Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Dell’s XPS 13 (Check on Amazon.com) has long been our favorite Ultrabook, despite the fact that there have been no aesthetic upgrades in the last few years. The Infinity Edge screen, its small weight, and its good battery life were enough to repay us, despite the rather old design.
Now Dell has also worked on this aspect, putting it on a diet and making various improvements including a new webcam, a cooling system that promises better performance and even thinner screen frames. In doing so, it had to give up the type A USB ports and install a smaller battery: to find out if the new XPS 13 is still the bench point of the Ultrabooks here is the complete review.
Usability, keyboard, and touchpad
You couldn’t say the last-gen XPS 13s apart unless you took a look at the CPU stamp. They were all the same because the design was the same for a very long time. The new model has a new color scheme and is less thick.
The lid and base are made of aluminum, while the side and the rest are fiberglass.
The first side effect of this diet is the elimination of the Type A USB connections and the full-size card reader. On the left side, there are now two Thunderbolt 3 ports and both can be used for connecting external devices and for charging the battery. There is also the classic battery charge display, with five whitewash LEDs.
On the right, you can find the 3.5mm audio port, the micro USB card reader and a USB Type-C port. Both the older XPS 13 and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon offer a USB Type-A port in addition to Thunderbolt 3.
It should be noted, however, that the new XPS 13 has 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports that support four-lane PCI connections, so you can use the notebook with an eGPU (external graphics), while its predecessors had a two-line Thunderbolt 3. We hooked up an Aorus Gaming Box 1070 and it worked.
The new XPS 13 has a comfortable keyboard, although the keyboard has a run of just 1.2mm (0.047in), against the optimal values that range between 1.5 and 2mm (0.059 and 0.078in). To make up for it, the keyboard requires an actuation weight of just 72gr (2.53oz), which allowed us in our test using Tenfastfingers.com to reach a speed of 94 words per second with a 4% error, a result that is not very good compared to our mean, but still decent.
The touchpad has a sensitive area measuring 10.4×6cm (4×2.36in) and allows for an extremely precise and fluid navigation and good tactile feedback, even with the use of multi-touch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and 3-finger slide.
One of the most noteworthy features of the new XPS 13 is the camera placement to the center of the bottom screen frame. The result is not great: it points under the nose of the user, but it offers a better angle compared to the previous position because of the central location. When taking a selfie, for example, you can now put your head in the center of the frame. The image quality is up to par with that of other notebooks for both the color accuracy and the limited amount of noise in the backdrop.
The audio quality hasn’t changed much: the speaker produces a good enough sound that covers our test room, but the lows are weak.
We have been able to test two versions of the new XPS 13. They both were the 13.3-inch InfinityEdge models with 23% thinner frames from the previous XPS, but one was the 4K Ultra HD (3,840×2,160 pixels) touch and the other one the 1,920×1,080 pixels touch.
Both offer great brightness, color quality, and sharpness, although the 4K display is considerably better. With the 1080p model, we have a brightness of 372nits, while with the 4K one you can reach 415nits.
Both values are significantly higher than the average for the Ultrabooks (297nits), X1 Carbon (275nits) and HP Specter 13 (247nits). The previous XPS 13 with a 1080p screen had 368nits.
The 1080p screen has reproduced 117% of the sRGB gamut, while the 4K panel has reached 130%. In both cases the category average of 105% is far away, and so are the ThinkPad X1 (104% with a 1080p screen). The 1080p panel is very similar to the previous XPS 13 (112%).
Performance and autonomy
We have carried out our tests on two different configurations. The high-end model included a Core i7-8550U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and 4K touch screen display, while the lower-end model had a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 1080p non-touch screen display.
In either case, we have not seen any issue with a standard use such as surfing the internet, office work and playing light games. Thanks to the new cooling system, it was also possible to get good performance in long-running tasks, such as 4K video compression or running the same benchmark 10-times in a row. Under these conditions, most of the Notebooks heat up considerably and slow down the CPU to let it cool. This is not the case with the new XPS 13.
In the video compression test using Handbrake – which consists of transcoding a 4K to 1080p video -, the new XPS 13 with the Core i7 did it in 16 minutes, while the previous model in 19 minutes and 35 seconds.
With the Cinebench R15 benchmark, which measures processing power by drawing a 3D image ten times in a row, the new XPS 13 equipped with the Core i7 CPU scored 679 points at first run (higher is better) and 635 points on the last try, with a performance drop of 6,4 percent. The Core i5 model dropped from 666 to 633, down by 4,9%. The same operation with the 13-inch Surface Book 2 and the Core i7-850U CPU recorded a 26% drop between the first and last run.
Using the Dell Power Manager software, you can tweak the heat management of the XPS 13 to achieve higher performance at higher temperatures (“Super Performance” setting). With this mode enabled, we ran Cinebench 15 10 times in a row, with a score that ranged from 707 to 655 points. During the last run, however, we measured a peak temperature of 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 °F) in the center of the keyboard. We suggest that you use the predefined setting, which offers a better performance-to-temperature ratio.
With the synthetic Geekbench 4 benchmark, which measures overall system performance, the new XPS 13 with the Core i5-8250U processor scored 13,254 points, while the Core i7-8550U version recorded 14,000 points. The previous generation with the Core i7-8550U CPU scored almost the same with 14.158 points.
The 1TB PCIe SSD in the top-of-the-range XPS 13 took 13 secs to copy 4.97GB of mixed multimedia files, with a speed of 399.4MBps. The 256GB SSD installed in the Core i5 model did the same job at a speed of 339.2MBps. The results are better than the class average of 232MBps. The previous XPS 13 with a 256GB SSD did a better job with a speed of 508MBps.
Now to the Graphics department: the new XPS sports the built-in UH620 Intel chipset, which is good for light video edits or some light gaming. The “i7” and “i5” versions scored 85,616 and 77,584 points respectively when running 3Dmark Ice Storm Unlimited. In both cases, the score was better than the average of the category (62,573 points). The old XPS 13 had scored 81,837 points.
Running DIRT 3, the XPS 13 with the i7 CPU scored 66.9 FPS, while the i5 model 56.7. The old XPS had also scored 56 FPS which is better than the category average of 42 FPS.
Whichever the model, the good news is that the autonomy will be good, even if not at the level of the old XPS. Our 1080p non-touchscreen version lasted for 12-hour 37-minutes. The model with the 4K screen for 8 hours and 53 minutes. A good result is given that the average battery life for ultrabooks is 8h 16Mins.
Note, however, that the old XPS with a 1080p screen arrived at 16 hours: the reason is that Dell had to replace the 60Wh battery with a 52Wh one in order to slim the device down.
Good heat dissipation also. After a 15-minute video stream using the Core i7, we measured 27,7 °C (82 °F) on the touchpad, 30,2 °C (86 °F) in the center of the keyboard and 31,1 °C (88 °F) on the bottom – all well below our 35 °C (95 °F) limit of comfort. The Core i5 measured 26,6, 29,7 and 31,1 °C (80, 85, 88 °F) respectively.
We like the new XPS 13 (Check on Amazon.com) for its superb 4k display, the performance and other aspects that have been introduced for the first time with this model. Although the new camera placement is not ideal, we value the improvement over the previous one. Also noteworthy the new XPS’s capacity to work with eGPUs.
The absence of Type-A USB ports is not going to please everyone, but with the use of an adapter, you can get over it. Alternatively, remember that the older version is still on sale. If you prefer it, you can still buy one.