Dell XPS 13 review: Premium Windows laptops have a new gold standard

For the 2020 refresh, Dell has refined the formula by tweaking the display, performance and design, but is it worth the Rs. 1.44 lakh starting price?
Dell XPS 13
Dell XPS 13

Dell’s XPS 13 has an iconic place among the high-end of ultraportable Windows laptops, with the virtually borderless InfinityEdge display redefining how much screen you could pack into a slim-and-light form factor since it first launched in 2015. For the 2020 refresh, Dell has refined the formula by tweaking the display, performance and design, but is it worth the Rs. 1.44 lakh starting price?

The big change you’d notice if you were coming to the XPS 13 from literally any other laptop is that display. It’s unequivocally the star of the show, and this year, Dell’s made it feel even more expansive (if that was possible). Dell has shaved off large parts of the chunky bottom bezel, and the top and side bezels got a trim as well, and what you have is a 16:10 aspect ratio that’s a whole 6.8 percent larger than that of its predecessor. The difference it makes is pretty stellar – not only does the screen feels a tiny bit more comfortable to use with the extra vertical pixels (most laptops opt for a 16:9 display), but the whole effect feels very premium. Dell’s clearly gone the extra mile to waste absolutely no space and pack in the biggest 13.4-inch IPS LCD touchscreen they could in a body that’s would typically sport a much smaller 11-12-inch screen. They’ve done to a laptop what phone brands have now made a habit of doing – delivering a near all-screen experience.

And what a screen this is. I tested the version with the 4K UHD+ touchscreen (there are full-HD+ models and non-touch as well) that is as crisp and color accurate as I’ve ever seen a Windows laptop get, much less an ultraportable. It supports HDR video, including Dolby Vision, and gets so bright (up to 500 nits) I had to constantly turn it down to less than 30 percent while using it indoors. Whether it’s for entertainment consumption or creative work, the high-resolution panel stands up and delivers…with aplomb! Here’s a pro tip for you: if your work doesn’t require you to pony up the extra bucks for the higher resolution 4K screen, take a strong look at the lower resolution full-HD+ 1920x1200 panel instead – it’s as good on every count except the extra pixels, is more than enough for gaming and will reward you with better battery life to boot!

Look elsewhere and it’s quite the looker, with an all-aluminum body with a choice of black carbon fiber or white glass fiber on the palm rest. It matches the MacBook Air’s wedge shape and 1.27kg weight while still staying 14.8mm thick and with a considerably smaller footprint on the desk. Around the sides are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a headphone jack and a microSD slot, and no regular USB-A port, though you get a USB-C to USB-A adapter in the box. Keep in mind you will run out of ports fairly quickly, particularly when you’re charging the laptop, so you might want to plan for a Type-C dock at purchase.

The keyboard is well spaced out and quiet with 1mm of key travel and good feedback levels, while the large trackpad is responsive for Windows gestures. For logging in, you get a fingerprint scanner built into the power button plus a Windows Hello infrared face recognition camera on the bezel on top of the screen. Both work well, and how Dell managed to pack in this much tech into that slim a bezel is an impressive feat of engineering.

Now, Dell hasn’t held back in kitting the XPS 13 with top-shelf internals…at this price, it would be downright criminal! The model I had in for review had a Core i7- 1065G7 Ice Lake (10th Generation) processor, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. The keen eye amongst you will note that this chip is a step down in terms of pure computational power, but the Ice Lake chips are better suited for graphics intensive tasks like gaming, video and photo editing and the like, thanks to the Iris Plus integrated graphics. You’ll notice the difference when you’re editing images or playing games, and the performance with the built-in graphics is comparable to a low-end dedicated graphics card. This is not a dedicated gaming machine by any standards, but there’s plenty of power on tap for most light gaming and any amount of serious creative work. Daily tasks like dozens of Chrome tabs, music streaming and watching 4K HDR video, expectedly, were a breeze. Demanding tasks do occasionally see the XPS 13 warm up a bit before the fans kick in to keep things cool. Audio output is in the competent category but, much like its arch nemesis on the Mac side of things, the 720p web cam is really not par for the course (and all our Zoom calls) for 2020.

Battery life is middling in absolute terms, between five to six hours or work between charges, until you start considering what the machine packs in – a 4K display, a Core i7 chip and a relatively slim battery (to keep the weight down). Lowering the resolution helps eke out an extra 2-2.5 hours on average, and I’ve heard of 10-hour backup on the full-HD variant.

It’s evident that the Dell XPS 13 (9300) is a fantastic piece of engineering with many highlights and little that holds it back…except for the sub-par webcam and the sticker shock you should expect once you start configuring one of these. Buy this if you’re after something fancy on the Windows side of things and don’t want to consider the new M1-powered Macs, and you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous display in a form factor that continues to surprise each day I used the XPS 13.

Dell XPS 13 9300

Pros: Stellar screen, unparalleled design, good keyboard and trackpad, plenty of power on tap for everyday work and play

Cons: Middling battery life, scarcity of ports, poor webcam, pricey

Rating: 8/10

Price: Rs. 1,44,807 onwards (variant reviewed Rs. 2,29,600 on Amazon)

Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar

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