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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Lavish design details
Fabulous 4K touch display
Very good performance
Speedy Windows Hello options
Strong audio playback
Battery life could be better
Squeaky space bar
Adaptive brightness is distracting
The Dell XPS 13 delivers an impressive ultraportable laptop experience, with a distinctive look, incredible 4K screen, and surprisingly small footprint.
Anybody who once wielded a big, clunky, plasticky Dell laptop might be surprised to discover that the company makes some darn fine slim and sleek premium laptops these days. The Dell XPS 13 is one of the highlights: it’s a super-polished, alluring laptop that offers some optional additional perks, and it packs in a lot more flair than your typical costly Apple or Microsoft-made laptop. Better yet, it does so with one of the smallest footprints we’ve seen for a laptop with a 13-inch display.
Of course, the competition is only getting stronger by the year. Does Dell’s XPS 13 still have what it takes to fend off rivals, or is this compact-yet-lavish laptop still near the top of the pack? Here’s what we think after spending a couple of weeks with the 9370 model from 2018, complete with the optional 4K-resolution touch display.
The Rose Gold with Alpine White model we tested is a true beauty. From the top, the Dell XPS 13 suggests a minimalist design in line with Apple’s MacBook allure, thanks to a reflective gold logo at the center of a plain rose gold sheet of aluminum. Open up the laptop or glance to the sides, however, and you get a sense of what makes this such a distinctive-looking device.
Inside the laptop isn’t plain aluminum, but rather the Alpine White woven glass fiber palmrest. That’s a fancy way of saying that it’s stronger, reinforced plastic. The fabric-inspired texture feels great under your wrists and has a one-of-a-kind look to it as well. Much like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 has its fuzzy, suede-like Alcantara palmrest finish that sets it apart from the pack, the Dell XPS 13 has a hard-finished alternative.
The Dell XPS 13 doesn’t just feel like a facsimile of the other premium competition, and that’s a distinctive edge that helps set it apart from the pack.
It’s the little flourishes that we appreciate about the look of the Dell XPS 13, including the beveled edges of the aluminum, the little gap left in each upper corner when the screen is closed, and the large ridge-like rubber feet that help keep the laptop firmly in place when in use. The Dell XPS 13 doesn’t just feel like a facsimile of the other premium competition, and that’s a distinctive edge that helps set it apart from the pack. It has a luxurious panache to it.
The keyboard itself feels great in practice—for the most part. The keys are a little smaller than those seen on some other laptops, such as Apple’s current MacBooks, but they have more travel and we were able to get up to a pretty good speed while typing.
We have two issues, however. One, the Page Up and Page Down keys are awkwardly paired with the left and right arrow keys (right above on each side), and we have repeatedly and frustratingly hit them on accident over and over again. More pressingly, our space bar has a persistent squeaking sound that is certainly not befitting of a $1,200 laptop. Online, we’ve seen Dell representatives suggest that key squeakiness typically goes away after a solid week of usage, but after about two weeks with the XPS 13, we’re wondering whether we’ll have to put in a repair order for that pesky, squeaky space bar. It’s annoying.
Luckily, the trackpad below works just fine, although it also feels a little compact compared to some competitors. And to the right of the keyboard, you’ll find a power button that also doubles as a fingerprint sensor, letting you skip the lock screen without typing in a PIN or looking at the camera. You’ve got options there.
What you’ll probably notice most about the Dell XPS 13 is just how small it feels compared to other premium 13-inch laptops. At 11.88 inches wide, it’s barely narrower than the MacBook Air, but it shaves about half an inch off of the depth at 7.84 inches. Credit the very thin bezel around the screen, on the upper, right, and left borders for that downsizing maneuver. There’s a big bottom portion below the screen, where the front-facing camera and Windows Hello sensors sit, but it still feels like Dell trimmed quite a bit off of this ultraportable beast. At 0.3 to 0.48 inches thick and 2.7 pounds, it’s also plenty thin and light to match.
