefit unless you are doing rendering or other heavy workloads. There is a point of diminishing returns with RAM and this is another debate for another day. For my tasks on a laptop, 4 GB is more than enough. I’ll leave the heavy lifting to a workstation PC.
On a side note, the Intel HD 5500 is capable of driving a 3840 x 2160 (4K) display at 60 Hz through DP 1.2.
+Heat & Noise:
Heat is very minimal even when watching 1080p YouTube videos. While doing lighter tasks like writing this review, I’ve noticed no heat from the palm rest area or upper keyboard deck. Because the lack of heat, the fans have stayed off for the majority of the time I’ve used the XPS 13.
Also, I can report that there is no coil whine for those who used the previous model.
Battery life has been stellar so far. I couldn’t kill the battery in a day with light tasks. Dell rates the battery for the 1080p model at 15 hours but I’d say a more realistic number would be around 11-12 hours. Your mileage may vary of course. I’ll update this section with more usage details and numbers after a week or so.
Update: After 3 weeks of using the XPS 13, I can confidently say the battery life lasts at least 10 hours for moderate usage. I define my moderate usage as using 5+ web pages open with multiple PDFs, Word docs and Excel sheets open at the same time. I can easily get 10 hours using the XPS 13 to code on MATLAB while having reference documents open. To get the 15 hours Dell claims, you would have to be doing light tasks like word processing or browsing the web with a few tabs open while having brightness at 20-30%. For those light tasks, I can easily get 12 hours. I usually always use 50% screen brightness.
I believe the 1080p model has the most value of any model. Compared to the MacBook Air 13″, this $899 model has more bang for the buck because of the better screen and smaller size. I would say their battery life are similar but remember that the XPS 13 is driving a higher resolution display at 1920 x 1080 vs. 1440 x 900.
I bought my XPS 13 at the Microsoft Store and used the 10% education discount. On top of this, you can text MSSTORE to 295-02 to get a 4.5% off coupon for any purchase. Basically, I got about $130 off which is a steal. Dell also has $100 coupons (just Google “Dell Coupons”) if you prefer to shop on their website.
Things I Don’t Like:
Backlighting only has 2 settings: high and low – not a big deal to me but may matter to some.
Only mini Display Port – you will need to carry a dongle around if you give presentations often. However, an SD card reader is included unlike last year’s model!
The angle is awkward because you can see you fingers if you type while video conferencing.
Unfortunately, the XPS 13 has an air intake at the bottom. This means you shouldn’t use it on your carpet or bed if you want to avoid overheating. There is a ridge that helps raise the intake above the floor but I’m not a big fan of this design. I much prefer the MacBook Pro’s side intakes and back vents.
However, I think this should be fine for using on your lap – I’ll update this section in a week or so.
These aren’t the loudest but serviceable for my tasks. They fire from the sides if that helps anyone.
Conclusion as of 1/19/15:
As an engineering student heading into the field and running a business on the side – I can whole-heartedly recommend the XPS 13 for anyone needing an ultra-mobile computing package. It’s small, it’s light, and the battery goes and goes.
I think Dell has really stepped up their game in manufacturing and design. Fit and finish are top notch and they refined the previous design by removing the thick bezels and increasing battery life. For me, the 2015 XPS 13 ticks all the right boxes because Dell nailed the core functionality (performance and battery life) and user experience(matte screen, good keyboard and track pad).
After using the XPS 13 for 3 weeks, here are some of my thoughts:
+ I wish they made an extrusion at the front of the laptop so you can lift the screen up easily. Opening the lid is usually a 2 handed operation.
+ I haven’t had any overheating problems using this on my lap. I looked at the tear-down of the XPS 13 and there is 1 small fan positioned at the left edge of the underside vents so there is plenty of room for air to be sucked in thanks to the sheer size of the intake vents.
+ Under similar workloads, the XPS 13 is cooler than my Surface Pro 3 with Core i3. The excellent thermal management of the XPS 13 is well documented in notebookcheck.net if you want a more detailed review.
+ The exterior finish is free of scratches and dents. No wear of the carbon fiber deck or track pad.
– The track pad can sometimes get confused when you click on something and would register as a double click. This is disappointing because the multi-touch gestures work pretty well. I hope that Dell will release a firmware update for this. Fortunately, this happens only occasionally.
– The display has automatic dimming built in that you can’t disable. This is very hard to notice, but if you are looking for it, you will notice. Apparently, this helps increase the battery life by dynamically darkening or brightening the screen based on the colors displayed. This dimming is very gradual and isn’t noticeable during regular usage.