The Dell XPS 13 is still the laptop we often end up recommending, though. It has a bit of everything. You get style, portability, performance and great battery life. And every part of it just feels, well, good.
Dell has once again refined and improved its high-end laptop, with this year’s Dell XPS 13 packing updated hardware in the thin and light design we’ve come to know and love. However, this time we also get a new color: Alpine White.
The Dell XPS 13 2018 comes with an 8th-generation Intel Kaby Lake Refresh processor, which boosts the performance quite a bit, compared to previous generations, and it also features three USB-C ports, Windows 10 and a microSD slot – which a lot of thin and light laptops are abandoning nowadays, to the chagrin of media folks.
In late 2017, Dell released a version of the XPS 13 with 8th Gen Intel Core processors. But that was the only real change. This new 2018 version actually tweaks the design.
You get the classic carbon fibre-look inside and aluminium on the exterior, but the laptop is now 60g lighter. No big deal. And only 11m thick: bigger deal. Among ultra-slim laptops, the XPS 13 was never the thinnest or lightest; it still isn’t, but this 2018 XPS now isn’t far off the skinniest out there.
The look is a brand of executive chic. It’s edges are a little more severe than some, and the XPS 13 doesn’t try that hard to convince your fingers of quite how thin it is. It’s not a show-off. Well, not too much of a show-off.
Build quality is great. It’s solid, doesn’t flex, there are no weird seams. And while some of you may prefer aluminium on the inside, the soft touch inner is meant to be part of the XPS 13’s appeal. Metal obsessives have plenty of other options to choose from.
The one sting, the one part other than the price that makes us chin-stroke for a while about recommending the XPS 13 to everyone, is the connection array. You get three USB-C ports and a microSD. And a headphone jack. That it’s it.
There are no full-size USBs, no dedicated video outputs. If you want to plug something in, you may well need an adapter.
Still, all the USB-Cs support DisplayPort. And the two on the left side are Thunderbolt 3 sockets. This is an ultra-fast spec that lets you plug-in super-demanding add-ons. They even support graphics card enclosures, able to turn the XPS 13 into the world’s least likely ultra-powerful gaming rig.
But, let’s be honest, who’s going to do that?
Another major improvement upon this year’s design is the display. The screen is now available with an optional 4K Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) resolution beneath a glossy, IGZO touchscreen. That’s sharper than any of the previously mentioned, competing laptops.
The touchscreen is coated in a 0.65% anti-reflective coating that aims to offset the downfall of all touchscreens: screen glare.
We didn’t really notice the difference while using the laptop for the past few weeks, but the brightness scaling of the Dell XPS 13 is great enough to call out. Putting the screen as low as 10% brightness doesn’t affect our ability to read and write on the Dell XPS 13.
With a 1,500:1 contrast ratio and 100% sRGB color coverage, blacks look as if the backlight shut off in those spots during darker scenes in videos and photos and colors pop with vibrancy. Simultaneously, the touch display is responsive and fluid, and had no problem recognizing all gestures.
As you’d hope for a laptop that costs well over a grand, the XPS 13 saunters through Windows 10 like it owns the place. It’s responsive, and thanks to Intel’s 8th Gen processor, you get alarmingly good peak performance.
Our XPS 13 had a Core i7-8550U CPU, a higher-end spec, with 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. These newer processors have four cores rather than two, so get you much closer to the power of 2017 laptop that might weigh 3kg and be 3cm thick.
This is the norm in 2018: it’s a great time to buy a thin and light laptop. You could easily use the XPS 13 as the brains of a music studio, or to edit those massive photos you took with your DSLR. This makes us miss the full-size USB and SD slots of older XPS 13s even more, but at least the connections you do get are fast.
What you don’t get here is gaming performance. The XPS 13 uses the HD 620 GPU that’s part of its Intel chipset. And unlike the CPU side, it hasn’t improved much since last year.
Firing up Skyrim, (because there’s not much hope of running The Witcher 3 or Middle-Earth: Shadow of War here) it runs well at 720p, with Medium detail settings. Or 1080p Low. It’ll just about manage 1080p at Mid-level graphics, but scenery judder shows the GPU is struggling.
An XPS 13 with Nvidia MX150 graphics would be a killer combo, letting you play much more recent games. Would the laptop still be as thin, as light, as long-lasting? Probably not. However, the HP Envy 13 proves it’s not a mad, impossible idea. That laptop is only slightly thicker and heavier than the XPS 13, and some versions have the GeForce MX150.
But the XPS 13 is for people who want a very slim laptop, which we have to accept. Grumpily.
Those dimensions also come at the expense of battery capacity: in 2017, the XPS 13 had a 60Wh battery. The 2018 version has a 52Wh one. This is one reason not to buy an XPS 13 with a 4K screen, as that screen will drain more juice than our 1080p version.
Dell says the laptop can last for up to 19 hours, 46 minutes using Word, which obviously sounds crazy-good. Back in the real world with the screen at 50% brightness, the Dell XPS 13 last a shade under 10 hours when playing back a high-quality movie.
It’s no big surprise the last version lasted longer, as the latest Intel CPUs mainly ramp-up power, instead of radically increasing power efficiency.
Still, we’re pretty happy with a laptop that can last through a day’s work. It beats most competitors too. And if you’re working indoors, you won’t necessarily need the screen as bright as 50% anyway.