Like Apple’s MacBooks, Dell has embraced the USB-C future with the XPS 13. Thankfully, it has three such ports: two on the left and one on the right, and two of them are also Thunderbolt 3 ports. Here, however, you also get a microSD port on the right for memory cards, along with a 3.5mm headphone port. There’s nowhere to plug in a full-sized USB-A cord, but Dell thoughtfully included a plug adapter so you don’t have to buy one yourself.
“After about two weeks with the XPS 13, we’re wondering whether we’ll have to put in a repair order for that pesky, squeaky space bar. It’s annoying.
The Dell XPS 13 9370 is currently only available in the Rose Gold option, although a newer 9380 model has been released that scraps the extra-large camera below the screen and instead puts a tiny one at the top. All of the 9380 configurations come in Platinum Silver with a Black carbon fiber palmrest, while the pricier versions also offer Rose Gold and Frost White options with the Alpine White palmrest.
Our configuration of the Dell XPS 13 9370 came with a large 256GB solid state drive (SSD) for internal storage. The newer Dell XPS 13 9380 ships with 128GB on the base model, and 256GB on the more robust configurations.
With Windows 10 onboard, the setup process isn’t difficult or confusing at all. Simply follow the spoken and written prompts from Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant, and you’ll be able to connect to a Wi-Fi network and get up and running in a matter of minutes. There’s nothing surprising or complicated along the way.
Cramming an incredibly high-resolution 4K display into a 13.3-inch frame might seem excessive, but wow, this is a stunning screen. At 331 pixels per inch (ppi), it’s noticeably crisper than other laptops on the market, such as the MacBook Pro, and it’s plenty vibrant as well. The 4K display is also a touch screen, in case you want to get hands-on, although Dell also offers standard 1080p non-touch screens on the newer XPS 13.
The 4K panel gets pretty bright at the max setting, although there’s an annoying quirk in the variable brightness that automatically adjusts depending on what’s on the screen. You’ll notice it most often when scrolling through websites, where white pages get extra-bright and darker images make the screen dimmer. Some users might not mind it, but we’re not fans of it. You can’t turn it off from within Windows, unfortunately; you’ll have to enter the laptop’s BIOS to disable it.
The Dell XPS 13 (9370) has a common processor for this kind of $1,000-ish ultraportable laptop: the Intel Core i5-8250U. It’s the same chip that we saw in the Surface Laptop 2 and the LG Gram in 2018, so it’s no surprise that performance isn’t far off from what we saw on those devices. The 8GB RAM in here is the same we had while testing those laptops, too.
In terms of everyday usage, we encountered very few hitches while using Windows 10, and getting around was a consistently speedy affair. Files opened quickly, media ran well, and we really didn’t have any complaints. The XPS has enough power for your everyday needs, although anyone seeking a laptop for professional creative needs (like video or photo editing) will want something with more muscle than this.
Cramming an incredibly high-resolution 4K display into a 13.3-inch frame might seem excessive, but wow, this is a stunning screen.
When it comes to benchmark testing, we recorded a score of 975 points in Cinebench, which was a little bit less than the Surface Laptop 2 (1,017 points) and a wider margin away from the LG Gram 15.6-inch (1,173 points), but still pretty close. On the other hand, the XPS 13’s PCMark10 score of 3,121 beat both of those rivals, so we’d say it’s basically a wash. They’re all plenty capable.
The Intel UHD Graphics 620 integrated graphics chip here is the same as in those other laptops, and it delivers competent low-to-mid-range performance for 3D games. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide nearly enough power to actually run any modern 3D games smoothly in 4K resolution. Battle royale shooter phenomenon Fortnite originally defaulted to 4K resolution, but was incredibly choppy and impossible to play with any competitive skill. We ultimately dropped it down to 900p and cut most of the visual flourishes to make it run smoothly enough to enjoy, but it still looked solid. Car-soccer game Rocket League played well without having to lower too many settings, luckily, but the Dell XPS 13 certainly isn’t built to be a gaming beast. Invest in a proper gaming laptop with discrete graphics if you really want on-the-go performance.
For tiny little speakers that sit on the right and left sides of the laptop, the Dell XPS 13 puts out strong sound during music playback and while watching videos. We didn’t expect such robust sound, but these itty-bitty grates deliver solid bass response and stay clear even higher up on the volume register. Impromptu kitchen or office dance party? The Dell XPS 13 can deliver.
We ran into an odd issue with the Dell XPS 13 on a home network out of the box. When using it, our router would stop functioning for all connected devices, and we would have to restart both it and the router to regain a connection. It only happened when the XPS 13 was in use, and didn’t occur at all when we stopped using the laptop for a few days; the issue resumed as soon as we reconnected to the same network with the XPS 13.
It was perplexing, especially because the XPS 13 worked fine on other networks. Ultimately, we updated the firmware on the router—a TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 (V2)—and stopped encountering the issue. If somehow you run into the same problem, update your router’s firmware before pursuing any other course of action.
Once that strange situation was settled, we had no problems with the Dell XPS 13 itself when it came to network connectivity. It connected well to 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks, and gave us comparable speeds to what we’ve seen with other devices on the same networks.
Truth be told, we weren’t blown away by the battery life on the Dell XPS 13 (9370). It’s solid, certainly, but we had a hunch that the 4K resolution was sucking away a lot of the potential uptime we could’ve had with a lower-resolution display.
In everyday usage, we saw roughly 6 hours of mixed usage at max brightness, with a mix of web browsing, media streaming, and document writing. Switching to our video rundown test, in which we stream a Netflix movie at 100 percent brightness, the battery lasted for 6 hours, 23 minutes before the Dell XPS 13 shut down. That’s the seeming sacrifice with the 4K screen, unfortunately. It’s likely that you could get a couple extra hours of battery life with the 1080p screen instead.
The Dell XPS 13 ships with Windows 10 Home, which is the latest and greatest version of Microsoft’s PC operating system—and one that is continually seeing updates and additions these days rather than being replaced every couple of years with a big, new version. Windows is still the world’s most popular PC operating system, and there’s no shortage of apps and games available for it. Windows 10 runs very well on this laptop, too, as noted above.
Dell bundles in a few utility apps alongside the core operating system, including Dell Customer Connect, Dell Digital Delivery, Dell Mobile Connect, Dell Update, and My Dell, along with McAfee security software. While some users might be annoyed by the non-stock approach, at least the Dell apps are helpful should you run into any issues and need tech support.
As mentioned, the Dell XPS 13 configuration we have comes with two different ways to utilize Windows Hello biometric security: facial scanning via the camera, and the fingerprint sensor. Use either or both, or stick with a PIN if you dislike convenience. It’s your call.
Last year’s 9370 model of the Dell XPS 13 is on the way out, as of this writing—but that’s good news in terms of value. We ordered ours for $1,200 with the 4K touch display, and we’ve seen it lately for $1,150. Stock may not last for long, but that’s a darn good price for a premium, flashy laptop with an incredible display, especially when compared to the less-powerful MacBook Air at nearly the same price.
Of course, if you don’t need the 4K panel, you can opt for the newer 9380 model with a 1080p screen, which starts at $899. You’re sure to get more battery life without the 4K screen, as well.
These are two of our favorite laptops in the premium, ultraportable space, but they’re pretty different in execution despite the similar specs. The Surface Laptop 2 goes for a larger footprint, with a taller 13.5-inch display and that aforementioned Alcantara fuzzy finish around the keyboard. We really like the feel of it, but even better is the feel of the keyboard itself, which doesn’t have either of the annoyances we experienced with the Dell XPS 13. We loved typing on it.
Add to that a slightly longer-lasting battery, and we’re big fans of Microsoft’s effort, although the XPS 13 wins points for portability and the stunning 4K screen. You can’t go too wrong either way, but they do provide different perks and benefits. Overall, we liked the Surface Laptop 2 a little bit more, but they’re not far apart in quality.
There’s plenty to love.
From its smaller form to its luxurious attention to detail, the Dell XPS 13 is one of the best light-but-premium laptops you can buy today. It compares well to Apple’s current MacBook models, and doesn’t look or feel anonymous amongst the notebook pack. The 4K screen is hardly necessary, although it’s a looker—and it helps complete the image of a seriously impressive, high-performance laptop.
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