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January 10, 2018

Dell XPS 13 (2018) hands-on review

by John_A

Research Center:
Dell XPS 13 (2018)

Dell released the first XPS 13 four years ago. Since then, it has reigned as Digital Trend’s favorite overall laptop, without exception – yet it never saw a complete redesign. The XPS 13 sold at the end of last year looked and felt the same as one sold in January 2015. Its dominance of best-of lists is a testament to the original design, but it was starting to show its age as competitors became thinner and lighter.

Thankfully, Dell hasn’t left the XPS 13 to wither. It came to CES 2018 with a full redesign that slims down its flagship 13-incher. The new model is no more than .46 inches thick, down from .6 inches. It weighs a few hundredths of pounds less at 2.67 pounds – not the kind of difference you’ll notice. The new XPS 13 is technically smaller in width and depth but, again, we’re talking small fractions.

Whatever color you choose, the XPS 13 is a looker.

It does feel refreshed. That has less to do with the dimensions, and more to do with how they’re distributed. The original XPS 13 was an aggressive wedge, much thicker in the rear than the front, while the new model is subtle. It’s a minor change, but it’s easy to notice when the XPS 13 is handled.

While it’s received a nip-tuck, the overall look hasn’t changed. The XPS 13 still has aluminum exterior panels alongside a distinctive, woven carbon-fiber interior. Well, there is one change – it’s now available in white, with a rose gold exterior. Dell says that model doesn’t technically use carbon-fiber, but a fiberglass that’s similar in weight and strength. The change in materials is not just about color, but also wear, as the fiberglass is meant to withstand years of use – and stay perfectly white. It’s impossible to say if Dell’s claim will hold up, but the white model’s interior felt stiffer.

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Whatever color you choose, the XPS 13 is a looker. Its woven interior is distinctive, instantly setting the laptop apart from others, even if that’s all you glimpse. Flattening the design has only helped the already sleek profile, and it once again looks thoroughly modern. I can’t think of a laptop that looks better.

The screen bezels are even thinner than before. Dell is very close to having no bezel at all, and it looks stunning. The excellent screens help seal the deal. While 1080p is standard, as before, the upscale option is now a 4K panel instead of 3,200 x 1,800. On a sadder note, Dell has ditched the matte, non-touch option.

Dell XPS 13 (2018) Compared To

Asus Zenbook 3 Deluxe…

HP Spectre 13 (2017)

Asus ZenBook Flip S

Huawei Matebook X WT-W09

Toshiba Portege Z30-C1310

Razer Blade Stealth

Toshiba Portege Z20t

LG Ultra PC 14Z950

HP Spectre 13t

Samsung ATIV Book 7

Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5

Acer Aspire S5

Lenovo IdeaPad U310

HP Folio 13

Asus Zenbook UX31

Whether you’ll notice the 4K screen’s extreme sharpness is debatable, but it looks great all the same, and it helps define the XPS 13 as a leader in displays. Even many of Dell’s more expensive competitors, like the HP Spectre 13 and Apple MacBook Pro 13, have opted not to embrace 4K.

Fast hardware, with one sacrifice

Despite its size, the XPS 13 manages to squeeze in Intel 8th-gen quad-core processors. That’s paired with up to 16GB of memory, and up to 1TB of PCI Express solid-state storage. This is serious hardware, and it presented Dell with a problem. How could they squeeze it in without making the laptop too hot to handle?

Unlikely assistance was found in Gore fabric, a material used for light, durable, yet well-insulated athletic gear. Dell uses it in the cooling system to help direct heat without greatly increasing size or weight. That means the heat goes out the exhaust instead of radiating through the case and then, uncomfortably, onto your lap. I can’t give a final verdict on it yet, but noticed the demo units felt very cool to the touch.

Matt Smith/Digital Trends

Most the new laptop’s features are a clear step forward, but Dell did have to make a concession with the battery. The new model has a 52 watt-hour unit, while the older version had 60 watt-hours of juice. That’s about 15 percent less – yet the battery life is estimated at more than 19 hours. That figure, if correct, would be enough to nearly double the MacBook Pro 13.

Look closely at Dell’s website, though, and you’ll see the 19-hour figure is actually less than the old model, which was quoted at up to 22 hours – an absurd figure, to be sure. Still, the difference acknowledges the obvious. Intel’s new 8th-gen processor is more efficient, but it also has more cores. Our testing has shown that most laptops drain their battery more quickly under full load, relative to a 7th-Gen dual-core. Throw in an upgrade in display resolution for the top-tier model, and you have the perfect recipe for reduced battery life.

I should also note that the XPS 13 completely abandons USB-A in favor of USB-C and Thunderbolt. DisplayPort is still available, though, along with a card reader and a headphone jack. The Thunderbolt/USB-C ports are used to charge the laptop, which no longer uses a proprietary jack. I have no doubt that lack of USB-A will disappoint some, but on a laptop this thin, there’s just no room.

Our brief time with the new XPS 13 left us impressed. It even retains a great keyboard with good key feel, something the XPS 15 2-in-1 sacrificed to shave off a few pounds.

You can purchase the Dell XPS 13 now, starting at $1,000.

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