Starting Configuration Price
Stunning performance and battery life. Sleek, compact design. Handsome 1080p display.
Inconvenient webcam location. No HDMI port.
- Bottom Line
The XPS 13, Dell's venerable ultraportable with the bezel-free screen, gets Intel's new quad-core CPU, with electrifying results in both speed and battery life.
Online gossip has it that Dell will launch a new XPS 13 in early 2018, with a white case and with three USB-C ports replacing the existing ports. We're eager to see it, but this latest XPS 13 (starts at $799, $1,299 as tested) is more than enough to keep us satiated, with its upgrade in the form of Intel's eighth-generation "Kaby Lake R" processor, blowing away laptops based on seventh-generation silicon and reclaiming the ultraportable Editors' Choice that the previous model lost to the Razer Blade Stealth. We won't be able to make a final call until we see a Stealth with the new CPU, but you won't likely go wrong with either one.
The base model of the XPS 13 comes with a seventh-gen Core i3 and a skimpy 4GB of RAM and 128GB solid-state drive. The version reviewed here packs 8GB of memory and a 256GB PCIe SSD, but its main attraction is the Core i7-8550U, the first quad-core (rather than dual-core chip) in Intel's 15-watt family. The processor has a lower base speed (1.8GHz), but higher turbo speed (4GHz) and numerous internal enhancements from the previous generation.
The engine swap sounds like something out of Hot Rod magazine ("We put a Hemi V-8 into a Mazda Miata!"), but gives the XPS 13 a new lease on life. It's still not built for playing demanding games, but crunches through productivity tasks in noticeably less time.
As before, you can get the Dell with either a 1,920-by-1,080 non-touch display like our test unit's or a 3,200-by-1,800 resolution touch screen. A Core i7-8550U configuration with 16GB of memory and the superfine screen is $1,749. Both models regularly see discounts and coupons on Dell.com.
Slim and Trim
Even if you've never seen one, you're probably aware of the XPS 13's claim to design fame: The InfinityEdge display that pioneered today's trend toward ultra-thin screen bezels, letting Dell squeeze a 13.3-inch laptop into a frame (0.6 by 12 by 7.9 inches) smaller than 12.5-inch models like the Lenovo ThinkPad X270 (0.8 by 12 by 8.2 inches) and barely bigger than the late 11.6-inch MacBook Air (0.7 by 11.8 by 7.6 inches).
The Dell's claim to design infamy is that the top bezel has no room for a webcam, leaving the latter awkwardly placed below the bottom left corner of the display for a looming, unflattering image of your nose and chin. While the 2.7-pound system is no burden in a briefcase, we can't say the same for the couple of books you'll want to carry to stack beneath it for Skype conferences.
The laptop is crafted from machined aluminum with a soft-touch carbon fiber composite keyboard deck and palm rest. On its right side are a USB 3.0 port capable of charging handheld devices, an SD card slot, and a Noble (not Kensington) lock slot.
There's another USB 3.0 port on the left edge, along with a Thunderbolt 3 port with USB-C and DisplayPort functionality, an audio jack, a battery-gauge button and row of LEDs, and the AC adapter connector. Technical purists will note that the Thunderbolt 3 port has two, not four, PCI Express lanes; the only peripherals we know that may not work with it as a result are desktop gaming graphics card boxes.
The XPS 13's speakers are behind tiny grilles on the sides instead of the usual slits in the bottom. They produce above-average sound, short on booming bass but loud enough to fill a room with clear tones free of distortion.
The unit's palm rest is more comfortable than its keyboard—the latter is on the shallow side (Dell says it has 1.3mm of travel) and a little stiffer than we like (the space bar in particular requires a firmer touch than the mere brush of a thumb we're used to giving). But the full-sized, backlit keyboard has a snappy typing feel that rewards practice with brisk speed. The cursor arrow keys are in the proper inverted-T arrangement. They team with the Fn key for Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down. The large, buttonless touchpad offers ultra-smooth gliding and tapping.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
The Dell's 13.3-inch, full HD display is exceptionally bright and sharp, with a matte finish that encourages viewing from wide angles. Colors are nicely saturated and contrast is high, with bright whites and deep blacks. Details stand out so clearly that we dialed Windows' default zoom from 150 down to 125 percent with no ill effects. Indeed, we'd vote to stick with the excellent 1080p screen because the 3,200-by-1,800 panel would be too squinty at this size, except possibly for hardcore image editors.
To show what a difference Intel's eighth-generation CPU makes, we put both the new and old XPS 13 into our benchmark tables, along with the only other "Kaby Lake R" machine we've seen so far, the Lenovo Yoga 920 convertible, and seventh-generation Core i7 portables led by the Razer Blade Stealth. The new Dell started out strongly by posting the highest score in our PCMark 8 Work office productivity test, topping the Stealth (3,580 to 2,799 points, respectively).
And the new chip's two extra cores positively crushed the competition in our thread-intensive Cinebench measurement and Handbrake video-editing workload. The "Kaby Lake R" XPS 13 finished the latter in 1 minute and 12 seconds, almost a full minute ahead of the Razer and older Dell. Similarly, the Yoga and new XPS 13 ran away from the dual-core entrants in our Adobe Photoshop image-editing scenario, again lopping a minute off the time required for the exercise.
On the other hand, while it topped the charts in our 3DMark graphics benchmark, the XPS 13 still relies on integrated rather than discrete graphics, so neither it nor any other of these ultraportables will excel at anything more than casual games—they were nowhere near the 30 frames per second required for smooth gameplay at native resolution and high image quality in our Heaven and Valley gaming simulations.
Finally, the new Dell finished a strong second in our battery life rundown, lasting for almost 16 hours of unplugged video playback (or almost twice the time of the seventh-gen Stealth). The Yoga 920 was even more impressive, cruising for 22.5 hours.
The New Ultraportable to Beat
With its spectacular boost in both muscle and battery life, Intel's new mobile processor instantly draws a line between haves and have-nots in the laptop market—there are still plenty of fine portables with 7000- rather than 8000-series Core CPUs, but no surprises when an otherwise comparable machine with the former goes head to head with the latter. That's why we're taking back the ultraportable Editors' Choice that the 13.3-inch Razer Blade Stealth won in its last go-round with the XPS 13, at least until a "Kaby Lake R" Razer reaches PC Labs. The new CPU revitalizes Dell's perennial contender, making a great laptop even greater.
Other Dell Laptops & Notebooks
By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Boston. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
More Stories by Eric
- Dell Latitude 7380
If you're shopping for a business laptop and portability is your top priority, Dell's capable13.3-in… More »
- Asus VivoBook S510
Asus' VivoBook S510 is both lightweight (3.7 pounds) and light on your wallet ($799). It doesn't blo… More »
- Asus ZenBook UX330
We could wish for a few enhancements to the 13.3-inch Asus ZenBook UX330, but we know a good deal wh… More »
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe