Spectacular OLED display
Luxurious, robust design
Great keyboard and touchpad
No USB-A or Ethernet ports
Can run a bit hot
Battery life is just ok
About the Dell XPS 13
Our review unit was configured with the following:
- Processor: Intel Core i7-1185G7
- Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
- RAM: 16GB
- Storage: 512GB
- Display: 3456 x 2160 OLED touchscreen
- Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1
- Wired connectivity: 2x Thunderbolt 4, 3.5mm audio, MicroSD card reader
- Webcam: 720p
- Battery: 4-cell Lithium-Ion 52 watt-hour
- Weight: 2.8 pounds
- Size: 11.64 inches wide, 7.82 inches deep, .58 inches thick
Currently, this exact configuration costs $1,439.99. The Dell XPS 13 (9310) can also be configured with up to 32GB RAM and a 1TB SSD for about $90 more. The cheaper models do not have the same OLED screen (as well as less RAM, smaller storage, and less powerful processors), which knock a bit off the overall price.
What we like
The OLED display lives up to the hype
Dell brought a new feature to the XPS 13 in 2021: an OLED display. This technology was available in prior Dell laptops but typically only on larger machines. Alienware’s R13, released in 2016, was the company’s last 13-inch laptop with an OLED screen (Dell owns Alienware).
Self-emissive pixels are the key to OLED’s success. Put plainly, each pixel can create its own light independently of those around it. This is different from a typical LCD screen, which is lit by LEDs at the edge of the display. Those LEDs are always on, even when the screen is showing a perfectly black image. That’s why laptop displays often have a hazy, foggy look when depicting a starlit sky or dimly lit alley. OLED negates that problem.
That’s not all. The Dell XPS 13 with OLED boasts extremely accurate color and a wide color gamut. Any video or photo you view will look very close to what its creator intended. The display’s maximum brightness hits a solid 400 nits, enough to be in the brightest room. It’s sharp, too, with a maximum resolution of 3456 x 2160. That works out to 304 pixels per inch, which is far better than a MacBook Pro 13’s 220 pixels per inch—and it’s a touchscreen!
With my gushing complete, I must mention two minor flaws. Some OLED displays tend to lean towards a blue-green tint, and while televisions based on the technology have mostly fixed this issue, it’s still noticeable here. Viewing angles are a problem, as well. Tilting the display off-angle creates a shimmering effect and lowers perceived brightness.
The big downside, though, is the price. OLED is a $400 option on base models. It’s not standard unless you buy the $1,899 model, which is the version we reviewed. The OLED display is worth the premium, but not everyone will be able to afford it.
Dell nails the keyboard
The XPS 13’s keyboard remains a standout among ultraportable Windows laptops. It offers surprisingly lengthy travel in spite of the laptop’s thin profile. Keys bottom with a firm, tactile action that makes touch typing a breeze.
The layout is excellent. As mentioned, this laptop has a 16:10 display aspect ratio that’s slightly taller than the more common 16:9 aspect ratio. This also changes the footprint of the laptop, providing more space for your palms. NBA superstars might find it cramped, but it should prove large enough for most owners.
I’ve used a lot of 13-inch laptops lately, from the MacBook Air to the Surface Laptop 4, but Dell’s XPS 13 remains the king of keyboard quality in this category. Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Nano is the only laptop in this category with a better keyboard.
The touchpad is great, too. It’s large, responsive, and ready to handle Windows’ multi-touch gestures. Apple remains the undisputed touchpad king, but Dell’s effort is as good as you’ll find on any Windows laptop.
It’s peak laptop luxury
The original XPS 13 kicked off the now near-ubiquitous trend of small laptops with super-thin display bezels that reduce the machine’s overall size and weight.
Dell hasn’t upset that formula in recent years and, as a result, new competitors have passed Dell to deliver a lighter, thinner design. Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro, LG’s Gram 14, and Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Nano all strike a thinner profile than the XPS 13 and shave several ounces of its weight.
Handle these laptops side-by-side with the Dell, though, and you’ll understand why the XPS 13 isn’t on a diet. It’s a robust, rigid, slate-like laptop designed with meticulous attention to detail. Lift the lid of a Samsung Galaxy Book Pro or Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano and you’ll see a hint of flex as the screen is caught between the force of your hand and the resistance of the hinge. There’s no such flex found on the XPS 13.
Dell even balances the hinge such that you can lift the display without the rest of the laptop coming with it. This subtle, convenient touch is rare for a laptop lacking a fruit on its lid. The design is unique, too. The XPS 13 sandwiches faux carbon fiber weave between two stiff aluminum panels and then slaps shiny, chrome-like accents along the flanks to add a hint of flair. This look, now the signature of Dell’s XPS brand, stands out as easily today as it did six years ago. No competitor looks quite like it.
