Dell XPS 13 review: The right answer to the MacBook Air


Dell XPS 13 (9315)

MSRP $829.00

“The Dell XPS 13 happily performs for a healthy dose of affordability and efficiency.”

professionals

  • aggressive pricing

  • very compact design

  • great battery life

  • comfortable keyboard

  • Display is bright and high quality

Shortcoming

  • no headphone jack

  • performance is lacking

The beloved Dell XPS 13 of past years no longer exists.

The popular series of premium laptops is now split between the XPS 13 Plus and the standard XPS 13 – and that means a new approach to differentiate the two.

More expensive, cutting edge with the XPS 13 Plus, which leaves the standard XPS 13 as the cheaper offering. The result is a poor XPS 13 in terms of performance, but at an extremely affordable starting price of just $829.

dell xps 13 specs

Dell XPS 13 (9315)
Dimensions 11.63 x 7.85 x 0.55 inches
weight 2.59 pounds
Processor Intel Core i5-1230U

Intel Core i7-1250U

graphics Intel XE Graphics
to hit LPDDR5 5200MHz up to 32GB
show 13.4-inch 1920 x 1200 IPS
storage PCIe SSD up to 1TB
Touch Alternative
ports 2x Thunderbolt 4 Ports
cordless Wi-Fi 6e and Bluetooth 5.2
webcam 720p+ IR Camera
Operating System windows 11
battery 45 watt-hour
worth $829. starts from

a familiar design

The back cover of the Dell XPS 13.

Taking a look at the design, the XPS 13 has some notable changes compared to the previous generations. Like the Plus model, it’s entirely aluminum, so there’s no carbon-fiber weave in the palm. I’ll definitely miss the white color option and the unique material of older XPS laptops.

Dell now offers a lighter “Sky” color, which is what I own, and a darker “Umber” model. The sky color is also interesting, as the keycaps are slightly different colors. It all comes together in a color scheme that feels unique. These are not standard silver and black, at least.

Dell hasn’t bought the trend toward faster 1080p webcams.

Of course, the super thin bezels are still here. As the pioneer of super-thin laptop bezels, Dell’s design remains the most aggressive with its screen-to-body ratio. It looks awesome as always.

Unfortunately, the persistence of maintaining the look means it’s still stuck on a tiny 720p webcam housed in the top bezels. It’ll make up for the occasional Zoom call, but it’s not the most flattering in terms of image quality. It does some weird things with colors, and struggles in common video conferencing scenarios, especially if the lighting isn’t perfect. Dell hasn’t bought into the trend toward sharper 1080p webcams, especially not at the expense of its hard-earned top bezels.

Dell XPS 13 is open on the table with the start menu open.

This time too there has been no change in the display. It’s still a 16:10 IPS panel with options for touch or non-touch. You can crank it up to 444 nits, which is bright enough whether you’re working outside or near a window. Of course, the color saturation (AdobeRGB 75%) isn’t as detailed as the higher-resolution OLED models available on the XPS 13 Plus. But for the purposes of a sub-$1,000 laptop, it’s an excellent display.

Dell has also saved several more experimental design features for the XPS 13 Plus. So, no haptic feedback trackpad, edge-to-edge keyboard, or capacitive touch buttons that replace the function row. Everything is more familiar and more comfortable here.

I miss the haptic trackpad from the XPS 13 Plus.

One aspect I really miss from the Plus model is the haptic trackpad. I liked its implementation, and the chunkier click of the standard XPS 13’s touchpad feels tedious in comparison. Double clicks aren’t that easy, and the click mechanism is overpowering.

While the XPS 13 Plus has plenty of attractive new features, it has retained the same interior design as the previous generations of the XPS 13. The standard XPS 13, however, couldn’t be much different on the inside.

redesigned interiors

Side of Dell XPS 13 on a table.

A lot of engineering work has gone into making the Dell XPS 13 slim. It’s now 0.55 inches thick, making it one of the thinnest Windows laptops you can buy. And it feels really thin to hold, despite the fact that it’s actually only 5% thinner than the previous model. But as I’m sure you know, at this size, every millimeter shaved comes with a mountain of work behind the scenes.

First, Dell says the motherboard is 1.8 times smaller overall this time around, which includes using a thinner PCB, which is actually now using technology borrowed from the smartphone board. Pulling off the back cover, you can see how little space the motherboard now takes up – it’s pretty amazing. Dell has found ways to shrink basically every component, including storage and memory – and without getting into all the details, it’s an impressive amount of engineering work that went into this internal redesign. But the result, again, is just a 5% reduction in thickness.

Internal comparison between the two versions of the Dell XPS 13.

And if it looks like I’m not impressed, it’s because there’s this little laptop out there called the M2 MacBook Air. At 0.44 inches thick, the MacBook Air is still 20% thinner than the XPS 13. It seems like it is more than it really is. You won’t notice a huge difference in thickness when you set these laptops together, and Dell has done a lot of work to ensure this.

