The Ultrabook market is jam-packed with excellent laptops that pack a ton of power into tiny frames. The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro (starting at $1,099, £1,099, AUS$1,254), the Acer Aspire S7(starting at $1,349, £1,199, AU$2,599) and the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus (starting at $1,399, £1,412, AU$2,259) are just a few of the incredible devices you can turn to if you want to get work done without breaking your back.
In fact, a new contender just recently emerged, the Lenovo LaVie Z, a 1.72-pound laptop that now claims the crown of world’s lightest laptop. Despite the innovative design, we felt the LaVie Z’s battery life (six hours) and design were lacking.
On the other end of the spec spectrum is Dell’s new XPS 13 (starting at $800, £520, AU$980), an 11-inch notebook that packs a 13.3-inch display into a gorgeous aluminum and black bezel. The XPS 13 comes into two models, Full HD (1920X1080) and Quad HD ($1,299, £852, AU$1,605), both of which help elevate the already-impressive Ultrabook market.
Design and specs
I was fortunate enough to take the touchscreen Quad HD (3200×1800) model for a test drive. Both units come standard with Windows 8.1 and 5th-gen Intel Core processors, but only the Quad HD model offers a touchscreen. The standard model’s battery life runs for 15 hours (yes, 15) and the Quad HD falls just short at 11 hours.
Unlike the ultra-portable Lenovo LaVie, the XPS 13 is somewhat bulky at 2.6lbs Full HD and 2.8lbs for touchscreen Quad HD. Both come with carbon fiber composite palm rests, 1560 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, two USB 3.0 ports, one mini DisplayPort, an SD card reader, and a 3-in-1 SD, SDHC, SDXC Card Reader. Four and eight GB options are available and SSDs can be purchased up to 512GB.
Worth the upgrade?
If you’re wondering whether or not to spend the extra coin to upgrade to the Quad HD model, the answer is an emphatic yes. In addition to the extra pixels and touch functionality (which are worth the extra money by themselves), the Quad HD model’s screen is made with Corning Gorilla Glass NBT that is built into the aluminum bezel.
The screen’s glass is constructed from the edges of the bezel to provide an almost borderless design – or what Dell calls the Infinity Display.
What this means is that 80% of the XPS 13’s upper panel is actually made up of screen. That is 11% more real estate than the MacBook Air 13, despite being 23% smaller than the MacBook.
The images that this 400-nit display produces are stunning. You can angle yourself 170° without noticing any fading among the 5.7 million pixels. The colors pop, especially brighter tones, although you will notice a bit of dull fading with darker images. I would likely mess around with the contrast if I owned this device in order to bring dark blues and blacks to the same high level as the yellows and reds.
Both models feature a spill-resistant backlit keyboard with a precision touchpad and a carbon fiber palm rest that you’ll be super comfortable using. This keyboard is by far my favorite on an 11-inch laptop.
I’m not a huge fan of the webcam’s positioning. Unlike 99% of the laptops in existence, which place the webcam dead center of the upper panel the XPS 13’s camera is located in the lower-left hand corner. This compromise was made to accommodate the edge-to-edge display, but for those of you who videochat often, it will take some getting used to.
The two speakers powering your favorite Lady Gaga tracks are tiny and not as powerful as I would have liked. They’re also side-facing rather than front-facing, which means your jams are going to project away from you in both directions rather than up into your ears.
As I mentioned earlier, there is some color fade, even on the Quad HD model, and 2.8lbs is a tad bit heavy for a lightweight laptop. All of these flaws are worth mentioning, but none of them should be deal-breakers.
The Dell XPS 13 is an immediate contender for Best Ultrabook. You won’t have to break the bank to buy the standard model, which provides a speedy and pleasant user experience that will last up to 15 hours.
If you really want to be wowed, upgrade to the Quad HD version of the XPS 13. With a magnificent edge-to-edge screen that delivers 5.7 million gorgeous pixels, and a keyboard and palm rest that make data entry tempting, the XPS 13 Quad HD is money well-spent.
It’s somewhat hefty, $1,299 is expensive, and its 11-hour battery life isn’t as good as the standard model, but you won’t be disappointed.