Performance is solid (for its size)
The Intel Core i7-1185G7 in our review unit is a processor that achieves respectable but unremarkable performance. It’s easily fast enough to handle day-to-day tasks and less demanding creative workloads, like editing photos to post online or social media apps, but AMD’s Ryzen processors are generally more capable in multi-core tasks, and not far behind in single-core performance. Luckily for both Dell and Intel, AMD’s processors remain rare in ultraportables.
HP’s Envy x360 13 and Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 are solid alternatives, but both are larger and a tad heavier. Apple’s M1 chip, which powers the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13, is a bigger threat. Both Apple laptops easily beat the XPS 13 in processor tests and rival the XPS 13 in thickness.
Graphics performance is a win. The Dell XPS 13 is no gaming laptop, of course, but the Intel Core i7-1185G7’s integrated Xe graphics deliver respectable results. Less demanding 3D games, like Final Fantasy XIV, can average 30 frames per second at low to medium detail and 1080p resolution. Just don’t expect to play a demanding game like Metro Exodus. That remains outside the reach of an ultraportable laptop.
This level of performance is the most you can expect from an ultraportable. AMD’s mobile Ryzen processors with Vega graphics tend to fall behind those powered by Intel’s Xe graphics, though the difference is often minor depending on the game. Apple’s MacBooks, meanwhile, lack the software and game support for a good time (unless you’re a huge fan of Apple Arcade). MacOS supports a few major titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and the M1’s graphics performance is comparable to Intel’s Iris Xe, but again, Macs are no gaming machines.
What we don’t like
Connectivity is limited
You’ll find just two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a MicroSD card slot along the Dell XPS 13’s flanks. There’s not a single USB-A port. Ethernet is missing in action, too.
This is no surprise. The XPS 13 has long favored a slim number of small, future-proof ports over a larger number of legacy ports. Most of Dell’s competitors take a similar approach, though you will find USB-A on the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 13. Still, this can prove annoying if you need USB-A or Ethernet. You’ll need an adapter to use either, and you’ll have to take it with you when you travel.
It’s getting hot in there
First, the good news. The XPS 13 is a quiet laptop. Its fans will spin up under the processor’s demanding tasks, but they rarely leap into action while browsing the web or editing a document. Even when on, the fans thankfully lack a grating high-pitch whirr.
Now, the bad news. The XPS 13’s lazy fans let it warm quickly and then set itself to simmer. Most heat escapes through the bottom of the laptop, so this is a problem if you’re using it on, well, your lap. It never reaches the scalding temperatures of laptops sold a decade ago but can become uncomfortable, so plan to use the laptop on a desk or table when possible.
Battery life is just ok
Dell ships every XPS 13 with a 52 watt-hour battery. This is typical for the category but smaller than Apple’s MacBook Pro 13. The result? A mediocre eight hours and 10 minutes of endurance in our battery benchmark, which uses a macro to simulate web browsing.
This is within ten minutes of Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 or Razer’s Book 13. It’s way behind Apple’s MacBook Pro 13, however, which managed almost 14 hours in the same test. It’s also behind HP’s Spectre 14t, which endured over nine hours in our benchmark.
Should you buy it?
Yes, the Dell XPS 13 is still the king
The Dell XPS 13 is the best 13-inch Windows ultraportable available today, just as it was the best 13-inch Windows laptop every year since its 2015 redesign. It’s a gorgeous machine with meticulous attention to detail that justifies the laptop’s high price. The optional OLED display is an expensive $400 upgrade that performs exceptionally well by every metric, from brightness to color accuracy and, of course, contrast. You’ll notice its perks not only in movies and games but also when flipping through photos or streaming YouTube.
There are a few downsides. USB-A and Ethernet ports aren’t available, so you’ll have to pack an adapter. The laptop also runs rather warm. However, these problems aren’t unique to the XPS 13. Most of Dell’s competitors share these issues, but Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 is the best reason to skip the Dell XPS 13. It outperforms the Dell, as it does any Windows laptop of similar size, yet also has better battery life.
Not everyone can opt for MacOS, however. Many people want or need Windows, and those who do will find no better 13-inch ultraportable. Dell’s XPS 13 is still the king.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Matthew S. Smith
Matthew S. Smith is a veteran tech journalist and general-purpose PC hardware nerd. Formerly the Lead Editor of Reviews at Digital Trends, he has over a decade of experience covering PC hardware. Matt often flies the virtual skies in Microsoft Flight Simulator and is on a quest to grow the perfect heirloom tomato.
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