But when it comes down to it, the real kicker with the new XPS 13 is performance. In efforts to minimize everything, you get just one fan, and with it, just a 9-watt processor from Intel’s 12th-gen U-series chips. These chips have just two performance cores, which is four fewer than the P-series chips used in the Dell XPS 13 Plus.

geekbench
(single / multi)
handbrake
(seconds)
Cinebench R23
(single / multi)
PCMark 10
Complete
Dell 13 XPs (Core i5-1230U) 1393 / 4,459 333 1379/3457 4023
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 2
(Core i7-1280P)
1493/8668 126 1575/7595 5094
dell xps 13 plus
(Core i7-1280P)
1316/8207 127 1311/6308 4309
Asus ZenBook S13 OLED
(Ryzen 7 6800U)
1417/6854 112 1402/8682 5647
HP Elite Dragonfly G3 (Core i7-1265U) 1699/5936 194 1618/5601 4975

The main purpose of discontinuing the XPS 13, I think, is to differentiate the XPS 13 from the Plus model, which uses a more standard 15-watt processor. Less power means less performance – and in this case, it’s actually quite a bit. This is one of the worst performing Intel 12th-gen laptops I’ve ever tested. This is slightly slower than last year’s 11th-gen model. But with a 9-watt processor that only has two performance cores, it’s kind of what I expected.

That might sound awful, but really, I’d argue that last year’s performance is probably good enough. You should not buy this laptop for editing videos or playing games all day. Instead, it’s for web browsing, online work, video conferencing, the occasional photo edit or coding project—and this laptop handles them all just fine.

It’s multi-core performance that suffers the most, after all, and for the most part, these kinds of applications aren’t meant for this type of laptop. Furthermore, when it comes to choosing a processor for a laptop, it is not just about performance. Looking beyond the benchmarks, you’ll see several advantages that make the Dell XPS 13 better to compare with laptops like the M1 MacBook Air.

hidden advantages of low power

Dell XPS 13 keyboard.

First, the XPS 13 handles heat much better than the XPS 13 Plus. One of my biggest complaints with that laptop was how hot the surface temperature was, even when running pretty standard applications. The XPS 13 doesn’t have that problem, and does a great job at staying really cool and quiet. There is only one fan, and it never gets louder.

Of course, you’ll find an “ultra performance” thermal mode in the My Dell utility, which can crank up the fan a bit more. Unlike some of the performance modes found in other laptops, it does quite a bit. For example, toggling on Ultra Performance Mode when encoding video in Handbrake gave me 42% faster completion of the task. This put it close to other 12th-gen U-series laptops, indicating how much the default “Optimized” mode is weighed toward a quieter, quieter experience.

Battery life is the second advantage Dell has when using a lower-powered chip on the XPS 13. The thing lasted over 13 hours of light web browsing, which is over 5 hours longer than the XPS 13 Plus. Unless I had very long video calls, I found that I could be away from an outlet for most of a day. You’ll still get four or five more hours from the M2 MacBook Air, but in the case of Windows laptops, the Dell XPS 13 is back at the front of the pack.

Dell XPS 13 keyboard.

The question remains: would you trade a few extra hours of battery life for a step down in multi-core performance? I think battery life is more useful for most people who want to buy this laptop.

And finally, there is the price. Choosing this low-powered chip will allow Dell to get the XPS 13 . allowed to fix the price of very Aggressively. The starting configuration, which I’m reviewing, costs just $829. That base-level configuration also comes with 512GB of storage, which means it’s at least $400 cheaper than the M1 MacBook Air when configured similarly.

And Dell isn’t even offering a really high-end configuration — at least not for now. Except for the XPS 13 Plus, no high-resolution OLED screen or 2TB storage options are currently available. Still, there is no other laptop at this price point that can compete in terms of overall value.

The problem occurs when the headphone jack is missing

USB-C port on Dell XPS 13.

But with the XPS 13, Dell has made a decision that undoes all the clever engineering and marketing behind this laptop. It doesn’t have a headphone jack. Like the XPS 13 Plus, the XPS 13 has said goodbye to the beloved 3.5mm headphone jack, offering you just two Thunderbolt 4 ports in return.

An adapter is included in the box, thankfully, but it doesn’t take away the sting of feeling a little flimsy.

Headphone jack is lacking A compromise Most people won’t see the need for it.

Dropping the headphone jack on the XPS 13 Plus made some sense. It was meant to be a cutting-edge laptop, after all, that pushed the boundaries of design. People knew what they were doing. And with an edge-to-edge keyboard and touch buttons, it felt like you were trading unique design for a sleek one.

But with the XPS 13, Dell may have taken it a step too far — and that’s coming from someone who isn’t against the idea of ​​a laptop without a headphone jack. I don’t think people use their headphone jack as much as they think. But on a laptop like the XPS 13, especially at its low price, it’s a compromise most people won’t need. And I’m not sure I do either.

Buy it, but tread lightly

Dell XPS 13 opens on a table in front of a window.

In many ways, the new XPS 13 M1 feels like a response to the tremendous success of the MacBook Air. While the rest of the Windows ecosystem continues, pretending almost as if the MacBook Air didn’t exist, the XPS 13 feels like it’s actually built to beat Apple at its own game.

It’s still not as powerful or long-lasting as the MacBook Air, but at $829, it’s a killer deal. I love that Dell wasn’t afraid to use the price as an attack against Apple, even if it meant making some compromises along the way. If I can find a way to add back in the headphone jack, I’d have some hesitation to recommend this laptop to most people shopping for a Windows laptop. But as it is, you won’t find another premium laptop under $1,000 that good.

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